Blog Entry

Iowa news conference a near-total disaster

Posted on: January 26, 2011 8:03 pm

Posted by Adam Jacobi

In the wake of the outbreak of rhabdomyolysis that sent now 13 Iowa players to the hospital (another was admitted today), fans have understandably been looking for more answers from the university than just "'safe and stable' with an undisclosed illness." To that end, the university athletic department held a press conference late this afternoon to address the situation.

Except, head coach Kirk Ferentz wasn't there; he was still getting back into town from his recruiting trip. And athletic director Gary Barta wasn't there; he presumably had better things to do. No Iowa football coaches were there at all, including strength and condiitioning coach Chris Doyle or any of his asistants. In fact, the only three people at the press conference were director of football operations Paul Federici, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics kidney specialist John Stokes, and freshman linebacker Jim Poggi's father, Biff Poggi.

What ensued, at least for the first part of the the conference, was another exercise in stonewalling and excessive privacy from Iowa. While we can't expect Stokes or Federici to address the players' identities and conditions -- that would be a direct violation of not only the trust of players and their families, but federal HIPPA laws about patient privacy as well -- we can certainly expect more than Federici's abject refusal to admit any knowledge of any particulars about the offseason workouts other than what days they took place. Again, he's the director of football operations at Iowa. Does Federici -- who was a former head of training at Iowa before moving into his administrative role -- seriously have no personal knowledge of what happens during these offseason workouts? Is that even remotely acceptable? 

In fact, Biff Poggi went into more detail about the workouts and the conditions of the players than both Stokes and Federici ever did, as the latter two hid behind lack of personal knowledge and an unusually broad interpretation of the HIPPA laws. Obviously, when Jim Poggi started posting (since-deleted) details of his hospitalization on Facebook, that expectation of privacy went out the window and Biff Poggi was allowed to address his son's condition. Poggi also addressed the prevailing mood of the hospitalized players, saying "they want to get back and start playing."

While it's obviously disconcerting that neither Barta nor Ferentz were at the press conference, it's also naive to believe that either would have said, well, anything substantial or above what Federici would have said -- namely, that the workouts happened on specific days and that they were within NCAA regulations. Anyone who believes otherwise has a very short memory, considering the dearth of specifics that came from the last press conference Iowa held. That was just last month, as Derrell Johnson-Koulianos had been arrested the week prior and rumors had been flying about potential drug use on the team. That day, it was 60% an overview of Iowa's drug testing, 35% of hectoring the Internet, and 5% of new information; the ratio would likely have been similar today.

It's like this far too often at Iowa. Whenever something bad happens, communication from the athletic department is so insufficient that it creates a vacuum of information, and speculation from outside sources fills that vacuum every single time. That's not an Iowa-only phenomenon, it's how PR works. To have 12 (eventually 13) players admitted to a hospital at once with a similar medical issue (and make no mistake, the Iowa trainers clearly had a very good idea of what that issue was when they referred the players to the hospital, to say nothing of by the time that press release had been sent the next day) and expect the matter to be resolved with "no further comment" is at best irresponsible behavior for an athletic department. At worst, it's incompetent and borderline exploitative.

And it's just par for the course for Iowa.


Since: Jan 27, 2011
Posted on: January 27, 2011 1:36 pm

Iowa news conference a near-total disaster

As an attorney I can tell you there is very little information that can be given in these situations
Adam is well versed in law so you don't need to lecture him on what is legal for Iowa. While it is true that all of the athletes have a right to their privacy, the University would also be well advised to tell the public what it can about the circumstances that led to their hospitalization. An investigation will be conducted to provide more detailed info, but the fact of the matter is that right now there is zero information forthcoming from official channels. Combine that with the fact that recruiting is just concluding and you have a situation where Iowa may not be landing recruits they are still in the running for out of concern for that athletes well being. So while it is understandable that the university doesn't want to violate anyone's privacy, they are not handling the situation correctly from a PR standpoint by appearing to be actively withholding information that is not private from a legal standpoint.


or blogger maybe a better word for it
Please hide your disdain for bloggers a little more carefully. Adam is very well respected among journalist and bloggers alike for being thoughtful, fair and entertaining. That comment made your entire point seem like a reaction to the author instead of the article.

