The 2000 Washington Huskies will be remembered for their Rose Bowl win in January 2001. Every football season is tough but the Huskies had to deal with the sickening loss of safety Curtis Williams, left paralysed after a tackle. He became a tragic hero around whom the fans could rally on the way to a bowl victory.
What the fans didn’t know until later was that Williams was a convicted felon with multiple arrests for assaulting his wife. Nor did they know that linebacker Jeremiah Pharms was a suspect in an armed robbery. They did know, however, that tight end Jerramy Stevens had been accused of rape. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to care.
Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry’s excellent book on the scandal-soaked 2000 Huskies opens with Stevens scoring a touchdown. He’s praised by the commentators as an “ace in the hole” and cheered by the fans. He hasn’t, after all, been charged with anything. But as the authors note, that was hardly unusual: “in the last two years, the prosecutor had taken a pass on charging six other players with assault”.
The picture the book paints is one of deeply ingrained corruption and immorality. The college, the fans and even law and order seem willing to turn a blind eye in the naming of winning. The only thing that matters is the “scoreboard, baby”.
What the book uncovers goes beyond the misdeeds of a handful of players and indicts the University of Washington system, while raising questions about college football as a whole. ‘Student athletes’ were allowed to study “Intensive Swahili”, which was so popular “that [non-athlete] students could wait three or four years to get into the class”. The players got good grades from the teacher, who faxed exams to coaches while the team was travelling and they faxed back the answers. Their grades maintained, the players remained eligible to play.
Meanwhile, head coach Rick Neuheisel fell foul of Washington State ethics laws over his sponsorship deal with Nike. This was solved by having Nike pay the University the $60,000 per year Neuheisel’s contract was worth and the university would add it to his pay packet. A campaigner described the deal as “money laundering”. Throughout the book, Neuheisel violates recruiting rules, makes sexist jokes and claims to hold his players to account but displays an inconsistent and incoherent approach to team discipline.
Elsewhere, a judge sentences a player to 30 days in jail with the note, “to be served after football season”.
The ramifications extend far beyond the 2000 season and, in their epilogue, the authors trace scandals that unfolded between then and when Scoreboard, Baby was published in 2010.
The stream of injustices documented in the book is infuriating to read. The authors, too, often let their anger and incredulity show, but they more than balance it with steady, forensic detailing of the evidence. The reporting here is awe-inspiring in its thoroughness and clarity. To organise this amount of material into such a compelling read is a remarkable feat. It’s a searing, heartfelt, essential book.