Kurt Wermers Got Out When He Had To Comment Count

Brian July 20th, 2009 at 1:28 PM


Former Michigan offensive lineman Kurt Wermers was academically ineligible when he announced his transfer to Ball State last week, sources told ESPN.com.

… But according to sources with knowledge of the situation, Wermers was already out.

His academic struggles would have prevented him from suiting up with the Wolverines. Wermers wasn't even enrolled in summer school at the time of his departure.

Four things:

Wermers' comments now appear even more self-serving. She didn't break up with me, I broke up with her. And she was a whore anyway. Meet my new girlfriend, who looks like a horse. I mean, really: "I thought I'd get out when I could." Super.

(No offense, Ball State fans, it's just that you're in the MAC and all that. You're a very pretty horse.)

Ugh APR. My concern about Michigan's APR tickling the edges of the 925 cutoff is now increased: you get two points per player per semester, one for keeping them at school and another for keeping them eligible. Michigan got 1/2 for Threet in his final semester; they get 0/2 for Wermers, which makes his departure the equivalent of two guys.

Um, why would Wermers be in summer school? Weird little addendum from Rittenberg there at the end. Wermers left the team months ago and Rodriguez officially announced it in May. Obviously he wasn't enrolled in summer school.

Who is Deep Throat here? I'm sure Wermers' academic status is common knowledge in a certain circle of folks close to the program, any one of whom could be a source credible enough for Rittenberg to go with. I hope none of the coaches were peeved enough to be one of them.


biakabutuka ex…

July 20th, 2009 at 4:35 PM ^

If that's what it sounded like, I didn't convey myself clearly.

All that I meant was this corroborates that he wasn't getting the special treatment he wanted. I personally think "family atmosphere" is just a PR way of saying "coddled".

The football program gives players a wealth of assistance but they obviously didn't give him enough *because he failed*. But here's the important point: that's the way it should be. It shouldn't be impossible to fail at Michigan if you are a football player. That's for the Ole Misses of the world. So I do agree with you. I just think that Wermers disagrees, and therefore his point is valid. It's incorrect, but valid.

Maybe not. Maybe he really didn't like anyone there and completely sidestepped the academic thing in his comments. I don't know. I'm just trying to reconcile this big reason why he left with the statement he made. It seems like he would have indirectly addressed that, you know? As for directly addressing it, would you say you were failing your classes?


July 20th, 2009 at 5:31 PM ^

If the coaches did in fact leak the academic issue, I think it takes them off the moral high ground where people can say they were wronged, took the abuse, and went the high road anyway. But that's all.

Because c'mon: if Wermers had stayed at U-M, he wouldn't have been in uniform, or even on the roster, and then we'd all have known he was ineligible anyway. How secret could this possibly have stayed? Anyway, people transfer from school to school all the time and academics is given as the reason. Every year there's at least twenty, thirty guys in D-I who are academically ineligible and nobody complains about privacy then, so why should they now?

edit: let me just allow the headline on the sidebar to illustrate my point:

"Bielema confirms cornerback Goins has left UW program
started six games last year; academically ineligible"

And you'll still hear the MSU/OSU crowd calling out DickRod for violating Wermers' privacy by leaking the info. Whether or not he even did.


July 20th, 2009 at 4:43 PM ^

e-question for MGoBrian -

Great e-blog. Long time reader, first time writer of a question in the comment section:

Rodriguez seems to be getting commitments from some serious students of late (like kids with offers from Stanford, those types of students) - how much of that is in an effort to stay afloat according the the APR? Do you think it's a concerted effort on his part, or just coincidence?

Thanks, I'll hang up and listen.

True Blue Crew

July 20th, 2009 at 6:03 PM ^

I find it refreshing that the coaching staff didn't waste their time acknowledging "Wormers" comments. I have been kind of torn on Rich Rod and his staff, but the more things like this I hear about the better I feel about Michigan Football!

El Jeffe

July 20th, 2009 at 8:54 PM ^

Is there any sense, journalism ethics-wise, in which Rittenberg should have made it clear whether he was contacted a la Deep Throat with the Wermers info or whether he asked an honest question and got an honest answer?

If someone with an email address like [email protected] sent him the info, then that's slimy. But if Rittenberg wondered to hisself, "huh, I wonder if there's any more to the story?" and proceeded to place a phone call the way actual reporters used to do, isn't it possible someone just told him the answer?

El Jeffe

July 20th, 2009 at 9:09 PM ^

I'm not doubting the verified voracity of his source; that is, that someone in the AD's office told Rittenberg about Wermers. My question is whether someone proactively "leaked" it to him or whether he just asked a reasonable question and someone told him the truth. The former is a slightly scummy thing to do to a 19 year-old; the latter isn't, IME.