Since: Aug 18, 2010
Posted on: January 27, 2011 12:24 pm

Iowa news conference a near-total disaster

This is no way any sort of legal issue at this point, so I am not sure what anyone is hiding from, unless someone did something wrong and they are trying to cover it up.  Privacy laws have no bearing on this whatsoever as no one is asking for names or specifics as they relate to a particular person.  There is no reason the folks at Iowa cannot tell us what the players were doing, or not doing, to cause this situation.  Personally, it is not something I care much about, but I would think the folks from Iowa would be more concerned about all of this negative PR, especially in light of what happened recently. 

Since: Jan 27, 2011
Posted on: January 27, 2011 10:47 am

Iowa news conference a near-total disaster

 That should have been to nsarc81. Can't get used to the threading here.

Since: Jan 27, 2011
Posted on: January 27, 2011 10:38 am

Iowa news conference a near-total disaster

I think YOU are off the mark in thinking that the most interesting information is the private health information of the athletes.  As a person with an interest in a program, I'd want to know who was in charge of the workout, what precisely was going on, was water withheld/were they made to proceed when they were clearly struggling/was this punishment of some sort, etc. etc., and most importantly, what are they doing to ensure that this will not happen again.  None of that was addressed, and from the comments, it seems that they don't want to address it.

To me, that's unacceptable.

Since: Aug 20, 2010
Posted on: January 26, 2011 10:46 pm

Iowa news conference a near-total disaster

I live in CB and listened to the entire press conference. This article is misleading and ill concievied. I thought the Director of Football Operations and Doctors from University Medical Center did a very good job, as did Mr. Poogi. I thought they were all as respectful and truthful as they could be, under the circumstances.

I think reporters need to reflect on what the HIPPA/NCAA rules are, what can and cannot be said and take a step back. This article states that the Iowa presser “left a vacuum.” Well of course it did. This is the type of whiny, pissed off, temper-tantrum journalism that happens when reporters don't get every possible question answered exactly how they want, when they want, by who they want. None of the afore mentioned individuals would (or were allowed to) give salacious details reporters just knew were associated with this story.

BTW, before I get called a Homer, I am a Husker fan who has no love for The University of Iowa or Kirk Frentz.

Since: Feb 13, 2010
Posted on: January 26, 2011 9:33 pm

Iowa news conference a near-total disaster

Too bad Steve Alford and Pierre Pierce were not there to deflect some of the negative light Iowa finds itself in and remind people of better times.

Since: Aug 27, 2008
Posted on: January 26, 2011 8:40 pm

Iowa news conference a near-total disaster

I don't entirely buy this argument that Iowa couldn't be more forth coming because of legal reasons. The more this gets hushed up, the more this becomes a news story. In all the years of football players working out, it's almost unheard of to have that many players hospitalized at once unless it's heat related. Last I heard, Iowa has a foot of snow on the ground, so that's not it.

I agree that part of it probably is exercise induced as has been stated in the limited amount of information put out. To have such discolored urine, there must be some dehydration. If we are going to go to these kinds of lengths to protect young men's privacies, how do we ever learn about when other young men suffer injuries or health problems at other universities?

There should be more of a middle area without compromising anyone's future or reputation. Someone has to be responsible for this, or is that the reason this is being coverd up?

Since: Aug 11, 2009
Posted on: January 26, 2011 8:22 pm

Iowa news conference a near-total disaster

Really??  When these young men accepted Iowa taxpayer dollars in the form of tuition and scholarship, they stop being private and start being public!  The University owes more to the public then the veiled attempts to stop further investigation from the NCAA and perhaps law enforcement!  What exactly is going on at this school?  The amount of money given to the U, the program dollars spent and earned, the salaries paid to coaches and staff, demand access to information and facts.


Since: Jan 26, 2011
Posted on: January 26, 2011 8:14 pm

Iowa news conference a near-total disaster

You are way off the mark Adam.  As an attorney I can tell you there is very little information that can be given in these situations.  Furthermore, while as a journalist, or blogger maybe a better word for it, you have a natural desire for more information right now, right away, all the time, that is tempered by the fact that these are young college men who deserve to have their privacy protected.  Iowa shouldn't be in the business of divulging much of any information just because we want to know.  These are young mens lives, so deal with the lack of info!

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