A free and independent press is a necessary condition for the intellectual freedom and democracy that supposedly exists in the United States. In America, we supposedly have access to a wide range of competing news sources. In reality, we have a press that is far from free and unbiased. Control of mass media outlets is concentrated in a few privileged hands with clear agendas. How we perceive the world is largely determined by those who control the means of mass communication and their agendas can often be easily revealed with just a few scratches on the surface of their spurious arguments.
Take for example the recent intentional, premeditated effort to undermine the reputation, credibility, and character of the coaches, parents and players in the Camden High School basketball program. New Jersey Advance Media conducted a six-month investigation of the Panther high school basketball program. The finished product, a so-called “Special Report” was published on June 21 at 10:00 am with the following headline: “Camden celebrates a hoops rebirth. But critics wonder: Did they cheat their way to a championship?” Kevin Armstrong is the investigative reporter responsible for the malicious piece.
According NJ.com, Armstrong joined the NJ Advance Media staff in January. His arrival coincided with the onset of the six-month investigation. Seems like, maybe, he was hired specifically to perform the task of taking down Camden High basketball.
The special report reads like a smear campaign targeting Dajuan Wagner, the Wagner family, Camden school district administrators, basketball coaches, players and parents. Supposedly the free press matters because it uncovers the truth. Investigative journalists are trained to analyze and explain complicated issues. They play an important role. Without mass media outlets such as newspapers, radio shows, blogs, etc, the average American would have little to no knowledge of what’s going on around them. Most people lack the time and resources to investigate issues and stories that affect them and impact their communities. In theory, that’s where journalists come in.
So exactly what was the issue affecting New Jersey residents and impacting New Jersey communities that Armstrong spent six-months investigating?
After reading his piece several times, I have concluded that the core issue is as follows:
How has a HS basketball team hailing from what Armstrong describes as “a city of violent crimes and vacant lots after decades of factory abandonment, economic stagnation, corruption, white flight and arson” beat the shit the down the legs of NJ opponents for 3 straight years?
For some, the excellence and dominance Camden High has displayed on the hardwood the past three years is a problem that must be resolved.
Armstrong’s detailed descriptions of Camden City paint what can only be described as a decidedly dreary and gloomy picture. In his special report, he highlights “boarded-up houses” and “derelict brick edifices scheduled for demolition.” He seems to be preparing his readers for the question at the core of his report: Why would elite HS basketball players from six towns spread across five counties venture to Camden to play high school basketball for the Panthers?
For Armstrong, these decisions are not rational. Indeed, he goes so far as to openly question if these transfers were legal. It’s a two-fold assault… On one level, he’s arguing the parents are neglectful. By emphasizing the deteriorated state of some of Camden’s infrastructure, Armstrong implies parents are sacrificing their child’s educational development and, perhaps, placing their physical safety at risk. Moreover, and more importantly, he is unfairly labeling everyone associated with the meteoric rise of the Camden basketball program over the past three years a cheater.
So, exactly, how does he formulate his assertion that Camden cheated? Armstrong argues that “school officials seemingly made sports-driven enrollment decisions en route to the championship.” The “evidence” he provided included the fact that “five of Camden’s top six scorers do not reside in the city of 73,000 people… and are the only out-of-district students in the school.” Now, at first glance, these may appear to be unconventional and unique circumstances. But, the plain and simple fact is they are neither unconventional nor unique.
Indeed, the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) sponsors an “Interdistrict Public School Choice Program.” According to the NJDOE website, “New Jersey’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program enables approved choice districts to enroll K-12th grade students who do not reside within their districts without cost to their parents. The program increases educational opportunities for students and their families by providing students with school options outside of their district of residence and giving parents the power to select a school program that best serves their child’s individual needs.”
So… Every year, the state of New Jersey provides students with out of district school options and gives parents the power to select a school that best serves their child’s individual needs. That’s good stuff… Really good stuff… No one objects out of district placements unless the students happen to be elite Black basketball athletes and their parents happen to determine that Camden public schools best serve their child’s needs. If that happens… It’s a BIG fuckin’ deal… So much so that a huge media outlet, like NJ.com which had an average of 12.1 million unique monthly visitors consuming a total of 70 million page views per month in 2018, must identify and retain the services of a journalistic “hitman” like Kevin Armstrong and provide him with the resources necessary to conduct and exhaustive six-month investigation.
Fuck outta here…
According to the NJDOE, “The Public School Choice Program benefits students and parents, as well as the choice districts. Choice programs might have smaller class sizes, increased instructional time, and a school culture more conducive to a student’s success in school. Many choice districts have established specialized and innovative programs and courses that focus on areas such as the arts, math and technology, and are open to students who meet the eligibility requirements of the special programs. Opening enrollment to students outside the district can bring in more students interested in taking advantage of these special programs and courses, allowing both the programs and students to grow and flourish.”
I agree with the NJDOE. I am a staunch supporter of school choice… While the Camden School District is not part of the DOE program, I assume the logic underlying the decisions of the parents of young men on the Camden basketball program is the same as that underlying the decision of parents taking advantage of the school choice program.
