NCAA football

Sin and scandal at Ole Miss, the sequel: USA Today digs into the faith and character of Hugh Freeze

Sin and scandal at Ole Miss, the sequel: USA Today digs into the faith and character of Hugh Freeze

Last week we highlighted a haunted ESPN story on "How a phone call to an escort service led to Hugh Freeze's downfall."

We pointed out the glaring omission of certain words from the in-depth piece on the Ole Miss football coach's resignation.

Words such as Jesus, God, church and faith.

Now we are back with the same subject matter but fewer holy ghosts, courtesy of USA Today, which poses this question: 

Who is Hugh Freeze?

As we previously noted, it's impossible to answer that question without delving into his professed faith. Kudos to USA Today for recognizing that.

The religion angle figures up high — and throughout — the national newspaper's report:

OXFORD, Miss. — Hugh Freeze stood outside his house near a muscular dog earlier this week when a reporter approached.
“You better watch this dog,’’ Freeze said, and a moment later he added, “I can control him.’’
But less than two weeks after he abruptly resigned as head football coach at the University of Mississippi, the narrative of the once-charmed coach has spun beyond control.
Freeze, 47, was the devout Christian who beat Nick Saban and Alabama two years in a row, built a team that climbed to No. 3 in the polls and, at least in the eyes of the Ole Miss faithful, could do little wrong. A husband and father of three daughters, he often tweeted Bible verses or religious words of inspiration.
Another side has emerged, though. Before he resigned on July 20, Freeze was under scrutiny for alleged recruiting violations. Ole Miss has self-imposed several penalties, including a postseason ban, and an NCAA investigation continues.
His downfall was ultimately the result of what Ole Miss officials called a "pattern of personal misconduct," and the revelation that a phone call from Freeze's university-issued cell phone had been made to a number associated with a female escort.

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Sin and scandal at Ole Miss: This is what happens when outspoken Christian coach calls escort service

Sin and scandal at Ole Miss: This is what happens when outspoken Christian coach calls escort service

Jesus. God. Church. Faith.

Read ESPN's in-depth, behind-the-scenes account of the Ole Miss football coach's resignation — titled "How a phone call to an escort service led to Hugh Freeze's downfall" — and you won't come across any of the above words.

"Sin," too, is missing from ESPN's 2,400-plus words.

Granted, nobody expects a deep exploration of theology by ESPN. Right? The fact that the story focuses on NCAA football is certainly expected and appropriate.

But — and this is a big "but" — it's difficult to give readers a full picture of Freeze and just how far his reputation has plunged without mentioning his outspoken Christianity. More on that in a moment.

First, though, ESPN's dramatic opening provides important background:

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- The man who helped take down Ole Missfootball coach Hugh Freeze is a lifelong Mississippi State fan who attended his first Bulldogs game 37 years ago and has the university's logo tattooed on his left hand.
But he insists he never set out to bring down the Rebels and their coach.
It just kind of happened that way.
When Steve Robertson was sifting through Freeze's phone records on July 5 as part of his research for an upcoming book he's writing, he discovered phone calls he expected to see. There were mostly calls to recruits and assistant coaches.
But when Robertson saw a phone number with a 313 area code, he was stunned by what he discovered in a Google search. A call made on Jan. 19, 2016, lasting one minute, was made to a number connected with several advertisements for female escorts. Robertson then asked his wife to read him the telephone number again to make sure it was correct. The escort service ads came up again.
Robertson called Thomas Mars, an attorney who is representing former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt in his defamation lawsuit against Ole Miss. Mars had been introduced to Robertson through a third party he found while doing online research into Nutt's case. They've since developed a close working relationship, talking on the phone several times a day and sharing what they found in their investigations.
"He asked me to fill in some blanks," Robertson said.
When Robertson told Mars to enter the phone number in Google, Mars was silent for nearly a minute before yelling an expletive in excitement.
Ole Miss had unwittingly provided information that would lead to Freeze's resignation.

The rest of the story is worth a read if you have time before finishing the rest of this post.

But the closest the piece gets to any religion is a mention of "Sunday school" — and not the kind at my church:

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Another chapter in the tragic story of sin and scandal at Baylor, the world's largest Baptist university

Another chapter in the tragic story of sin and scandal at Baylor, the world's largest Baptist university

You can't buy the kind of front-page publicity the New York Times gave Baylor University the other day.

Honestly, you wouldn't want to.

This was the Page 1 headline Friday as the national newspaper added another, in-depth chapter to the sad story of sin and scandal at the world's largest Baptist university: "Baylor's Pride Turns to Shame in Rape Scandal."

The New York Times focuses on one rape victim while providing a detailed overview of the string of sexual assault cases involving Baylor football players that have made national headlines for months. 

Before discussing the recent coverage, I'll remind readers of GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly's past posts on the scandal at his Waco, Texas, alma mater. Our own tmatt (who as a student journalist in the 1970s was involved in student-newspaper coverage of issues linked to sexual assaults) expounded last year on what he describes as "the 'double whammy' facing Baylor (with good cause)": 

First, there is a solid religion angle here as the Baylor Regents try to defend their school, while repenting at the same time. Does Baylor want to live out its own moral doctrines? ...
Then there will be sports reporters covering the Baylor crisis and the complicated sexual-assault issues [that NCAA officials are said to be probing] on those 200 or so other campuses. I am sure (not) that the sports czars at other schools never blur the line between campus discipline and the work of local police. Perhaps some other schools are struggling to provide justice for women, while striving to allow the accused to retain their legal rights (while also remembering that a sports scholarship is a very real benefit linked to a contract)?

In a related post, tmatt delved into this key question:

Can you worship God and mammon? Baylor crisis centers on clash between two faiths

My own limited, personal experience with Baylor came in 2003 during my time with The Associated Press in Dallas. For a few months, it seemed like I spent half my life driving back and forth on Interstate 35 as I covered the slaying of 21-year-old basketball player Patrick Dennehy and the ensuing disclosure of major NCAA violations in Baylor's basketball program.

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Generic 'God talk' or something more?

Well here’s a pretty good example of what appears to be the failure to get religion details into a story. Here’s the top of the story from Yahoo! sports:

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