Appeals court lets travesty stand, leaving soccer trainer in prison

Maybe their hands were tied. Maybe they couldn’t hold the overzealous prosecutors, prodded by influential snowplow parents (snowplows are indeed useful in upstate New York), responsible for soccer trainer Shelby Garigen’s plea deal.

In any case, an appellate court snuck a decision past me in late January, deciding they didn’t need to take a real look at the shenanigans that landed Garigen in jail because she was planning to have sex with someone of legal age in New York but made the mistake of getting him to send nude pics to her.

Here’s the decision:

A few points:

Specific assertions the appellate judges addressed

The judges first say these points don’t fall “within the ‘very circumscribed’ exceptions to the validity of an appellate waiver,” so they’re already setting a high bar to clear.

Point 1: Because the meetup (which proved to be a setup to arrest Garigen) and the sentencing took place after the person in question turned 18, Garigen’s appellate lawyer argues that the person in question should’ve been the one speaking, if he so chose, at Garigen’s sentencing. Instead, his parents spoke. Rephrased in the appellate ruling: “(Garigen asserts that) the parents of a victim (“Victim 1”) made false and biased statements against Garigen and should not have been allowed to speak at her sentencing.” The father’s theme continued when he offered his apparent expert opinion on appellant’s psychiatric diagnosis.” Garigen’s lawyer: “First, Victim 1’s father is not a psychiatrist.”

The appellate court says the lower court was within its rights to hear the parents of the “victim” (again, a legally consenting young man who wanted to have sex with an older woman) as long as Garigen was able to respond at the sentencing. They do NOT address, as far as I can see, the question of whether the father of the “victim” should have been allowed to offer expert opinions on Garigen’s mental health. Nor do they address the topic of whether a more competent lawyer would have offered a more robust response.

Point 2: Re-phrased by the appellate court as “(Garigen asserts that) Victim 1’s father had improper control over the prosecution of Garigen’s case.” The father is a former prosecutor who has worked on cases of sex crimes. (The mother works for the Erie County DA’s office.) Garigen’s appeals lawyer: “The father advised the court that he ‘helped the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecute this case.’”

The appellate judges say the record doesn’t support Garigen’s claims. They do not support their assertion.

Point 3: Garigen’s lawyer further argues that the father’s words imply that he had read the Presentence Report, and that document is supposed to be read only by the court and respective counsel.

The appellate judges wave this accusation away, not convincingly, taking a statement out of context from the 28th paragraph of Garigen’s appeal.

What the appellate judges didn’t address

Given their insistence that there’s nothing to review here because Garigen should’ve known the risks of accepting her plea deal, it’s not surprising the appellate judges didn’t address the fact that the parents of the “victim” presented several arguments that are, in fact, hogwash.

From what I’ve written before: The parents claim their son has fallen out with a friend who was also 17 when he sent pictures to Garigen, and they say that’s Garigen’s fault. Garigen’s lawyer retorts: “(The mother) fails to note the real possibility that her 17-year-old son may have withdrawn from friends and family because the FBI became involved by interviewing both him and his friend, Victim 2. Notably, Victim 2 declined to provide a Victim Impact Statement and requested no further law enforcement contact.”

And: The parents, in the characterization of Garigen’s lawyer, focused on Garigen “luring” their son — again, a consenting adult — to have sex. They don’t harp on the fact that the only charge she faces, “child pornography,” is the direct result of their son sending her dirty pictures.

Again, perhaps those aren’t questions for the appellate court to address.

I find it hard to believe, though, that this argument should be ignored:

Garigen’s lawyer draws a distinction between pictures a young man posts to Snapchat and what we would normally call child pornography: “Sending a self-picture of an ‘unidentified’ penis (i.e., Victim 1’s face was not in the picture) to a self-deleting application would not in any way ‘create a market’ for child pornography and contribute to the victimization of minors.”

In other words … the entire basis for the prosecution of this case may have been built on a misapplication of the law.

If that’s not in the appellate court’s jurisdiction, it should be. If the appellate court can’t do more to right wrongs that were done because Garigen’s original lawyer failed to object in time, that needs to change. Time to rewrite some laws in New York.

