Los Angeles Times

Virgen: Crenshaw story provides lessons

How did we get here?

How did we get to the point when an announcement about where a high school student-athlete is going to college is newsworthy?

But, like it or not, we are here. Costa Mesa High senior Oronde Crenshaw could probably care less about what makes news.

However, it appears he doesn't want to speak to the media right now. Who could blame him?

A recent story in the Orange County Register embarrassed Crenshaw, unnecessarily so, his mother and one of his coaches contend.

Yet, I see both sides. Crenshaw has had some family problems, isn't necessarily media savvy and, of course, is only 17.

But the journalist in me knows the Register was only doing its job, delivering the facts, correcting a misstatement made by the teenager, mainly because of the point that we have reached.

Crenshaw, a star football player for Costa Mesa, told the newspaper that his scholarship offer to Arizona State had been revoked. But the Register reported that ASU said it never pursued the standout linebacker, who also produced as a running back.

Initially, we at the Daily Pilot broke the first story, which was that Crenshaw verbally committed to ASU, but was still open to going to a different college to play football.

We took Crenshaw at his word. In reality, the announcement was discovered from his Facebook page, when his post seemed more about just wanting to play there. He later said that he verbally committed to the Sun Devils.

It appears Crenshaw did not suffer a scholarship revoked. He actually didn't say what he meant, that ASU actually stopped being interested in him.

He made a mistake. Kids do. So do adults. And Crenshaw, at 17, is in between those two chapters in life.

This wasn't about a kid touting his announcement. It wasn't about a kid standing in front of a table of hats and picking one in front of hundred of friends and flashing cameras.

It makes sense to get the story right. Because as journalists we all strive for accuracy. But the Register's story, which was correcting the original piece saying that he committed to ASU, came off as too harsh to Crenshaw's family.

"My son went into a bad depression [after the Register story was published]," said Lilia Mora, Crenshaw's mother. "I was really concerned. It really [ticked] me off."

Mora contends that ASU showed interest in Crenshaw and that later she was told that ASU would look elsewhere to allow Crenshaw to seek other options.

She admitted that she's not aware of the process to commit and apply to college for athletics.

"I'm new to all this," she said.

Mora said she was upset after reading the Register story and particularly bothered that it mentioned Crenshaw had no profile on Rivals.com, referred to as "a popular recruiting site," and "didn't have any scholarship offers or official visits in his profile on another recruiting site, Scout.com."

Mora says her son has a profile on hudl.com

"They were trying to make him out to be this bad kid," Mora said. "I don't know. Maybe [the reporter] was trying to make himself better, to get ahead."

But I see the Register's point of view as well. The newspaper published a story based on incorrect information and did what it had to do: set the record straight.

"Our intent is not to put a player in a bad light," said Todd Harmonson, the sports editor at the Register. "We felt a need to clarify. We got wrong information. We're not in the business of giving wrong information to our readers. It's actually negligent to give bad information to our readers. I think it's our job to be truthful to our readers. We admit our mistake of reporting based on what he said."

This is a lesson learned for me, as sports editor of the Daily Pilot. To keep in mind we are talking to young athletes who might not know the rules and procedures of committing to a college.

At the Daily Pilot, we know Arizona State showed interest in Crenshaw. The Register reported that news as well, back in the off-season. But we also now know a scholarship was never offered.

When I spoke with Harmonson, I told him I didn't know of any previous articles where a newspaper had to correct a student athlete's statements about being recruited.

But Harmonson turned me to Kevin Hart, as an example.

That was an extreme case, to be sure.

Hart was a lineman who boldly lied that he had committed to Cal and held a press conference to make the announcement.

Crenshaw did not do any such thing.

"It was some good reporting at the time," Harmonson said of the Register's recent Crenshaw story. "We didn't assign any motive. We gave him and his mother the opportunity to explain it. We didn't take guesses why he did it. We explained the facts as we know them to be true."

Harmonson said he didn't receive any complaints about the story.

But here is at least one.

"I think it was completely unprofessional and unnecessary to do that to a 17-year-old kid," said Frank Albers, a coach on the Costa Mesa football staff. "He is dealing with a lot in his life, more than any other 17-year-old should have to."

Crenshaw's mother has been battling brain cancer for nearly four years and Crenshaw has become a father figure to his two younger brothers, Mora said. The family's lives have been dramatically changed since Mora endured a brain surgery that lasted over 16 hours to remove a tumor in April of 2010, she said.

"I mean for him to just take all this madness and still smile just amazes me," Mora said. "Most kids his age would turn to other outlets. His was always family first, even when I pushed him to put himself first. One thing about Oronde I can say with no doubt is selfishness is not a part of his character. I want to make sure that it's very clear my son Oronde is no liar, no cheater. He's the hardest working most dedicated kid ever."

Fortunately Crenshaw's story is incomplete. He still has more games to play.

Next year, if it will be at a junior college, that's fine. When he's ready to move on to the next level, we'll be there to report it.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times