However, Armstrong, NJ Advance Media and NJ.com made very different assumptions when assessing the decision-making of Camden basketball parents. Instead of assuming the out of district transfers “benefit [Camden basketball] students and parents, as well as choice districts” like the thousands of other students exercising similar options, Armstrong presented this information to Colleen Maguire, Executive Director of the NJ State Interscholastic Athletic Association. Upon receiving Armstrong’s report, Maguire “said she will begin a review to determine whether rules have been broken.”
Here comes the bullshit…
From my perspective, Armstrong appears to be a “hitman” hired to use the byzantine set of NJSIAA rules to have the Camden High State Championship vacated and prevent the Panthers from an almost inevitable repeat next year. Camden has lost exactly one (1) game to a New Jersey opponent over the past three years. As noted by Armstrong, they beat NJ public school opponents by an average of nearly 40 points per game.
They can’t take it anymore. They are tired of getting the shit beat down their legs.
They can’t do anything about it on the court. So, they have resorted to smear campaigns disguised as special reports and NJSIAA investigations.
Powerful voices have chimed in and publicly sullied the name and reputation of Camden’s administrators, players, coaches and parents. Armstrong cites a quote from former NJ governor and youth sports advocate Richard Codey where he emphatically states, “All the adults are cheating, everybody knows it and nobody seems to care.”
After getting the shit beat down his legs by 41 points (93-52) in the Group 2 state final, Central High coach Shawn McCray exclaimed, “Are there really rules? You find the loopholes and get it done. That’s too much work for me.”
Armed with a rather weak case in their effort to eliminate Camden from NJSIAA competition, the hitman mades a concerted effort to besmirch the reputation of Dajuan Wagner and the Wagner family. There can be no other logical reason for including a recap of fight Dajuan was involved in 21 years ago. It seems Armstrong wants his readers to internalize and adopt a perception of Dajuan as violent and menacing. This depiction is a far cry from the quiet, unassuming and gentle man known to everyone in Camden.
The hitman also chose to refer to a night 22 years ago when William Wesley took Wagner to a strip club after he scored 100 points in a game. Again, this incident took place 21 years ago. What is the relevance to the 2022 state champions? There is none… But, the goal is create a distorted perception about Dajuan and his family… Sucka shit… That’s what it’s called ’round my way.
Cognizant of the fact that many will remain ambivalent and some will view teenage fights and a visit to a strip club as a something akin to a right of passage, Armstrong decided to include references to the trial and conviction of Dajuan Wagner’s stepfather Leonard Paulk. The hitman noted that “Paulk was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.” What he failed to do, however, was to explain how the legal troubles of Wagner’s stepfather from 18 years ago are related to the 2022 Camden High School basketball team.
Paulk’s arrest and conviction are included as part of the hitman’s sustained effort to shape and reinforce a decidedly negative perception of Dajuan and the Wagner family… Period.
After attempting to painstakingly disparage Wagner and his family, the hitman set his sites on Rick Brunson, coach of the Panthers for the past three seasons. The hitman wrote that, “In 2014, [Brunson] was accused of sexual abuse but was acquitted.” Why… What purpose does the inclusion of this allegation serve? Judge James Booras ruled the state was “unable to meet the burden of proof required” to convict Brunson for the April 2014 incident. Furthermore, during the trial Brunson’s defense team questioned why the woman waited 10 days before contacting police and claimed the woman was seen on video laughing with Brunson after leaving the massage room.
He beat the case… In America, you are innocent til proven guilty. Right? Brunson is innocent… Period. This incident is a non-incident and is included as a salacious sidebar.
Nonetheless, the hitman understood that inclusion of this allegation could further his effort to characterize the Panthers as a lawless program.
Next up on the hitman’s list was Pervis Ellison. His “crime”? Pervis “fundraised aggressively” according to the hitman. The hitman also took quick shots at William Wesley and John Mirenda, CEO of Greentree Mortgage. Mirenda is called into question because he’s “listed as treasurer and financial director for Scholars Elite.” Why is that problematic for the hitman? Because right after Dajaun was drafted and signed a $7.4 million dollar rookie contract Greentree provided him with a $258,000 mortgage for a West Deptford house for his mother.
What da fuck does a 20 year old mortgage deal for an NBA lottery pick have to do with the 2021-2022 Camden HS basketball team?
Nothing… Absolutely nothing…
The hitman was just throwing a whole lotta shit on the wall and hoping some of it sticks.
Hitmen are noted for their persistence and Armstrong is no different. He carefully stalked his prey. He described what he witnessed while on a stakeout, “on a Tuesday in May. Two schoolchildren dribbled until their yellow bus picked them up around 8 am. Soon after, Bradshaw walked out of Juanny’s house and Perkins followed him. They got in a red Chrysler, which Perkins drove to school.”
Da’ fuck? The hitman’s staking out the homes of HS basketball players…
His six-month detail completed, the hitman submitted his special report, NJ.com published it.
The investigation has commenced…
Unable to beat ‘em on the court. Governor Codey and a few competing coaches have retained the services of NJ Advance Media and NJ.com to knock the mighty Camden Panther program out of contention. Armstrong’s defamatory piece was just the first public salvo in what will surely be a relentless campaign to prevent the Black kids from the poor, but exceedingly, proud city of Camden from beating the shit down the legs of their New Jersey opponents.
I can’t wait to see next season’s versions of the mighty Panthers…
U want Da High?
“Hell no” is apparently the response from some influential folk in NJ scholastic athletics.
Check rock… Stop Bitchin’!