We all know what happened …

  • A teenager of consenting age started flirting with his trainer, and things progressed to where they started talking about having sex and eventually agreed to meet up for that purpose.
  • The teenager’s well-connected parents got wind of it and refused to assign any responsibility to their kid. All her fault, they decided.
  • A terrified, ill-informed woman took a plea deal but hoped for a reasonable sentence.
  • Those well-connected parents took advantage of their connections to bulldoze her lawyer.
  • An 80-year-old judge barely took the time to consider the motion by her replacement lawyer.

Maybe the appellate court can’t address it. It’s a pity we don’t have more watchdogs in the media who can get to that courthouse, the FBI’s Buffalo office and the U.S. Attorney’s office to ask if it’s really necessary to take up prison space for this. Probation? Sure. A ban from working in soccer? Already happened. But prison? I’m sure taxpayers are thrilled.

I’ve asked before if anyone wants to comment on this case. I’ll do a follow-up post if so.

Previous posts:

And meanwhile …

More than five and a half years after his arrest, Juan Ramos might finally be forced to go to court to answer the allegations that he began a sexual relationship with a player when she was 13. Maybe the court date is set for April 11 at 9:30 a.m. in Room 4810 of the Broward County Courthouse.

I say “might” because Ramos already managed to skate by when he and his counsel, Kevin Kulik, were no-shows at a calendar call in October. A capias warrant was issued, but Kulik won the day with the “we didn’t know” defense.

So this document doesn’t instill confidence:

If you have a sharp eye, you may notice that the 500 S. whatever in Fort Lauderdale is not the address Kulik listed on his “my client and I didn’t know” brief. That was 1293 North University Drive #204, Coral Springs, FL.

That’s the address of a UPS Store. I’ve verified that his office is in that store.

One thing Ramos and Garigen have in common is that they’re listed as “ineligible” in the SafeSport registry. They may never work in soccer again — assuming people do the most basic of background checks. And that’s fine.

But there’s no question which crime is less serious and which crime has been more seriously prosecuted. And they’re not the same one. Juan Ramos has been walking around free since the Obama administration, and Shelby Garigen is in prison.

New in the SafeSport registry …

As long as I’m checking, here are the latest names added to the database. Maybe I’ll end up investigating some of these as well.

March 28: Martin Pantoja, San Mateo, Calif. — Criminal Disposition – Sexual Misconduct; Criminal Disposition – involving a minor. Ineligible (subject to appeal). Pantoja was arrested in February. I found one Martin Pantoja in San Mateo but I’m not linking here just in case there are two Martin Pantojas of roughly the same age in the area.

March 25: Jonathan Ledesma, Highland, Calif. — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. Arrested March 17; charged with numerous counts of sexual assault on a minor. Police say he started coaching her at age 9 in AYSO.

March 24: Kristen Wessel, Colorado Springs, Colo. — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. Court date April 28. Charge is listed as a felony count of “failure to comply.”

March 24: Allan Hilsinger, Cincinnati, Ohio — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. Arrested in March on two counts of gross sexual imposition involving a 10-year-old girl.

March 18: Timothy Harrison, Babylon, N.Y. — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. A Timothy Harrison of Babylon was arrested in March over an alleged sexual relationship with a minor in 2013, but the stories list him as a special ed teacher who coached lacrosse and basketball, which raises the question of why U.S. Soccer and not the other sports federations are listed with that name in the SafeSport database. If it’s the same guy, then he should also be suspended from the other sports. If he’s not — wow, what a coincidence.

March 16: Dennis Doyle, Beaverton, Ore. — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. Doyle founded a club called Westside Metros and was still vice president of the since-renamed Westside Timbers until he was arrested on child pornography charges. He was also mayor of Beaverton for 12 years.

March 10: Eric Eskelsen, Blackfoot, Idaho — Criminal Disposition. Permanent Ineligibility. I didn’t find anything about him.

March 7: Evan Thornton, Mount Pleasant, S.C. — Criminal Disposition – Sexual Misconduct; Criminal Disposition – involving a minor. Ineligible. Substitute teacher and soccer coach was arrested in December on charges of unlawful sexual activity with a 16-year-old student. He was a varsity high school coach before age 23 for some reason.

