Mario Diaz’s Sensationalized UH Soccer Reporting

Mario Diaz

Mario Diaz is not quite at the UH Soccer Stadium / screenshot: click2houston.com

Last night, KRPC Channel 2 in Houston released yet another story involving UH soccer workouts. The station has reported on it numerous times over the last 7 months but with very little new information to offer. GoCoogs has been tracking this story and will try to examine each piece of it below.
 

What We Know

KPRC reporter Mario Diaz has investigated an incident involving the UH soccer program and has done at least 7 TV and web reports on it. We link to them here. The most damning claim is that the UH soccer program has “punished” players with physical workouts to the point of injury, specifically a condition named rhabdomyolysis (often called rhabdo).

According to the reports, as many as a dozen players were diagnosed with rhabdo after the workout on Saturday, January 25, 2019. What I want is the truth and to know if UH handled this the right way or not.

But here’s my problem: Channel 2 has a lot of breathless reporting but not much in the way of facts. Mario Diaz is milking it for all he can but there’s not a lot of meat. He presents a small, narrow view of a story, distorts numerous facts, gives just small snippets of interviews (sometimes as little as 3-4 words from the interviewee) so that he can lead the story to the conclusion he seeks.

Diaz has also refused to present the story that other players have told – a side of the story that would blow up his reporting.

The following information is detailed and long. It would help you to watch the Diaz video and/or read the KPRC story (linked) and then read our take. Get all of the information you can – no reason to pick
and choose info like Diaz has done. Quotes from Diaz’s reporting are italicized.

Channel 2 loves their clip art

The key for Diaz is the word “physical.” Pay attention to that.


 

February 1: The Initial Report

KPRC Video/Story: A dozen UH soccer players sidelined with serious medical condition called rhabdo

Key line: The players’ conditions developed after a workout last week.

This is the first assertion from Diaz and it is problematic. While these cases may have happened following a workout, there is no determined cause-and-effect here. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the “more common causes in hospitalized patients at present include prescription and over-the-counter medications, alcohol, and illicit drugs.” The same report says that common depression medications such as Seroquel and Abilify “are the most frequent precipitants” of rhabdo.

Exercise can cause rhabdo, too. High-intensity workouts are often the culprit. Popular Science says that many case studies say that the condition is quite rare—at least in the gym.

PopSci also says exercise-related rhabdo is most common “when someone dives right into a form of exercise they’re unaccustomed to.” In late January, having just come back from winter break and just starting spring workouts, this is a possible issue. If that’s true, it might suggest poor work from the strength coach and/or poor hydration or lifestyle choices from the players.

Also in this first report, we learn “a concerned parent” shared a letter with Channel 2 from Chris Pezman that alerted all parents about the first 3 rhabdo cases. And “one player” told Channel 2 that nine more cases were diagnosed.
 

February 6 Report

KPRC Video/Story: University of Houston fires strength coach following Channel 2 Investigates report of rhabdo cases

“As of right now, Minor Bowens does not work with the soccer team any longer.”

Minor Bowens is the strength coach that administered the workout in question. He was let go shortly after this story came to light.
 

April 18 Report

KPRC Video/Story: Emails from UH athletics department show previous rhabdo cases, ‘physical punishment’

At the time, head coach Diego Bocanegra tweeted a weightlifting video with the caption, “Just another day at the office!” during the workout session in question.

Here’s the tweet in question:

Diaz’s video report ominously sensationalizes a pretty benign tweet. So benign that Diaz uses the footage in all of his reports from here on.

Then, two months prior to the most recent cases, Bocanegra in an email to a player’s mother wrote: “I want to reiterate that I have implemented several changes to help prevent this injury or any other similar injuries from happening in the future. For example, we no longer use physical punishment within our team. I removed it from our weight room manual.”

If physical punishment included violence then everyone involved should be (and would be) terminated. Diaz continued the report:

“Unbelievable,” was the reaction by Dr. David Ridpath, who is “currently a professor of sports management at the University of Ohio.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen punishments codified in any manual,” Ridpath said.

This is a classic TV reporter work: Quote someone with doctor in front of his name to make the reporting sound more legitimate. In this case, Dr. Ridpath is an Associate Professor of Sports Business in Ohio’s business school. Diaz even got his title wrong – he hasn’t been a professor of sports management since May 2018. I’m not sure how a b-school professor’s opinions are relevant.

Ridpath has a BA in speech communication and an Ed.D in higher education administration.

