Matt Connolly

DC Senior Editorial Fellow

Before joining Mother Jones, Matt was a local reporter for the dearly departed Washington Examiner. He has also written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Chicago Public Radio, and the Times of Trenton.

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UMass' Derrick Gordon Is First Openly Gay Man In Major College Basketball

| Wed Apr. 9, 2014 7:48 AM PDT

University of Massachusetts shooting guard Derrick Gordon came out as gay to the rest of his team last week, making him the first openly gay player in Division 1 men's college basketball, according to OutSports and ESPN.

"I was thinking about summer plans and just being around my teammates and how it was going to be," Gordon told ESPN. "I just thought, 'Why not now? Why not do it in the offseason when it's the perfect time to let my teammates know and everybody know my sexuality?"

Gordon averaged 9.4 points and 3.5 rebounds a game this season for the Minutemen, who were bounced from the first week of the NCAA Tournament in March. He said he had had private conversations with prominent gay sports figures before coming out, including Jason Collins, who became the first openly gay active player in the NBA when he was signed by the Brooklyn Nets this season.

Gordon posted this photo on Instagram after the announcement, expressing his relief:

This is the happiest I have ever been in my 22 Years of living...No more HIDING!!!...Just want to live life happy and play the sport that I love...Really would love to thank my family, friends, coaches, and teammates for supporting me....I would also like to thank my support team Wade Davis, Jason Collins, Brian Sims, Micah Porter, Anthony Nicodemo, Patrick Burke, Billy Bean, Gerald McCullough, Kirk Walker...You guys are AWESOME!!! Ready to get back in the gym with my teammates and get on the GRIND and get ready for next season!!!! #BETRUE #BEYOURSELF #HONEYBADGER

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As UConn Celebrates, State Legislators Look to Help Players Unionize

| Tue Apr. 8, 2014 12:37 PM PDT

The University of Connecticut men's basketball team may have beaten Kentucky in the national championship last night, but star guard Shabazz Napier immediately turned his attention to a bigger foe: the NCAA. Napier used his postgame interview to take the NCAA to task for banning the Huskies from postseason play last season due to poor academic standing. Two weeks ago, after calling the Northwestern unionization efforts "kind of great," he said players sometimes don't have enough money for food.

Connecticut legislators were listening. Some state lawmakers are exploring ways to make it easier for athletes at public schools to unionize, in response to the regional labor board ruling in favor of Northwestern football players as well as Napier's comments. "When you look at the issues, they really look like employees," Democratic state Rep. Pat Dillon said. "And employees have the right to unionize."

The NCAA banned UConn from the 2013 postseason when the team's academic progress rate—a measure of academic eligibility that predicts graduation rate—from 2007 to 2011 did not meet league standards. Dillon said it's hypocritical for the NCAA and others to ban a team for academic reasons while defending the billion-dollar system that has players practicing and playing full-time. "You work them like horses and then you bad mouth them if their academics aren't any good," she said. "The team is punished if they try to make sure these kids get a good education. Of course, they’re punished if they don’t either."

UConn responded to Napier's comments about not having enough to eat with a statement saying that all scholarship athletes are "provided the maximum meal plan that is allowable under NCAA rules." An athletic department spokesman said the university has no comment about potential unionization.

This wouldn't be the first time Connecticut legislators took on NCAA athletics—the state passed a law in 2011 requiring schools to fully disclose all athletic scholarship terms, including expected out-of-pocket expenses for athletes, details about who's responsible for medical expenses, and the renewal process for scholarships that only last one year. A step forward on unionization, though, might be harder to pass, Dillon said. "Starting to do the right thing can actually hurt you with the NCAA," she said. "[Lawmakers] would be worried it would hurt UConn’s recruitment. They wouldn’t say it, but I’m sure they would."

Rutgers Athletic Director Wishes Critical Local Newspaper Would Die

| Mon Apr. 7, 2014 11:50 AM PDT

Rutgers University athletic director Julie Hermann told a journalism class that athletes at the school receive plenty of benefits and that it would be "great" if the Star-Ledger, the New Jersey newspaper that just laid off 167 staffers, would die completely, according to a report by Muckgers last week.

