Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In light of Ohio State, where is the outrage for Notre Dame's far more serious issues?; The passing of Maryland political power broker Peter O’Malley

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.


John Matthew IV said...


The NHL has only one final round so it is called the "Stanley Cup Final."

I've never figured out why the later rounds of the NBA Finals are never mentioned after the first best-of-seven is decided.

Go Irish!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Feinstein,
I have one simple question: did you read the investigative report Notre Dame released on the incident? It appears you only read the initial press release that was issue a few days after the tragedy. I would be interested in your assessment of Notre Dame's actions/inactions after you have read the full report.

Tom (not a ND grad) said...

John, I think your comments on Notre Dame are overreaching. Declan Sullivan's death was a tragedy, but it was ultimately an OSHA issue, not a willful conspiracy. The university is going to be punished just like all organizations are when there's an on-the-job death, by paying a hefty fine and losing a hefty lawsuit. Lacking evidence that the university president fostered a culture of recklessness however, it is unrealistic to expect that he should be personally punished for this sad incident. Same with the athletic director, if we're looking to identify who really was at fault. Not knowing the organizational responsibilities at ND, I'd assume that someone in the athletic equipment organization would probably have front line responsibility for "scissorlift" safety and operation. But we all know that punishing someone that low on the totem pole would not satisfy the public, which generally wants a high-profile beheading anytime something goes wrong. Because the public wills it though doesn't make it justified.

Anonymous said...
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John Blough said...

I wish there was a 'hefty lawsuit' to bring all this disgusting behavior by ND out, but there won't be. The Cult of Notre Dame is such a closed system (culturally) that it would offend the family's sensibility to actually hold the great Notre Dame responsible.

Let's not forget that Notre Dame is part of the same Catholic Church that covered up a worldwide child rape (a little grittier than calling it pedophilia, yes?). How long did it take families of victims to come forward and demand responsibility?

This, unfortunately, is the same thing.

The ND party line for such athletic scandals is that it happens everywhere...however, ND people hurt themselves patting themselves on the back because they aren't like everywhere else.

mfcollins said...

John, here's a quote from Jack Swarbrick in today's LA Times:
“I think it’s really important to us as an industry, as the NCAA, to figure out how to be more effective in keeping negative events from happening in our sport, at least the ones we can control,” Swarbrick said. “I hope the NCAA and the industry can come up with better ways to ensure ethical conduct, because it really hurts us when we fall short of that.”
The use of the term "industry" says it all about big-time college athletics.

Reed said...

I'm not sure Gee should be fired because I don't believe the tail should wag the dog: The primary mission of university presidents should not be overseeing the athletic department. Gee administers a school with an endowment of $1.87 billion (with a B). No matter what spiel the apologists put out about football's "revenue-producing" capabilities, you can be sure that most of that money does not come from athletics. And so even though this is the most public face of Gee's job, I believe it is far from the most important. To fire him over a sports scandal (albeit a significant one) would be to confirm that college sports controls college education. And that's the wrong message. If there are addtional problems with Gee stretching back a while (and given his penchant for unfortunate soundbytes I wouldn't be surprised at this point if that's the case), then sure, this can be the proverbial straw. But don't fire him over this alone.

Anonymous said...

Please. Gee has made very clear he won't be fired until his boss, Jim Tressel, says he should be.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Feinstien,

Thank you for the Peter O'Malley post.

Rob Pollard said...

John is a 100% right on ND. I can't fathom how literally no one got fired for this young man's death. There seems to be zero responsibility and no one in charge - pretty shocking in football, where every detail is attended to in order to make sure the team is ready for their games.

I guess student workers at ND just go about their business and decide what's best, not their supervisors or the head coach or AD.

The simplest way to look at it is this: if you had a 19-year old, would you be OK with him working in a potentially dangerous job if they told you, "Well, ma'am, we don't give him any real training and he's on his own. I'm sure he can make informed decisions." I know I wouldn't.

Brian Kelly should be fired. What he did (or didn't do) is far worse than Tressel (who, btw, I'm not sad he's gone).

Mr. X said...

Still no obit in either the B'more Sun or the Wall Street Post.

joseph said...


You're right on about ND. The place has lost its soul. And when you surround yourself with people who all look and think alike, it's no wonder that it ends up with decisions and actions that the rest of world finds shameless. And, by the way, I am an alumnus.

EB said...

John, I too am an ND alum and happen to agree with you regarding Father Jenkins' failure to meet with the parents of the young woman who committed suicide. For you to call the man a complete fraud, however, is intellectually lazy. Have you ever met the man? Have you studied his life as a priest or tenure as University president? Have you attempted to familiarize yourself with any of his good works? Have you ever talked to those he served? Perhaps you get paid to be cynical; I would have expected better from you than a character assassination like that on a man.

Anonymous said...

I expected better from Mr Feinstein. The attacks on ND were childish. I realize a well thought out opinion doesn't generate as much attention as the broad brush attack, but your standards should be higher.

Anonymous said...

Maryland got screwed 21 years ago. Yet the 'big' time programs have always gotten a slap on the wrist. The NCAA has no rhyme, reason or logic to dispensing penalties. But being a power house usually helps!

FOTB said...

O'Flanagan - You may never read this if your comment was true, but just in case, we wanted to let you know why it was blocked...bad language. Feel free to make a new comment without it and we'll make sure to let it be posted.


FOTB Staff

Anonymous said...

Pure O’Malley: "I’m going to give you a compliment, but remind you that I’m still smarter than you."
Sounds a lot like pure Feinstein to me. No wonder you had mixed feelings about PFO, you evidently had a lot in common.

O Flanagan said...

Sir John,
Very long time major fan of yours! I have read most of your books and have always loved watching you involved with golf commentating. I am a massive Duke fan and alumni. Starting today I will never read, listen and watch you again. Your ND comments are over the top and your statement that "TV apologists will tell us what a wonderful, caring place and nurturing place Notre Dame is" is plain unfair, ignorant, hateful and rude. ND is a truly amazing place full of charity and thoughtfulness for students, faculty, alumni, community and fans. You are mocking the tradition of a very wonderful place that has done massive amount of good throughout the world. Obviously the entire ND family was terribly saddened by the death of Declan as well as some other recent controversies. It is beyond awful for the families. All major universities have experienced really tough times and some perhaps handle it better than others. But to comment that ND is not a place of charity and compassion is completely unfair. You are no longer a person that I respect.