Luca Evans’ debacle worries me

The reporter for the Orange County Register was unjustly suspended from the USC football beat.

Head Coach Lincoln Riley and USC came under scrutiny after banning a reporter earlier this week. (Robert Westermann / Daily Trojan)

There has been a whirlwind of controversy surrounding the USC football team this week. Not about whether junior quarterback Caleb Williams will stay another year or what the team’s chances are of making the College Football Playoff for the first time. No, it’s been about the program suspending Orange County Register reporter Luca Evans from the football beat for two weeks on Tuesday.

The Los Angeles Daily News, a member of the Southern California News Group, published an article Tuesday detailing all the “infractions” Evans committed. Katie Ryan, director of football communications, said USC Head Coach Lincoln Riley took issue with a feature story Evans published last Thursday. USC says Evans violated its policy prohibiting reporting on anything outside of media availability in the practice facility.

The suspension by USC and Riley has been rescinded since I’ve been writing this piece. Riley and Evans had a phone call and discussed the situation on Wednesday night.

“Last night, I received a call from Luca Evans, and we had a very candid and productive conversation. We agreed that we both could have handled the situation differently,” Riley wrote in a statement Thursday. “We welcome [Evans] back to practice and look forward to his continuing coverage of the Trojans.”

The feature was about freshman running back Quinten Joyner. In the lead of his story, Evans detailed a conversation Joyner was having with a teammate before a media availability that he overheard. The teammate asked Joyner, “Did they tell you what to say?,” which was in reference to Joyner being timid about talking to the media.

Other reasons for Evans’ suspension included asking questions after a press conference had been concluded, talking to players in areas that weren’t designated media areas and addressing President Carol Folt by her first name during a press conference.

There was uproar from a multitude of journalists with the news of this happening, criticizing both Riley and the University profusely. A tweet by Brady McCollough, staff writer for the L.A. Times, reads: “So *this* is the Lincoln Riley Oklahoma media were warning us about.” The tweet has 1.6 million views at the time of publication, with many commenting in support of Evans.

Evans was just doing his job and doing it really well. He’s the new guy on the beat, and this is Riley and the University’s first reaction? All is well now, I suppose, because they fixed their mistake, but it was still a big mistake to begin with. It’s clear to me they were waiting for Evans to slip up because they were annoyed with him — continuing to ask questions after the “final’’ question, the whole Folt misnaming.

My honest reaction when I first saw the suspension was, “He broke the rules, and that’s what happens.” Two weeks might be a little much, but that’s how it works. But the more I read, the more I realized how ingrained in me these rules for USC sports media procedure are.

I’ve been writing about various USC sports — water polo, basketball, tennis, football — for five semesters now. I have had plenty of interactions with USC athletes, head coaches and sports information directors. I’ve grown accustomed to the media-trained answers and rules I must abide by.

How are we supposed to be proper journalists if we can’t even do our jobs to the fullest extent? We already have to deal with the same heavily media-trained answers every practice and post-game conference, with the teams giving us the narratives they want us to paint about the team for the public instead of vice versa.

It’s a troubling trend that Riley and Ryan were trying to start. At the Daily Trojan sports staff, we have to abide by all the rules exactly as they’re stated. If we risk having bad relationships with anyone involved with USC Athletics or try to do our job a little too well, we’ll lose our ability to put out stories in general.

For now, we’re locked in the confines of whatever the rules are and clearly have to be careful of them going forward. At least Riley came to his senses —  maybe from the backlash —  and allowed Evans to return to the beat to set the standard right. But it still gives me an uneasy feeling about our ability to do our job as journalists to the fullest moving forward with USC sports.

Stefano Fendrich is a junior writing about his opinions on some of sports’ biggest debates in his column, “The Great Debate,” which runs every other Friday. He is also a sports editor at the Daily Trojan.

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