Feb. 28: Walter Jones III, Roseville, Calif. — Criminal Disposition – Sexual Misconduct; Criminal Disposition – involving a minor. Ineligible. I didn’t find any details. There’s a Walter Jones arrest listed in the Placer County inmate records, but if it’s the same guy, the only thing the records add is that he’ll have a May 11 court date.

Feb. 28: Ian Ebert, Irvine, Calif. — Criminal Disposition – Sexual Misconduct; Criminal Disposition – involving a minor. Ineligible. An Irvine coach by that name was arrested in 2013, so that’s either a belated addition to the database or an astounding coincidence in which someone with the same name in the same town was charged with the same crime.

Feb. 14: Rory Dames, Oak Brook, Ill. — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Restrictions: Coaching / Training Restriction(s), Contact / Communication Limitation(s), No Contact Directive(s). You may have heard of this one.

Feb. 9: Eduardo Pinuelas, El Paso, Texas — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. No Contact Directive(s). I’m checking to try to match up a name I found.

Jan. 20: Amilcar Velasquez, no city listed — Criminal Disposition – involving a minor. Permanent Ineligibility. I found a soccer coach by that name, and I found someone by that name who was arrested, but they’re thousands of miles apart.

Jan. 10: Dylan Cline, no city listed — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Restrictions: No Unsupervised Coaching / Training, Contact / Communication Limitation(s), Travel / Lodging Restriction(s), No Contact Directive(s). There are several Dylan Clines out there.

Jan. 7: Brian Kohler, Warsaw, Ind. — Allegations of Misconduct. Temporary Suspension. No Contact Directive(s). Didn’t find details.

I hope people take an interest in this. The pro coaches understandably get the publicity. But while the names above represent a tiny percentage of the people involved in youth soccer, these cases deserve scrutiny. Of all parties.

Cross-posting at Medium

sports, x marks the pod

Episode 10: Sports, ceremonies and stories

On Sunday morning, for the second time in seven months, I took apart my makeshift Olympic viewing station, which consisted of a second computer monitor perched on a TV table next to the sofa from which I could see the big-screen TV. I didn’t do quite as much work for Beijing as I did for Tokyo. I was just working for The Guardian, not NBC.

But there’s a certain melancholy to the end of the Olympics. When I covered the Salt Lake Olympics, they must have had something scheduled for the next day in the convention center that served as the media headquarters, because temporary walls were falling like the end of the Cold War. I was afraid to leave my table for fear that I’d come back with no place to sit.

Closing ceremonies are cool, of course, and you don’t always get to see it all on TV. In Salt Lake, we saw the international feed and NBC feed side by side. Viewers around the world saw a bunch of people painting a circle of ice in real time. NBC saw some commercials and then a circle that had been painted.

But the Olympic flame is extinguished, and we’re jolted back to reality. These days in particular, the reality isn’t particularly pleasant. Thanks, Putin.

Even without global political crises or an irrationally enthusiastic convention center demolition crew, the end of the Olympics can prey on my sentimentality. During the last event of the Games, the men’s ice hockey final, I handed off to someone in Australia. This was an event in China that I covered from my basement in the United States and handed off to Australia for a British newspaper. There’s something beautiful about that.

When I’ve been to the Olympics, I can sense from the staff and volunteers that they’ve come to the abrupt end of something they had been anticipating and doing for months or even years, In 2010, I left the beautiful, happy village of Whistler, wondering if I’d ever get back to someplace so beautiful — and knowing that I would soon be leaving USA TODAY after 10 years.

The best closing ceremony story I have is from Beijing. I was in a bus heading back to the media village while the fireworks were going off. We were going on a freeway offramp, and I could see, just sitting to the side, someplace you’d never be allowed to be in the United States, there was a young mother holding up a young child who must have two, maybe three. The mother was beaming, and the child was just looking on in awe as the fireworks exploded a couple of miles away. We weren’t really that close to the stadium. This child just got a glimpse of the Olympics from afar. I’m guessing this family didn’t have VIP status to go to all the venues. 

