The Emerald’s 2016 investigation of former Oregon tight end Pharoah Brown won the Investigative Reporters and Editors award for student reporting at a small paper, IRE announced Tuesday.
Written by Kenny Jacoby, Jarrid Denney and Cooper Green, the story revealed that Brown was accused of three separate violent incidents during his time at UO, but never faced discipline from the school, police or athletic department.
The story received national attention, and Brown was repeatedly asked about the allegations by NFL scouts at the NFL Combine in March.
“Kenny Jacoby, Jarrid Denney and Cooper Green plowed through massive roadblocks put up by the University of Oregon, its coaches, athletic department administration and a federal student privacy law to expose the truth behind a star football player,” the IRE judges wrote.
Through a police record and countless interviews with former players, the investigation found that Brown allegedly punched and concussed teammate and kicker Matt Wogan in October 2014, was investigated by Eugene police for strangling his girlfriend in October 2015 and fought former teammate Paris Bostick in the locker room after a conditioning session in summer 2016.
Brown and then-head coach Mark Helfrich both declined interviews for the story. Brown did not play in the final two regular season games after the story was published in November 2016.
The Emerald interviewed dozens of former and current football players as well as Brown’s girlfriend.
“The hardest part about the investigation was getting football players to talk about the incident. Many did not want to be the ones to ‘rat out’ their teammate,” Jacoby said. “We called and messaged just about every ex-football player we could find and were able to get a handful of them to talk.”
The IRE judges were impressed that the Emerald reporters were able to confirm the story without comment from the university.
“The university refused to talk to reporters about the incidents. But these tenacious reporters prevailed by finding sources to verify the findings of their investigation,” the judges wrote.
The investigation led to a highly publicized incident in which an athletic department official suggested revoking one of the Emerald’s press credentials. President Michael Schill ordered an investigation of athletic department media policies following the incident, which found that the athletic department’s decision to suggest pulling a credential was “ill-advised,” and recommended against such behavior in the future.
The investigation also led to a discussion of the university’s public records practices, after the university records office told the Emerald it would cost $700 to produce emails between coaches and athletic department officials relevant to the locker room fights. Public employees’ emails are public record under Oregon law.
UO’s Senate Transparency Committee is reviewing and proposing solutions to this high cost for records.
Emerald reporters worked on the story for over two months.
“A tremendous amount of thorough reporting and diligence went into making this story what it is,” editor in chief Cooper Green said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the reporters and newsroom that fought, and continue to fight, for accountability and transparency on our campus.”
Follow Jack Pitcher on Twitter @jackpitcher20