And, I'm wondering whether this is something journalists are supposed to do--not reveal their sources, but reveal whether they were contacted by the source rather than running it down themselves. Actually, as I write this I'm guessing not. Journalists probably don't want to reveal whether something just fell into their lap rather than their getting the scoop through hard work and e-shoe leather.


July 20th, 2009 at 9:14 PM ^

But it would have been pretty easy to find this info. Summer school classes are coming to an end and schools are releasing who is going to be eligible for the fall semester and who is not. For example, Wisconsin just lost their DB Goins due to academics. This was reported today as the coach was asked about how his players were doing with their summer work outs.

Durham Blue

July 20th, 2009 at 10:10 PM ^

I just don't think it's that difficult to get the eligibility of a student, especially if you're a well-known ESPN journalist looking for a story. I'm sure there are other university sources "in the know" besides RR, his coaching staff and the athletic department.


July 20th, 2009 at 11:10 PM ^

Are you kidding me? Reporters have GONE TO JAIL RATHER THAN REPORT THEIR SOURCE.

Sry about the caps, but statements like that make me crazy.

People ignoring history. Completely.
There was this person called Deep Throat.
In some little thing called Watergate.
Ever hear of it?

I don't believe the guys who worked for The Post reported their source.


July 21st, 2009 at 7:33 AM ^

But I'll answer your question.

Sometimes, the only way you can get information that would be important for your readers is to quote an unnamed source. This is one of those areas in journalism where we get a pass from normal ethical standards of repeatability, because without it we couldn't do our jobs.

My magazine's in the environmental field. I talk to environmental managers of rather large companies. Sometimes they tell me how they disagreed with their higher-ups or something -- which professionally would be very embarrassing to them if the source's name was revealed to said higher-up. But this is a major thing in our industry: the environmental compliance guys (who are our readership) don't always get through to the director level, and we talk about strategies for doing this, among other things. We couldn't do that if we had to disclose the source to the public.

We are beholden to sources for information. It's not like journalists have all the information all the time in our heads -- insider information is by definition exclusive to a select group.

Ideally, you would like to disclose every source. But it's not feasible. So rather than follow that standard, the way we are judged is entirely based on our personal credibility. That can be difficult to keep track of individual journalists, so our editors make sure everyone on staff keep the same standard of credibility, so readers can just trust the brand. Credibility is earned over a long time of providing good information that proves to be true. If you screw up once in a lifetime, that puts an indelible mark on you, your publication, and even your medium.

In this case, you're taking Rittenberg's word because his word has proven to be good in the past. If he disclosed his source, or enough information so that those close to the source could identify him, the source would likely face retribution and Rittenberg would lose his effectiveness to his readers because no source would trust him again.

From a reader's perspective, again, it comes down to trust: Do you trust us to have given you as much information as we could (which, btw, is our job)? If you do, then we are a valuable source of information for you. If you don't trust a certain writer, or a certain publication, or a certain medium, because they have burned you in the past or because other people you trust have said they are not trustworthy, then they've lost a reader.

El Jeffe

July 21st, 2009 at 9:29 AM ^

This is good stuff. I'd really be interested in hearing your opinion on my "clarification" question below. To summarize: I totally get that Rittenberg wouldn't want to out his source. I'm more interested in (1) how he came upon the information, which you obviously can't know, and (2) whether he is in any sense obligated to divulge the directional arrow of the information--i.e., whether it fell in his lap or whether he tracked it down (which you might be able to comment on).

I'll take my answer off the air, thanks.


July 21st, 2009 at 11:21 AM ^

As to (1) -- yeah, no idea. And (2), no he's not.

A journalist's obligation is to provide as much information as he can without violating other ethical considerations, including source disclosure. A lot of times, it comes down to the journalist's own judgment.

For example, say a source inside a company told me that they were dumping hazardous waste in a lake from which a community draws its drinking water. Later on, the company realized it was creating a danger for itself, and went back and cleaned it up. Divulging that source's name would likely get him fired, and possibly make him criminally liable. Printing the name of his company in my article would make it easy for his state's regulatory dept. or agency to go after him. And because they cleaned it up later, there's no good (aside from lawsuits) that could come of it. I would be giving away my career (since no source would trust me again) and subjecting my source's career. Is it worth it for the company to receive justice?

I made a promise to myself when I got into this business that I would do that if it meant peoples' lives were in danger. In the odd case when I have undisclosed sources (one a year or less), I make that clear. Our readers understand this too (I hope), and we added it to our mission statement. Some journalists don't have that standard, and that gives them more access, and sometimes they've saved more lives by reporting without disclosing their sources -- by highlighting a more endemic problem -- than they would have otherwise.

