Last week ESPN pulled a story from its internet website server written by staff reporter Arash Markazi that chronicled a night out in Vegas with LeBron James and his entourage.
ESPN Editor-in-Chief Rob King later explained that the story was spiked because, “Arash did not properly identify himself as a reporter or clearly state his intentions to write a story.”
The facts of the story, which Markazi stood behind, were never disputed by ESPN or James.
On Nov. 8, 1997, Eric Sondheimer of the LOS ANGELES TIMES reported on a controversy involving the sports editor of the Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, CA) High School student newspaper. (The Times story can now be found archived in the newspaper’s “Freedom of Speech” collection.)
When Notre Dame High’s top-ranked football team lost back-to-back games last month, the sports editor of the school newspaper decided to write a commentary examining the Knights’ future. The team could be headed for difficult times, he argued, when it moves to a tougher league next year.
The story was never published.
The school newspaper advisor, Helen Chen, said she made the decision to hold the story after pressure from Principal Stephanie Connelly and football Coach Kevin Rooney, who said it would have hurt team morale after two straight losses.
“They wanted us to wait until the football season ended,” Chen said. “It was really hard for us. They’re [the students] supposed to be learning what true journalism is about.”
Rooney said the story, written by Notre Dame student Arash Markazi, was completely accurate but he did not like its timing.
“I felt it would be in the best interest of the school not to print it,” Rooney said.
Markazi was quoted in the ‘97 L.A. Times story:
“I worked hard on the story and before we went to press, they gave a copy to Connelly and Rooney, and they didn’t like it very much. Most of the players on the team read my column and it might have affected their confidence next year going to Division I.”
Newspaper editor Chen said she pulled the story, “out of respect for (Coach) Rooney. My concern (though) is if there’s some kind of major controversy, we’re going to be told we can’t do a story.”
So what exactly did Markazi, who was a sophomore at Notre Dame High at the time, write about the football team that caused such “major controversy“?
I made some calls this morning here in Los Angeles and found out.
Also noted in the Sondheimer piece was this:
The Knights of Notre Dame, a private Catholic school, are scheduled to join a league with Division I powers Loyola, St. John Bosco and Bishop Amat in 1998.
Notre Dame, now in Division III, is considered one of the Valley’s top programs, and school officials have bitterly fought the move.
In his spiked piece, Markazi noted that such a move would cause Notre Dame to struggle to be competitive in the new league.
That opinion wasn’t exactly a revelation as Notre Dame had just lost two games to Division III teams before the story was written.
So how did Sondheimer of the L.A. Times find out about the censorship?
Notre Dame’s journalism adviser at the time told a mutual friend about the incident, who then relayed the news to Sondheimer at the Times. (As an aside, Justin Fargas was a member of the Notre Dame High School team Markazi wrote about.)
Much like the ESPN story that was similarly spiked, by trying to coverup what Markazi had written, the high school alerted an infinitely larger audience to Markazi’s work than was originally intended.
With that in mind, ESPN’s treatment of Markazi probably has done more for the writer’s career than anything Markazi’s written to date.