University Football Coach: Newspaper Theft by Players a “Team Building Exercise”

Guy Morriss, the football coach at Texas A&M University-Commerce, is expressing pride at his players’ recent involvement in the theft of almost 2,000 copies of The East Texan, the school’s student newspaper. According to the coach, “I’m proud of my players for doing that.  This was the best team building exercise we have ever done.”

The late February issue of the paper that allegedly riled the gridiron squad contained a front page story headlined, “Football Player Arrested in Drug Bust.” According to the East Texan, most of the team was involved in the roughly one-hour mass theft operation- two were captured on video and others identified by eyewitnesses.  However, the school’s athletic director has told police “the football team could not have stolen the papers without the aid of outside help. ‘I don’t think they are smart enough to do this on their own,’ he said.” (Sidenote: Quite a confidence booster from the AD, huh?)

The battle now involving local police, the Student Press Law Center, and others centers on the usual debate over how to classify the taking of numerous copies of a free publication with the obvious intent of trashing or hiding them. Press experts contend it is theft, in the spirit and in a growing sense letter of the law.

My favorite expert attack is from SPLC attorney advocate Adam Goldstein, writing with wonderful snarkiness for HuffPost College: “If these are actually Guy Morriss’s words, he shouldn’t be coaching students. He shouldn’t be coaching a foosball table. If he ran an obedience school for dogs, he’d probably teach them to destroy the couch to cover up the fact that they were chewing on it. . . . Printed in every copy of the East Texan is a statement that copies beyond the first cost a quarter- but even without such a statement, stealing all the newspapers would still be theft.  The fact that the owner of property chooses not to charge for it doesn’t make it legal for someone else to come along and destroy it.”

According to the SPLC, East Texan editors estimate the financial losses incurred by the theft to be roughly $1,500.  At this point, local police have issued no criminal charges and the university considers its own investigation into the incident closed.  If the players are ultimately charged with criminal theft, Morriss will gladly take one for the team, stating, “I guess I will be the first one out of the door in handcuffs then.” (The university president is supporting Morriss, and vague statements about appropriate punishment, education, and counseling are also being bandied about.)

Click on the image below to watch a video news report about the theft.

My take: Dumb (the theft), and dumber (the coach’s statement). The next team building exercise should be a workshop on media relations 101.  The first lesson … a mass paper swiping almost always ends up bringing MORE attention to the individuals or issues written about, not less.  So not only have the players now done a disservice to their already indicted teammates, they have also embarrassed their school, the NCAA, and, most of all, themselves.

5 Responses to “University Football Coach: Newspaper Theft by Players a “Team Building Exercise””
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  1. […]  In March 2010, a majority of the players on the Texas A&M University-Commerce football team worked together to steal almost 2,000 copies of The East Texan student newspaper.  The issue of the paper that angered the […]

  2. […] to a front-page story about the arrest of two football players and an assistant coach.  It is the second football-related student newspaper theft at a school within the Texas A&M system in under two […]