I hope that child grew up and volunteered for Beijing 2022 and got to see some of it. I hope that made an impression on him that there’s a much bigger world than the Chinese government is going to otherwise give him. 

Of course, my sentimentality and my optimism were killed the next morning when our flight was canceled and we wound up in a hotel next to the Hard Rock in Beijing, which is why I have a Hard Rock Beijing T-shirt. 

But it’s impossible to see something like that family by the side of the road and not think about the power of sports and the ceremonies around them. They can be absolutely over the top — unless you’re Torino, and the opening ceremony is as half-assed as everything else you did in hosting the Games. (And Italy is getting another chance? Weird.)

These ceremonies mean something. They help bring inspirational stories to life. And there were a lot of inspirational stories. These ceremonies just helped them resonate.

And that brings us back to something else that happened in the past couple of weeks. The Super Bowl. For the first time since X Marks the Pod launched, we have an actual generational brouhaha. So I’m going to talk about that for a bit and then tell some Olympic stories.

This is X Marks the Pod.

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politics, sports

Gen X news, Feb. 1: Cynicism, the Olympics and Spotify

No podcast this week, and no, it’s not a Spotify boycott. The Olympics start tomorrow (yes, Wednesday, because the Games now kick off a couple of days before the Opening Ceremony), and even though I’m not giving NBC 10 hours a day, I’m still down for about 40 hours of live blogging and countless hours of prep work and previews. See my viewing guide.

I’ve also spent a lot of time changing my news diet. That involved a reworking of my 683 Gmail filters. Google could really make that easier, but as we’ll discuss in a bit, they’re the least problematic of the Big Tech companies in this post.

Also, I listened to last week’s podcast and decided that it sums up the state of American politics as well as anything I can produce right now. And in terms of great albums, it’s tough to top the Fishbone album discussed there. So if you haven’t listened to it yet or read the post (and I have the stats to prove that you haven’t), check it out.

Moving on …

It’s easy to say we should be skipping these Olympics because of China and COVID. But the moral calculus here depends on who’s being harmed. The 1980 Olympic boycott may have seemed justified at the time because the Soviet Union had stormed into the eternal quagmire of Afghanistan. It’s not fondly remembered. It didn’t change anything politically. It just cost athletes a chance to do something they’ve been trying to do for most of their lives.

Boycotts also rob us of inspiration that can affect things on a geopolitical level. Imagine if Jesse Owens hadn’t been in Berlin to stick it to Hitler.

And generally, cultural exchanges are positive. Paul Simon received plenty of criticism for Graceland, but who benefited from that? The South African government or South African musicians? F.W. de Klerk, who died late last year, spent the rest of his life grappling with a complex legacy he couldn’t quite face in full. Ladysmith Black Mombazo is still winning Grammys. You can draw the line, of course, at directly supporting a corrupt state and/or business with no side benefits, which is why Sun City is the best of the 1980s group protest songs. (Everyone rap along: “Bo-phu-that-swana is far away / But we know it’s in South Africa, no matter what they say.” And it’s hard to top Joey Ramone singing about Ronald Reagan and “constructive engagement.”)

Musicians can play elsewhere. Olympic athletes compete elsewhere, but there’s nothing like the Olympics, especially in the winter and especially now that NHL players aren’t going. Boycotting the Olympics would irreparably harm them. Not China’s government.

Gen Xers’ worst trait is cynicism. It’s too easy to pass a simple judgment and move on. It’s also easy to dismiss the IOC as a money-mad organization or dismiss Olympic broadcasts as too treacly. But at their heart, the Games are about people from around the world challenging themselves and coming together. And hanging out with Australian journalists and Icelandic handball players.

So when mixed doubles curling starts tomorrow, my biggest reservation in watching will be that I find mixed doubles a bit gimmicky for my taste.

In other moral dilemmas …

Spotify: Neil Young et al vs. Joe Rogan

By way of disclaimer: Yes, X Marks the Pod is primarily a Spotify podcast, leveraging the massive music library on offer. Also, I’m a NewsRadio fan and an erstwhile MMA writer.