The problem with providing a directional arrow in this case, I'm guessing, is that it would likely out the source. If he said "in an e-mail forwarded from an insider," there are only a handful of people who got that private e-mail, and of them if one had it in for Wermers... get it?


July 21st, 2009 at 2:41 PM ^

I was trying to give an example of where you might have to make a judgment call. I mean, if it's clear the company caused irreparable harm to the public, then of course it's unethical to keep it from regulators. But it's also unethical to get information from a source under false pretenses. At that point, you're choosing among evils.

The point is, we're not working for the police, but we are humans and we are citizens. If ever put in that extraordinary position of having to choose between your livelihood and reporting a crime you know to have been committed, what would you do?

I've never had to face that kind of thing, fortunately. In the story I was obtusely referring to, the company reported their mess to the authorities first -- I altered the real-life situation to provide an abstract.

Does that help, or were you going 'gotchya'?

STW P. Brabbs

July 22nd, 2009 at 9:33 AM ^

I understand your point, and sure - if there were a choice that might damage my own career, it would be more difficult to make. I'd like to think that in the above situation, I would report the mess, but until one is in that moment, etc.

But to put things in perspective, I cannot see how potentially misusing a journalistic source would be equivalent to covering up a situation that may have caused irreparable harm to many. Also, saying that losing your job as an environmental reporter would be the demise of your livelihood is a somewhat dramatic phrasing - surely you have employable skills and could find other work (though if you really love what you do, this would suck). It's not as though you're a longshoreman getting a double amputation.

That's all. I think the reason I got into this is that it really bothers me when people in journalism invoke protection of sources as some kind of moral imperative. It's not, really - it has a hell of a lot more to do with self-interest than anything else. That, and it's a really limp excuse to compare the health of one's career with the bodily health of other, I suppose.


July 22nd, 2009 at 11:04 AM ^

It is a moral imperative. From a journalist's perspective, yes, we want to keep our jobs (in case you haven't noticed, there are plenty of unemployed journalists out there right now).

But it's not a moral imperative because of us. It's to protect the source.

It's the same reasoning behind laws that protect whistleblowers -- it is in the public's interests that people with information that could be helpful to the public come forward with it. You're putting the decision on the journalist, but really the big hurdle isn't getting the journalist to print it, but the insider to spill it. If insiders can be protected, they can feel comfortable sharing information.

Let's go back to our analogy. If the source gives me information about how his company abused a loophole in our regulatory code or practices, having that loophole brought into the light so the public can stop other companies from repeating it is more important than administering justice on one guy.

There's actually an Ethics Advice Hotline we use to help make tough decisions like this.

Protection of sources IS a moral imperative. It is one of the freedoms of the press, which itself is an imperative for Democratic government.

Criticism of the press is as old as the press -- and we're used to it. But try to remember that we don't make much. Your typical "elite" journalist probably makes as much per year as he or she spent per year in college, which is hardly enough to get by in the urban settings that most have to (in order to work for a major urban paper) reside in. The hours, too, are ludicrous (until you become a publisher, which, like, then you can sit around posting on football blogs) for most journalists, and the travel makes having a family very, very difficult. My point is, these people don't do these jobs just to serve some other agenda -- unless you're actually committed to serving the public, you'd be out of there the first time some nasty political hack decided to put you in his crosshairs.

STW P. Brabbs

July 22nd, 2009 at 1:19 PM ^

There are two entities who risk exposure: the whistleblower and the company. I'm all for protecting the whistleblower's identity. But if the hypothetical middle manager exposes the problem, and as you said,

"printing the name of his company in my article would make it easy for his state's regulatory dept. or agency to go after him,"

so you choose not to report the company either, then he's not much of a whistleblower. Or he's trying to be one, but you're WhistleBlocking him, or something.

I get why you wouldn't want to expose the guy that's putting his ass one the line to point out the company's wrongdoing. But if you go so far to protect him that you don't report the company's wrongdoing either, then that's a failure of journalistic duty, IME.

And yes, lawyers and journalists are subject to a lot of stick that is not always deserved. Some of that ire might come from the fact that both groups have constructed an ethical code that they steadfastly insist exists independently of other morality. I.e., lawyers absolve themselves of moral judgment in their adherence to a legal system that instructs them to fight like hell for their clients - truth be damned, as can journalists in their devotion to the integrity of sources. Sometimes, that allegiance to professional ethics can appear to be a self-serving, career-minded copout. Not that it always is.