When a student in the class said the Star-Ledger might go under, Hermann responded, "That'd be great. I'm going to do all I can to not to give them a headline to keep them alive because I think I got them through the summer." The paper dedicated a great deal of coverage to Hermann after she replaced former AD Tim Pernetti, who resigned last year when it was revealed he allowed men's basketball coach Mike Rice to keep his job after being presented video evidence of Rice pelting his players with basketballs and shouting insults and gay slurs at them during practice. Hermann came with her own baggage—the women's volleyball team she coached at the University of Tennessee 17 years ago wrote a letter to the athletic department accusing her of "mental cruelty," including referring to athletes as "whores, alcoholics, and learning disabled."

Hermann has denied treating her players that way, and in a statement from Rutgers to the Star-Ledger, said she was just speaking to the class "in an informal way and out of the glare of the media spotlight" and "had no knowledge of the impending reorganization of the Star-Ledger." (Hermann's talk, which came before the most recent layoffs were announced, was recorded by a student in attendance.)

The classroom conversation also touched on the college athlete unionization movement. "What of those 1,000 institutions that sponsor college sports—who can sustain the kids unionizing?" Hermann asked the class. "Who can do that? Most of them are barely making it as it is." Hermann, it should be noted, has a base salary of $450,000. She went on to extol the benefits Rutgers athletes are already getting (especially now that that no one is throwing basketballs at them during practice, one assumes):

By the time we go recruit [a football player], sign him, bring him to campus, do all of their care, provide all of their medicine, all of their travel, all of their gear, all the things we've got to provide—by the time we're done with him, here at Rutgers, we've spent over half a million dollars on him minimum…so, technically, what we're providing for them is a value, it's about $100,000. How many of you are going to walk out of here and get jobs that pay you $100,000?

What's amazing is that Hermann's description of what Rutgers provides athletes is the exact legal argument that allowed Northwestern University football players the right to unionize. (Not to mention that one of players' largest grievances is that universities don't "do all of their care," since many health effects from playing football don't crop up until later in life.) And while many recent Rutgers grads may not be pulling in $100,000 salaries, their employers will be paying them in real money—not scholarships, shoulder pads, and concussion treatments.

Washington NFL Team's New Native American Foundation Is Already Off to a Great Start

| Fri Mar. 28, 2014 12:27 PM PDT

The CEO of the Washington football team's recently unveiled Original Americans Foundation also runs an organization that was criticized in a federal investigation for wasting nearly $1 million and providing "no benefit" after receiving a Bureau of Indian Affairs contract.

Gary Edwards, who was announced as head of the team's foundation this week, is CEO of the National Native American Law Enforcement Association. In 2009, the NNALEA won a contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to "recruit for and hire critically needed law enforcement officers (police, corrections, and criminal investigator positions) to work in Indian Country." According to a 2012 investigation into the contract, first reported by USA Today, NNALEA produced 748 applicants for law enforcement positions—only about 4 percent of which were Native American. Even worse, not a single applicant was qualified, meaning the $967,100 in funds amounted to absolutely nothing.

The investigation mostly comes down hard on Bureau of Indian Affairs officials for allowing Edwards to negotiate the terms of the contract into something essentially useless. While the contract's original language called for "500 qualified Native American law enforcement applicants," according to the investigation, it was later modified to "500 pre-screened potential applicants," effectively removing the requirements that the NNALEA provide applicants who are Native American and qualified for law enforcement jobs. In its invoices to the Bureau, NNALEA reported holding a recruiting event at the 2009 Crow Fair Celebration and placing ads in South Dakota's Aberdeen News, though according to the investigation an official who attended the fair saw no recruiting booth or NNALEA representatives, and the Aberdeen News had no record of NNALEA ever ordering the ads.

"The NNALEA believes it met and exceeded all of its obligations under the contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Office of Justice Services, and subsequently was paid after the contract was completed," Edwards said in a statement released Thursday night.

See the full investigation below:

 
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