My favorite line from all of Diaz’s reporting:

It is not clear what punishment entailed during the women’s soccer team workouts.

Oh.

So Mario Diaz had contact with “one player” and “a concerned parent” for 2.5 months but never asked what that phrase means? He never fleshed this out? This “punishment” could very easily be running sprints.
 

April 19 Report

Back-to-back days on this story for Mario Diaz.

KPRC Video/Story: Before rash of rhabdo at UH, physical punishment was listed in women’s soccer handbook

A lot to unpack here.

“Rhabdo usually comes from going way, way, way over the top and borderline torture.” – Dr. David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former assistant athletic director of compliance at Marshall University.

Again, Diaz is quoting a business professor with “Dr.” in front of his name on a serious medical issue. Ridpath began his career as an athletics facilities manager and worked his way up to becoming a professor teaching sports administration classes. And Mario Diaz goes to him for, what sounds like, medical opinions.

He is simply not qualified to speak on this topic. And remember, Diaz reported the day before that “it is not clear what punishment entailed.” So how would the Doctor know?

Channel 2 Investigates obtained a copy of the University of Houston Soccer Player Handbook for 2017. On page 33 it lists “Fitness Punishment” multiple times as a consequence within the program.

In his video report, Diaz shows where “fitness punishment” is codified in the player handbook:

“Fitness punishment” is the penalty for missing a study hall or skipping class. Click to expand

Missing a single tutoring session or skipping a single class gets a player “fitness punishment.”

But notice what happens if you miss two or more tutoring sessions: you’re suspended from training with the team. Reporter Diaz wants his viewers to believe that skipping one tutoring session gets a player punished all the way to her physical limits but ignores the part where missing two sessions can have her removed from team training.

When athletes mess up – on the field or off of it – they run. They have tough workouts. At every level – from childhood to pro ball. It’s a “fitness punishment.” In this case, fitness punishment is almost assuredly sprints or something similar.

What it isn’t is torture or something nefarious as Diaz claims. Bocanegra made a mistake in an email to a parent by calling it “physical punishment” – the connotation of the word “physical” is the real issue here.
 

June 11 Report

KPRC Video/Story: Team was forced to endure punishment workout that led to rhabdo

Update: Channel 2 has pulled the video of this report from their story. The web story shows it was updated 17 days after being first shown on Channel 2.

From the story:

Earlier this year, Channel 2 Investigates reported that one dozen members of the University of Houston women’s soccer team were diagnosed with the dangerous medical condition called rhabdomyolysis, better known as rhabdo, following a late January workout.

Since then, we have spoken to those involved, including one player who has spoken in-depth with Channel 2 Investigates about what the workouts were like and why they happened in the first place.

A reporting sleight of hand: The first paragraph above discusses the single January 2019 workout. The second paragraph goes into “workouts” and why “they” happened. In fact, except for the first reference, the entire story is about the February 2018 workout. There’s nothing on the January 2019 workout. Something’s fishy.

Once again, Diaz is relying on “one player” to discuss the workout from 2018. Diaz conflates the February 2018 workout and the January 2019 workout in order to make the viewer believe they are one and the same.

Mario Diaz KPRC

Multiple other individuals confirmed the punishment workout.

Now Diaz says that “multiple other individuals” confirm the workout and later, he attributes an idea to the “one player” and “multiple sources.”

The player went into detail about the “punishment workout” she and others were forced to endure in February 2018, “He just told us to get up and go to the center of the field, and we all knew — we have done up-downs before as a punishment — so we all knew we were going to do up-downs and it was just a matter of how many.”

What happened during the workout: The grueling workout included up-downs, planks and shuttle runs, according to the player

The February 2018 workout has nothing to do with the one that occurred in January 2019. In addition, Diaz sensationalizing up-downs, planks, and shuttle runs as “grueling” is funny considering the legions of soccer moms that do them every day.

The player said Bocanegra uttered obscenities as many struggled. “Get up, Get the F up. This is your fault. Get up,’ just, like, over and over again,” she said. She said the team was too fearful to speak up. “No one was going to say anything. Everyone was so scared.” The workout lasted for nearly an hour and the player said she felt “tortured almost” afterward.

A coach using obscenities and a workout lasting an hour are bizarre things to point out unless your intent is to sensationalize it.
 

June 13 Report

KPRC Video/Story: Email shows UH officials knew about rhabdo incidents in January

In addition to silence from university leaders, UH has gone to great lengths to keep information about the punishment workouts out of public view.

