I know I do this on occasion but the subject of today’s blog is not going to be The NBA Finals (yawn); The Stanley Cup Finals (I plan to watch it all) or even Jim Tressel (I wrote a column you can read on WashingtonPost.com or on this blog).
I will add one thing to the Tressel column that there wasn’t space for (it will also run in tomorrow’s newspaper) because even though it isn’t directly connected to Tressel, it has some relevance in any discussion of big time college athletics.
I have no sympathy at all for Tressel or for Gordon Gee or Gene Smith—who, as I wrote in the column—should both be fired too at the very least for complete incompetence. But I also think we should keep things in perspective a little bit.
Ohio State is getting fried—justifiably—for allowing its program to run amok and then for trying to cover up clear violations. But why is it that almost NO ONE around the country is nailing Notre Dame for the cavalier manner in which it handled the death of Declan Sullivan?
Please don’t tell me you buy into Father John Jenkins blanket, “we’re all guilty,” press release. Really? If everyone is guilty where is the list of those fired or at least disciplined—starting with Jenkins and then going on down to the athletic director (who claimed there was ‘nothing unusual,’ in the weather conditions minutes before Sullivan’s tower came crashing down) to the head football coach who insisted on practicing outdoors on a day when there were wind warnings all over the Midwest; to whoever was responsible for not ordering Sullivan to stay off the tower—even if he was willing, though apparently terrified, to go up there?
No one was fired. Jenkins should have added a sentence at the end of his statement if he was being intellectually honest about how he felt that said: “Now let’s get back to the important work of figuring out how to beat Navy!”
Jenkins strikes me as a complete fraud. Can you imagine him refusing to meet with the family of the girl who committed suicide shortly after filing a report alleging sexual assault against a Notre Dame football player? He was acting on the advice of his lawyers. Where in the vows Jenkins took, I wonder, does it say: “your lawyer’s advice comes before comforting those involved in a tragedy?” Meeting with the family would not have been an admission of guilt; only an admission that he cared about people who were suffering.
Can’t have that. The lawyers told him so.
I can’t wait for the fall when all the TV apologists will tell us what a wonderful, caring place and nurturing place Notre Dame is. I will keep an air sickness bag handy should I happen to encounter a Notre Dame game while flipping channels. You can bet I won’t actually WATCH one. (Go ahead you Irish fans, pile on and tell me how awful I am for criticizing such a wonderful place. Can’t wait.)
Let me move on to a different sort of Irishman. His name was Peter Francis O’Malley. He died suddenly on Saturday at the age of 72 of a heart attack. Peter O’Malley wasn’t a friend of mine but I considered him a worthy adversary.
He was a political power broker in Maryland, a lot of his base being in Prince George’s County, the place that was once home to The Washington Bullets and Washington Capitals and is now home to The Washington Redskins. O’Malley was close friends with Abe Pollin and was an ‘advisor,’ to most of the important Democratic politicians in Prince George’s and to many others throughout the state. One of his many protégés was Steny Hoyer, now the minority whip in The House of Representatives. It was also O’Malley who played a key role in helping push through the legislation that got The Capital Centre built in about 15 minutes back in the mid-1970s.
I first encountered him when I began covering Prince George’s County. One of the first things everyone involved in politics out there told me was, “you have to get to know Pete O’Malley.”
I took their advice. I got to know him. It wasn’t as if he became one of my most valued sources—Laney Hester, the head of the police union was BY FAR my most important source—but he educated me on the county’s political history; told me who was important to know and who wasn’t and always took my calls or returned them quickly.
When I moved up to cover the state legislature he remained someone important for me to know. During the 1983 legislative session, a couple of Prince George’s County legislators decided to introduce a bill that would force Abe Pollin to pay the county’s amusement tax (nine-and-a-half percent if I remember right) from which he had been exempt. The county had waved the tax after Pollin had threatened to fold the Capitals because of red ink a couple of years earlier.
Since the bill directly affected only Prince George’s, it had to be voted on by the county’s delegation before being sent to the floor of The House of Delegates. Early on a Tuesday morning, prior to the weekly meeting of the local delegation, one of O’Malley’s ‘people,’ could be seen going from office to office. He had a message from Pete: kill the bill. They did—that morning. When I began asking questions, several legislators readily said that O’Malley had made it clear he wanted the bill dead so the bill was dead. It would not be introduced again.
I called O’Malley that morning and left a message telling him what I was writing for the next day. It was the first time he ever failed to call me back. The story ran on A1 of the paper, more as an object lesson in how to exert political power than anything else.
That morning, O’Malley did call me. “We’re supposed to have lunch next Monday,” he said. “I’m canceling.”
“Oh did something come up?”
“No. I just don’t have time to have lunch with the likes of you.”
I had heard in the past about O’Malley’s volcanic temper. This was the first time I had been exposed to it first hand. “Pete, was there anything in the story that wasn’t true? Did I call you to comment?”
“That’s not the point. The point is you didn’t HAVE to write the story that way but you CHOSE to write it that way.”
“Yes I did. And I think I wrote the right story.”
“Good. Tell that to the person you have lunch with next Monday.”
O’Malley forgave me, but not until I was out of politics and back covering sports. And he forgave me in his uniquely O’Malley way. After I’d written a story on Jim Phalen, the legendary basketball coach at Mt. St. Mary’s—his alma mater—he wrote me a note about how much he had enjoyed the piece. And then he added: “I think you belong in sports. The better side of you comes out when you are working there as opposed to politics.”
I passed that along to some of his political friends who agreed it was pure O’Malley: I’m going to give you a compliment, but remind you that I’m still smarter than you.
I’ve had the chance to know a lot of people in a lot of different walks of life. As anyone who reads this blog, I tend to be very black-and-white in my feelings about people even though I try very hard to stand back from my biases—or at least recognize them—when I write. At the very least I KNOW the biases exist.
Peter O’Malley was different. He wasn’t a friend and he wasn’t an enemy. I certainly respected him but probably not as much as he thought I should have respected him. He could be difficult and he could be helpful. But he was never, ever un-interesting. I’m truly sorry for his family that he is gone so quickly and so prematurely. He deserved a long retirement. He worked very hard for a long time to get there.