July 23rd, 2009 at 9:22 AM ^

What you're dismissing as "an ethical code that they steadfastly insist exists independently of other morality," or a "self-serving, career-minded copout," are actually specified, identified holes in ethical rules, in which violation of the normal code is preferable for the greater good than maintenance of it.

Morality, as we discovered once Democracy freed mankind to make most of his own decisions, is so much more complicated than the Aquinas code of good and bad -- there are things that are good for the individual, good for the law, good for society, good for the long term, etc.

The reason that lawyers have to fight like hell for their clients - truth be damned - is because it has to be hard to put a person in jail. We're better off with 10 guilty men being let off than one innocent man being wrongly convicted (John Adams). In the short term, especially to those wronged by the guilty man on trial, the lawyer appears like he's defending evil. But widen your view: what if a person accused of a crime couldn't seek counsel? The problem with the legal system isn't that advocates advocate too strongly for their clients, but that clients with more money have access to the best advocates (perhaps if trial lawyers split the total fees with the other side -- that would attract some awesome lawyers to D.A. offices, eh?)

Journalism is the same thing. You're focusing on the reporter's choice to report the source, but then you say this...

so you choose not to report the company either, then he's not much of a whistleblower. Or he's trying to be one, but you're WhistleBlocking him, or something.

Whistleblocking? Dude, if the guy gave me information about his company on the record, I would of course report it. The ethical imperative is betraying his trust. In other words, he's not trying to whistleblow -- that's the whole point!!! Using our case, he's providing inside dope on how companies can defeat the public's system of protecting itself, and doing it on condition that he and his company remain anonymous. This is information useful to the public -- and the source will not provide it unless he can do it anonymously.

This world in which everybody will sacrifice their livelihoods in order to sate the public's need for information simply doesn't exist. Sometimes you have to give one drug dealer immunity to build a case against a kingpin. Sometimes you have to stomach a guilty man walking to preserve a system that keeps the punishment of the innocent to a historical minimum. Sometimes you have to accept the fact that journalists have to hide some information in order to bring you any.

Let's get back to what we're actually discussing -- Rittenberg and Wermers -- because my example is a bad one that has too many variables and never existed in the first place. Our question: should the source who outed Wermers's academic problems have been outed in the article. You suggest it is an ethical imperative for Rittenberg to divulge the source. But ask yourself this: do you ever want info like that again? As a Michigan fan, isn't it better to have a source -- even if it remains anonymous -- that tells us it wasn't our program, but the kid's own work ethic that caused him to leave the team? Rittenberg published this info as a public service. The only way he can get such info is to promise his source complete anonymity. For us, it's either the Wermers info with the caveat of an anonymous source, or no info at all. I find the info worth the small negative of protecting the person whose crime was only to divulge information that the program did not want leaked. And I'd much rather live in a society in which people with information that is valuable to the public can feel comfortable passing it on.

STW P. Brabbs

July 23rd, 2009 at 10:20 AM ^

I'm pretty much throwing in the towel at this point, because I think I'm pretty fuzzy on the hypothetical situation we were discussing. I thought the source in our situation was reporting, say, that his company was polluting the hell out of a lake, and that you didn't want to publish or report because the guy might get in trouble. But now I'm not entirely sure what we were talking about.

I really was never talking about the Rittenberg story, because I don't have any strong feelings one way or another about it. No one's health or life is at stake here. Actually, as an alumnus and a fan, I'd rather the source remain confidential. I'm glad the truth about Wermers came out, but this is all small potatoes.

You're right that the discrepancy in fees is one problem with the law, of course. But again, I was more picturing civil litigation that criminal, and I agree that it is better for guilty men to go free than innocent ones to be convicted. There are still lawyers who hide every kind of unethical behavior behind the screen of their duty to their clients (much like corporations will slash and burn anything in their path 'in the interests of the shareholder.'

Overall, I think we probably agree more than we disagree. Good arguin' with ya.


July 20th, 2009 at 11:03 PM ^

You know, this kind of blame-shifting happens all the time from immature people; it's always someone else's fault. I'm not leaving because I couldn't cut the mustard, I'm leaving because I couldn't get along with the new coaches, or they brought in some kids I didn't like, or whatever the reason of the day turns up. He ran his mouth off when it was really all on him. Even as a Spartan fan, this guy's low. He never HAD to say a damn thing, just go off to Ballsinyourmouth State or wherever and have a good time. I can't slag someone for letting his ineligibility out. What can you say, bitch had it comin'.


July 21st, 2009 at 10:03 AM ^

Up to now, the coaches have been great about this sort of thing, but I certainly wouldn't blame them for 'going public' with this info given the potential harm to the program with these wreckless remarks.