KNOXVILLE, Tenn. The University of Tennessee has banned a newspaper reporter from covering its football team for two weeks for interviewing a player about injuries sustained in the Vols' game against Air Force last month.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported yesterday it received a letter from the university on Oct. 10 suspending sports writer Dave Hooker's media privileges until Oct. 23 because he interviewed cornerback Inky Johnson about the player's injuries.
The university has said Johnson underwent surgery to his upper right arm and shoulder to repair damaged blood vessels. UT has also said Johnson had nerve damage.
Johnson was hospitalized for several days after the injuries, although the UT Medical Center refused at the time to confirm he was there. He was released Sept. 13.
Hooker talked to Johnson by telephone on Oct. 4. By then, Johnson had returned to classes. Hooker's story was published the next day.
Tennessee received numerous requests for interviews with Johnson, including from the Associated Press. The news outlets were told Johnson would be made available when possible.
The News Sentinel said Hooker arranged for an exclusive interview with Johnson through a source within the athletic department.
"Your action has caused not only the UT Athletics Department but also your colleagues to doubt your ability or willingness to follow accepted guidelines for access to Tennessee student-athletes," John Painter, associate sports information director, wrote Hooker.
"In this case, a very hard and fast guideline was broken and we felt we had to act," UT men's athletic director Mike Hamilton said.
News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy defended his writer, calling Hooker "an enterprising reporter who works hard to break news for our readers."
"Although this was a positive story about a great player, Dave got whistled for a false start. There was certainly never any intent to harm Inky Johnson or the UT athletic department in any way," McElroy said.
On Oct. 9, UT released its first and only statement from Johnson as he prepared to travel to the Mayo Clinic for further tests. "I am very appreciative of the support and care that UT has provided for me and my family during this process," he said. "I have a great attitude about seeing the specialists at the Mayo Clinic and am hopeful for great results."
UT spokeswoman Tiffany Carpenter said there have been at least two other occasions when media privileges were suspended against Brent Hubbs of Volquest.com in 1998 and against Hooker when he was an employee of Citadel Broadcasting in 2004.