(Actually, I consider Joe Rogan’s podcast the fourth-best thing he does or has done, behind NewsRadio, UFC commentary and his standup act.)

But with his podcast, Rogan is following Dilbert’s Scott Adams into the a state of delusion in which he thinks his whims outweigh expertise. He used to save his conspiracy lunacy for (pardon the obscure pun on “lunacy”) the moon landing, UFOs and other relatively harmless things. When he rants about vaccines and alternative COVID treatment, that’s a little more difficult to swallow.

That’s why Neil Young decided to withdraw his music from the service. Joni Mitchell followed suit.

The best-case scenario here is that Spotify, whose share price has plummeted, has to have a talk with Rogan or decide to post disclaimers. The controversy may also force more scrutiny of Spotify’s longer-standing issue of how much (little) it pays musicians. Nils Lofgren’s wife tied together the two issues with one clever tweet:

And the issues are tied together by Rogan’s contract. Musicians need a couple hundred streams just to make a buck (literally), but Spotify came up with $100m to pay Rogan.

So do we all follow Neil Young and ditch Spotify?

Well, you could do what Young did and make a deal with Amazon Music.

Which pays its musicians even less, at least by one accounting. And then you’re supporting Amazon and some unsavory business practices.

Besides, some musicians are making money through Spotify, and one of them is (was) Neil Young. Billboard calculated that Young could lose $754,000 a year by pulling his music.

And I found that story published verbatim on Joni Mitchell’s site with an laughable declaration at the end that posting an entire story from a paywalled site constitutes fair use. So if you buy Joni Mitchell’s music, you’re supporting copyright infringement and taking money away from journalists.

Moral decisions are complicated. Few people are completely virtuous or completely evil. Jeff Bezos, after all, propped up The Washington Post, which surely wasn’t the most profit-minded move he could’ve made with his money. Facebook is far too important as a communication tool for everyone to leave it now, and there are plenty of people who have the resources to make something comparable if they were so inclined.

Rogan himself is complex. He has plenty of enablers who think every question he asks or statement he makes is the unimpeachable truth. But he doesn’t even believe that. He’s not Alex Jones. He listens to people. Maybe at some point, he’ll listen to people who tell him it’s time to quit treating self-serving idiots as experts.

I’m also cautiously optimistic about Spotify’s practices moving forward, though a little private chat with Rogan would also help.

And elsewhere …

Wordle and your wallet: Want yet another Big Tech dilemma? How about the NYT buying Wordle and giving a tepid “well, it’s free for now” comment? Even if it’s free, that means the NYT is monetizing your data because it has to sell ads.

One roundup of the Twitter reaction captures the complicated ways of framing this move. Do you start using the many knockoffs instead of the one the NYT just bought? Do you have the right to criticize Wordle’s inventor for deciding he’s not going to spend the rest of his life creating content for millions of people — for free? Do you have the right to criticize the NYT for trying to make money that subsidizes its occasionally worthwhile journalism?

Generations after us have been brought up to expect everything for free — music, news, puzzles, etc. But someone pays, either through money or unpaid effort. At least, in this case, the guy who did the work is reaping the reward.

The vaccination that I get: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones broke up abruptly. Lead singer Dicky Barrett abruptly left his job as Jimmy Kimmel’s announcer. So is it a coincidence that someone named Dicky Barrett was credited as the producer of a song promoting an anti-vaccine rally? We can only hope.

Face off: Are you tired of taking off your mask so your phone or computer will recognize your face? Good news. Maybe.

Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty: Kudos to Janet Jackson, whose career was derailed by what should’ve been a harmless accident but refuses to bear a grudge.

So we’ll head into the Olympics on a nice note to go with all the encouraging COVID news. Let’s end a long winter with some warmth, and I don’t just mean the workouts you get shoveling all that snow.

And here’s the schedule to help you plan, assuming that you generally don’t want to stay up all night and that you really like curling (Google Sheet).

