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WSU controversy highlights lack of players' rights

Washington State University's athletic department and the Pac-12 are each investigating claims of abuse by first-year head football coach Mike Leach. The often controversial coach denies the claims being leveled by former star receiver Marquess Wilson, who quit the team.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says, no matter who's right in this case, it sheds light on the long-overlooked issue of players' rights - or lack of them - in college sports.

Blow to WSU's reputation, recruiting power

Art says Wilson has clashed with Leach this season. The final straw appeared to be when he walked out of a conditioning session following WSU's 49-6 loss to Utah and was subsequently suspended. He quit via a letter to the media before last weekend's game against UCLA.

Wilson claims he and other players have suffered physical, verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of Leach and his coaching staff. Art says, no matter what the investigations might reveal, the damage is done.

"The charges are extremely damaging in terms of Washington State's general reputation. And acutely damaging in terms of recruiting."

Art says it's Leach's fault that the problem got this far.

"He's in charge. He controls the situation and to let it fester into a player quitting - and especially a star player, the best guy on the team - is bad management."

Wilson 'took a risk'

Art says it's unclear if Wilson's actions will damage his chances of playing professional football.

"He took a risk. He's a junior, he's eligible for the draft. He could transfer and play a senior season somewhere else. But I'm guessing he's going to go to the draft and the draft will look at this. But I also know that the NFL isn't so much worried about character if this player can help them win football games."

Players need independent advocate

Art says both investigations into Wilson's claims have the tendency to favor WSU and Leach because the football program brings in a lot of money to the school and to the Pac-12 conference. 

That's why he wants to see a players' rights board established for all of college sports.

"It's very easy for these institutions to throw one kid under the bus rather than admit error and begin reform and doing something different than they're already doing. No one stands up for the athletes in college sports."

Art says, as far as this case goes, the players know if they tell the truth they're likely to be punished by the coach if the truth is unfavorable. And that perpetuates any system that might tolerate abuse.

"There should be somebody set up in college sports in which players have a chance to have their side of issues heard by independent people who can render a decision that will have some value and meaning to protect players' rights just as much as the university protects its own."

You can read more of Art's comments on this issue at Sportspress Northwest.

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between historylink.org and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.
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