This claim comes months after UH released emails and gave Channel 2 the women’s soccer handbook. UH then gave emails to Mario Diaz and he shows one here. After highlighting part of it, he somehow doesn’t point out the very next sentence:

“Bowens is the only person involved common to both of these rhabdo cases”

Bowens was let go days later.

After this report, UH launched an internal investigation. At the same time, several players came forward on the record.

Remember, Dr. Ridpath told us it “borderline torture.”

Flowers has been in the program for four years. Brascia has been on the team for two years.

Joseph Duarte’s interviews with three current players and two players’ parents are all on the record. To this day, Diaz has never mentioned these on-the-record denials from current UH players in his reporting.

Instead, Diaz distorts his own work:

Diaz has in fact connected the two events several times:

April 18: “Then, two months prior to the most recent cases…”

June 11: “Since then, we have spoken to those involved, including one player who has spoken in-depth with Channel 2 Investigates about what the workouts were like and why they happened in the first place.

June 13: Now, university administrators are keeping quiet, refusing to talk about multiple incidents in which players were diagnosed with a potentially deadly condition known as rhabdo.

This is the video that has been taken down and the story now only refers to one player.
 

June 25 Report

KPRC Video/Story: More University of Houston women soccer players come forward over punishing rhabdo workout

This report is re-hashing much of what has already been reported as well as snippets of interviews with two alleged women’s soccer players.

Duarte’s reporting refutes the claim that “speaking the truth” is an issue in the program:

Duarte draws a distinction:

These two alleged players are likely the “multiple other individuals” from Diaz’s June 11th report. If so, it’s clear Diaz had this information in time for the June 11 report but needed more “Channel 2 Investigates” content and has continued stringing this along without much new to offer.
 
If my assertion is true, and Diaz had these two stories on June 11, then he failed in very basic reporting. Either Bocanegra was an active participant, i.e., ‘Get up, Get the F up. This is your fault. Get up’ as the original source said or he was standing off to the side watching as “Player 1” says on June 25.

A competent reporter’s job is to identify conflicting stories, to find the truth, and explain it to his audience. Instead, Diaz pushes both: Bocanegra is both screaming and blaming players and also just a passive observer.
 

September 5 Report

Channel 2’s most recent report says that Khator is “now talking to Channel 2 investigates after weeks of avoiding our requests.”

That sounds like breaking news, right? Except they tracked her down at the August 22nd Board of Regents meeting and didn’t air it until two weeks later. Waiting until right after their Thursday Night NFL opener where the lead-in will produce big ratings. Shocking.

And Diaz claims he had been after Khator for weeks and that she was avoiding him. In the early part of August, she’d been in Europe for over two weeks. She returned home on August 12th. School started on the 19th and you caught up to her on the 22nd.

“University of Houston Police launched a hazing investigation after we revealed the punishment workout appeared to have violated the school’s hazing policy.”

It’s actually state law, not just UH policy. The language is taken from Texas Education Code 37.151.

Here’s the full UH Hazing Policy but this is the relevant part:

Education Code 37.151 – click to enlarge

This has become a recurring theme: the January 2019 workout was, once again, not mentioned in Thursday’s report. Diaz has dropped that subject completely and is now focused on 2018 – because that’s all his anonymous players can comment on. The only reason that makes sense is if the anonymous players aren’t on the team this season.
 

Diaz’s reporting doesn’t answer questions

To highlight: there are no details about the January 2019 workout that allegedly caused a dozen injuries. Diaz has gone out of his way to share details about a workout from February 2018.

But why has Diaz not found any player that wants to speak, even anonymously, about the January 2019 workout? Especially if there were a dozen players that were hazed by UH officials. Wouldn’t that be the real story?

The players that are speaking anonymously are not speaking about the January 2019 workout. At all. It’s all about February 2018. Why is that?

Diaz reports on TV have all been “gotcha” stories that are 1) weak and 2) misleading. He’s accomplished the goal of manufacturing a story and pushing it – using business school professors to talk about medical issues, snippets from Minute Clinic doctors to stoke irrational fear, and even state senator Paul Bettencourt to discuss a non-story about freedom of information emails.

Yet has refused to report on the players that have gone public to dispute his stories. Why would a reporter choose to ignore on-the-record denials from players that were also at the same workouts?

Someone needs to tell the full story.
 

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