Featured image is me in front of the ski jumps in Whistler, getting ready to cover the 2010 Olympics.

sports, x marks the pod

X Pod Episode 2: Sports make the rich richer

The insistence upon exalting athletes and selling dreams of everything from Olympic gold to Ivy League college admission is turning sports into a miserable experience, especially for us parents and our kids. Also, Bull Durham is one of the best movies ever. Also, how do you explain 9/11 to a second-grader?

This episode has some audio glitches that I hope to squash in future episodes. At one point, I think I picked up some extraterrestrial communications. If the aliens invade, episode 3 of this podcast might take a while.

Links from this episode:


Still waiting for justice in soccer sexual abuse cases

Juan Ramos is a former pro soccer player — once drafted by the Miami Fusion — who embarked on a youth soccer coaching career.

In 2016, he was arrested and pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault by a custodian (not in the parental sex) with a sexual battery victim over 12 and under 18. The allegations: In 2003, he started a sexual relationship with a player he was training, and that continued for four years. When the alleged relationship started, the girl was 13 years old.

That arrest was five years ago. So where do we stand now?

When I checked in a year ago, the prosecution had offered evidence that Ramos admitted to sexual activity. The defense had countered that the accuser can’t give specific dates and also stalked Ramos.

But even before COVID-19 took its toll on court dockets around the country, this case had been continued and continued.

Things took a twist in March, when Ramos’ lawyer, Kevin Kulik, moved to drop his client, citing irreconcilable differences. That filing didn’t seem to change anything. The defense got another continuance in April. On May 1, the court set a Zoom hearing date of July 15, with Kulik still listed as the attorney. And on July 15, the defense got another continuance.

The next court date: Oct. 14.

Could such delays be helping the prosecution? They’ve filed three supplemental discovery documents, each including nothing but a single name and address.

However, the Assistant State Attorney prosecuting the case is now on family leave until Jan. 10. (Congratulations!)

And yet …

The court date set for Oct. 14 went forward as planned. And Ramos didn’t show.

A warrant is out to bring him in.

Might we finally see some action on this case? Is Kulik still his lawyer? Will they stick with the “a teenager was stalking me” defense?

Meanwhile, Shelby Garigen, the soccer trainer who was arrested when she turned up to have sex with a player who was above the age of consent for having sex but apparently not for sending pics on Snapchat, is still in prison. She hired a new lawyer who smashed the prosecution case in his filings, painting a convincing case that the parents of the “victim” leaned rather heavily on their status as prosecutors to bend the rules. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Western New York responded by adding a lawyer to its team.

The case is scheduled for Jan. 17. We’ll see if she actually gets her day in court before her scheduled release in September 2023.

Yes, I’ve written about all this before. Still waiting for someone to explain to me how this isn’t a massive double-standard. Still waiting for someone in the media to ask a few questions about their local courts.

Note: I’m moving ALL my blogging, except as it relates to the X Marks the Pod podcast, here to Mostly Modern Media, which I’ve kept since the mid-aughts.

journalism, sports

What’s a journalist? (Sports-related)

The funny thing I found about MMA journalism — most of the sport’s coverage up until the very late 2000s was in the hands of independent journalists who started sites with funny names (Sherdog, Bloody Elbow, MMA Junkie) who are more professional than the organization they’ve covered.

They toss aside the Playboy issues with an Octagon Girl that the UFC is trying to hand out. They hold the UFC accountable to the point of having their access revoked. Josh Gross and Loretta Hunt were both tossed out for asking questions that made Dana White and company uncomfortable. So was Ariel Helwani, however briefly.

And a lot of them have moved into major news organizations. USA TODAY bought MMA Junkie, basically outsourcing its MMA coverage. (That also meant the end of my freelance work for USA TODAY, which had continued after I left the full-time staff, but what really bothered me was that USAT’s new and inexperienced — and short-tenured — sports leadership tossed out a terrific full-time staff reporter.) Bloody Elbow has grown with its parent organization, SB Nation. Luke Thomas has a terrific show at SiriusXM.

I’m glad — because these folks are damn good.

A few soccer folks have done well independently or in the SB Nation fold. But the MMA folks took it to another level. Bloody Elbow has always had brilliant technical analysis along with history and some legal analysis, and it has gone into strong investigative work as well. Most MMA blogs with an audience are rarely, if ever, the province of the fanboy.

