Ruminating on the Consequences of Journalistic Ethics
At the end of November, spirits were high for the Yale Women’s soccer team. After a successful 2019 campaign, with the team finishing third in the Ivy League and being only two spots short from a N.C.A.A. tournament bid, the team gathered for what truly felt like a turning-of-the-pages, a new chapter and a fresh start. In the past five years, the team had struggled to find success on and off the field. Circumstances only worsened when, in the beginning of 2019, Head Coach Rudy Meredith became embroiled in the National Varsity Blues scandal. Yet at the end of 2019, despite projections for a sixth place finish, Yale women’s soccer shocked the Ivy League and emerged as a newfound threat. As the season concluded, there was a palpable feeling resonating throughout the team that we were laying the stones for a new era. The team celebrated its victories, lauded its senior leadership, and set sights on 2020. Around this time, coaches went about their final season meetings with long talks about the future and the culture of the team. Even after being sidelined by an injury during the very first scrimmage of the season, I was exhilarated by the obtainable prospects of an Ivy League Title, an N.C.A.A. bid and a chance to quiet any remaining critics of the program.
All of that changed on the evening of November 20. On that day, I received a peculiar text from one of our coaches directing a team meeting in the varsity room at 5:00 p.m. We hardly meet in the varsity room. We never use iMessage. And we rarely, if ever, have unscheduled meetings. For the rest of the day I waited impatiently, skipping lunch and checking the clock frequently. By 4:35 p.m., with swelling nerves, I raced over to the varsity room expecting to be the first one in the room—I was not. As we waited for the rest of the team to filter in, I gathered among my teammates to speculate on the matter while considering every doomsday scenario (for a team that had already seen one national scandal, such grave, impromptu speculation was certainly warranted). The meeting itself was even more troubling—for the rare presence of Athletic Director Vicky Chun, Deputy Director of Athletics Mary Berdo, our two assistant coaches Sarah Martinez and Sade Ayinde, goal-keeper coach Jacob Dunnett, team trainer Maggie Maloney and for the conspicuous absence of our head coach, Brendan Faherty. Once the team had gathered, Vicky Chun informed the team that Head Coach Brendan Faherty’s contract had been terminated. Chun explained that she was unable to provide any details about his termination and that we would learn more at 12:00 p.m., when the Yale Daily News planned to release an article about our new coach’s dismissal. It became clear that Chun was desperately trying to convey what little news she had to us, but was simply forbidden due to Yale’s legal constraints. As the group lamented about the implication of this change, it was impossible to ignore the dark explanation and ethical concerns prompting Faherty’s termination. Nevertheless, the team planned to meet at the soccer team house to uncover the news together. But just as confused as we entered the morning, we left in the evening.
The Yale Daily News reported that then-head coach Brendan Faherty had allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct and had a consensual sexual relationship with a former player during his tenure as an assistant coach at the University of New Haven. The in-depth report lists a series of allegations against Faherty: “Five individuals close to the matter, including the alleged victim herself, said that Faherty demanded a former player sleep in his bed and groped her breasts in January 2009. Another former player recalls a consensual, intimate physical relationship she shared with her coach while she was a player and for several years thereafter.” The Yale Daily News article continued by adding that “Three former players told the News that they drank with the coach while they were players, and three others—who did not drink with Faherty themselves—confirmed that the coach frequently met with players at bars.”
Faherty was Athletic Director Vicky Chun’s first hire at the start of 2019. Yet, as Chun disclosed during a meeting with the entire Yale Women’s Soccer team and staff on December 3, she was only notified of the article and its allegations the day prior to the article’s release. Mackenzie Hawkins, whose name appears on the byline of Yale Daily News article, confirmed Chun’s account: “relevant university authorities were informed of the allegations on the Monday prior to publication.” The article was published on Tuesday. Chun disclosed that the Yale Daily News had provided the athletic department with few details about allegations prior to the release of the article. The administration, with those limited details, promptly dismissed Faherty. As for the Yale women’s soccer team: We learned of the allegations along with the rest of the Yale Daily News’s audience, the fateful night that the story was released.
Hawkins confirmed that the investigation of Faherty took place for a full month. Rather than report what they had learned in October to the departments at Yale responsible for investigating claims of sexual misconduct or alert the Athletic Department, the Yale Daily News remained silent. The paper made the conscious decision to leave the Yale soccer team exposed while they investigated their sources, wrote their story, edited their story, and chose to alert the University just one day before the story went to print. Recall that the allegations against Yale’s now former coach concern purported inappropriate sexual conduct between our coach and his former players. We were left exposed. The Yale Daily News watched the women’s soccer team as we practiced with our new coach, as we traveled with our new coach, as we interacted with our new coach. The paper chronicled our successful season. Yet, it never whispered a word to any of the women on the team, our staff, the Athletic Department and inexplicably never made any report to the Title IX office of the disturbing allegations.
When asked about the length of the investigation and potential safety concerns for the team, Hawkins, the author of the piece wrote in an email: “The safety of the team was a primary concern, as was the concern of getting the story right and doing the UNH players justice. When I began the investigation, I didn’t know what I would find but I did know that everything I found would require multiple rounds of interviews with players themselves and those corroborating their stories. Ultimately, we—being my editors and I—acted as quickly as we could given the constraints of finding sources, developing relationships with them and verifying what we learned.” She added, “Secondly, the stakes with this piece felt—and were—much higher. While I am always concerned with the accuracy and completeness, stories of this nature necessitate higher standards of corroboration, more rounds of editing and an incredibly thorough review of all relevant materials.” Hawkins was not alone in composing the piece. The Yale Daily News has a routine protocol for run-of-the-mill stories. But for a story of this gravity, Hawkins notes that piece was more intensely collaborative. She writes: “Because this piece spanned multiple editorial jurisdictions, I worked closely with senior editors as well as desk edits over the course of several sessions, as opposed to a normal nightly edit that goes fairly quickly.”
The story that the Yale Daily News ran that day was picked up by the New York Times, the New York Post, and papers around the country. The Yale Daily News certainly achieved some fame and continues to celebrate its story by heralding “Women’s Soccer Coach Leaves Yale Amid Allegations of Impropriety with UNH Players” in its Year in Review roundup. But the question remains: What is the paper’s responsibility—morally, ethically—to act? Is it to develop their story and protect their lead lest someone scoop and print first, no matter the cost? Is that lead more important than the safety and security of their fellow Yale students? Why did they need seven sources and a month of investigations before releasing a single word? The paper could have taken other steps: It could have alerted the administration while continuing its investigation, its edits, its story-line. It could have worked alongside the University to help corroborate stories and receive professional support. In my opinion, the paper got the balance wrong. In my opinion, the paper put me and my fellow teammates at risk—without our knowledge. We were the unwitting pawns in the Yale Daily News‘s salacious story.