With the UFC strong-arming journalists, those journalists have done some careful thinking about the price of access. The UFC tossed Helwani out of the building along with a photographer and videographer who just happened to work for the same site. Dana White backed down on that, despite insisting he wouldn’t, but he has never relented on bringing back Josh Gross and Loretta Hunt, who did nothing more than raise questions that were uncomfortable for White and company.

So a few people in the MMA media have done what we’ve tried to do in soccer with varying success. They formed a journalists’ association. This week, that association spoke up after some mixed messages about whether journalists would be allowed to ask about, say, Greg Hardy and domestic violence. (Here’s the background.)

Luke Thomas offered up a thoughtful take about the association and journalism in general. He didn’t join the former because he thinks he doesn’t do the latter.

I think Luke is setting a very high bar for what’s considered journalism. He does analysis. I’d argue that’s journalism, probably more than I did in a ton of my stories at USA TODAY. We weren’t exactly FRONTLINE in my day. We did aggravate the UFC when my big cover-story splash about the sport led with Kimbo Slice, who was fighting for another organization at the time and leading the way into prime time, but I didn’t uncover a deep, dark secret with the help of anonymous sources. (Post-Jack Kelley, USA TODAY wasn’t big on anonymous sources.) I did original interviews, as he does. I pulled information from those interviews and other readily accessible things to put together stories that were unique, but so does he.

So, Luke, I for one think you’re a journalist.

And yet I understand the reluctance in joining an association, having been in two. I was president of one, and I’m probably at least partially responsible for it falling apart, mostly because I never really figured out what we were supposed to do. Exactly once in my tenure did I have a situation in which I needed to hash things out with an MLS team, and it was ridiculously minor. As Luke says here, a reporter’s editor should be the one doing that.

And yet I have full respect for Josh Gross being an officer of the MMA association. His presence sends a nice message that the members of the group are going to do their jobs whether the UFC likes it or not.

It’s also good to see some unity there. When I was in MMA journalism, I always sensed that many MMA fans figured those of us on the “inside” were compromised. I made every effort to demonstrate that I wasn’t, to the point of taking a gift the UFC had sent me all the way to Vegas to return it in person at UFC 100. The people working the desk surely still think I’m crazy.

(Yeah, they say credentialed reporters are compromised in soccer, too, but that’s because soccer attracts a lot of professional whiners. As I posted to a mailing list this week: “A lot of reporters are accused of not challenging MLS, and the people who raise such accusations won’t be happy until they see a lede like, ‘In a game that doesn’t matter because MLS doesn’t have promotion/relegation and once received a marketing boost from Chuck Blazer, Atlanta United beat the Portland Timbers 4-3 in an MLS Cup final featuring hat tricks by Josef Martinez and Diego Valeri, neither of whom would score that many goals in La Liga.'”)

So just having a variety of names attached is a good thing. I often wished I could show some solidarity with those on the “outside,” and a group like this helps.

Maybe they could do some things to raise their visibility. The UFC rankings (no offense to the one former co-worker and longtime friend of mine who takes his vote very seriously) aren’t particularly credible. What if the MMAJA did their own? The only glue that held together the soccer associations was voting on weekly awards.

Still, what matters more is that the media understand what they’re doing and the ramifications of all of it. Press conferences are often just for show, in MMA especially but sometimes in soccer as well.

And it’s important to pick one’s battles. One time I diverged from my soccer colleagues was when MLS decided to give us some information before MLS Cup but asked us to withhold it until halftime. I had no issue with it, and it gave us time to prepare what we were going to do with it. Others immediately tweeted it out. So what happened? MLS never did that again, so now you get the same info at halftime, and you have to scramble to respond to it while you’re trying to cover a game. Was that “scoop” worth it?

The MMA media have more difficult fights. If I’m being asked not to ask certain questions at a press conference, I’d be inclined not to go, and then I’ll ask the questions elsewhere. We’d have to see if my editors backed that up.

They grasp these issues. They have intelligent discussions on them. It’s impressive. And a lot of us could learn from it.