There’s no such thing as a free lunch: the classic ethical dilemma

PREFACE: For this blog, the Columbia Missourian has asked me to share a few thoughts as I report for newspaper this semester. I’ll be updating this blog several times a week until December. 

On my first assignment, I was asked to cover a fall sports press conference at Columbia College. The conference was a luncheon and my stomach was immediately greeted with the sweet smells of food as I walked into the meeting. 

Representatives at Columbia College politely invited me to lunch, but the Missourian photographer and I politely declined. We didn’t decline because of the quality of the food (it looked delicious) or because we had eaten lunch already (we hadn’t). Previous journalism instruction had told us that we shouldn’t partake in the meal because it poses an ethical dilemma. What’s wrong ethically? Receiving things from a source, food or other gifts, risks the neutrality of reporter or photographer. Plus, as the saying goes, you can’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Oddly, the whole “don’t accept food” rule in journalism doesn’t seem to apply to sports I’ve covered. I’ve often found press boxes stuffed with free goodies and, as the assignment becomes more prestigious, the food gets better. Mizzou baseball’s Papa John’s pizza pales in comparison to the popcorn, ice cream and pulled pork sandwiches provided complementary in the Mizzou football press box.

At this year’s Cotton Bowl, people in white hats served delicious fish tacos and other Tex-Mex options in a several table long buffet. There was a free open bar at the media hotel in a ballroom filled with other free food, ping pong tables and similar diversions.

Sporting events often take hours to report and can sometimes overlap lunch or dinner times so I understand why it’s okay to eat at these events. But something felt a little weird about eating at Columbia College. Maybe it was the unfamiliar environment. Maybe I felt that the one hour event didn’t really warrant eating a meal. I wasn’t really sure what to do in that situation so I erred on the side of caution. 

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Time to make up the Border War break up

A photo of Allen Fieldhouse shortly before a game against Texas earlier this year.

A photo of Allen Fieldhouse shortly before a game against Texas earlier this year.

A few days ago, I made the yearly ritual of getting excited buying Mizzou football tickets and feeling sad checking the schedule. 

Scanning the dates and opponents, a familiar team was once again left off: Kansas.

For the third year in a row, my class, the University of Missouri class of 2016, will not see a Tiger football or basketball game against the Jayhawks. Our class might become the first ever not to witness a football or basketball game against Kansas since those varsity teams were founded at Mizzou. 

To put that in perspective: MU had played KU in nearly 120 yearly football contests (1918 was missed due to influenza pandemic) before the rivalry ground to halt in 2011. Multiple basketball games every year had been played between the two schools since 1907 until 2012.

Kansas, it seems, has been the problem extending the Border War break up. The Jayhawks are upset MU left the Big 12 for the SEC and refuse to schedule games against the Tigers.

The loss of a Border War game has Missouri scrambling to powder its Big 12 blemishes with sundresses, Zaxby’s meals, “SEC” banners. Mizzou is still a Big 12 school at heart and a conference change hasn’t affected the fact that it still snows, corn grows better than cotton and Saturday isn’t the most important day of the week in Missouri.

It’s not like entering the SEC changed where students from Missouri and Kansas look to go to school either. I still have more friends and family that attend KU than all the SEC schools combined for a number of reasons including proximity, cross-state scholarship opportunities and a shared history of enrolling in each other’s schools for generations.

Failing to schedule a Border War game certainly hurts Missouri and Kansas financially, but what’s less noted is the how it hurts the two states socially. A rivalry game at KU, for instance, was once an excuse for MU students to travel and see people they knew living in Lawrence or at least an excuse to experience the colorfulness surrounding the Border War.

I haven’t seen commitment to regularly visit other SEC schools for games like visits for MU and KU games (who’s up for a 6.5 hour trip to Vanderbilt?).

Sensing there might not be a MU-KU game while I’m at MU, my dad and I earlier this year made the quick, 2.5-hour trip to Lawrence. We witnessed a basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse, met up with friends and family and, later that night, I hung out with (read: badgered) Andrew Wiggins at a bar. It was a great time and a trip I would love to relive again.

Bar room buffoonery aside, there’s still interest in getting a Border War game back together. In May, a throng of fans attended an MU-KU softball game and supported (read: hung toy Jayhawks) bringing the two teams back together regularly. MU football coach Gary Pinkel said he wants another Border War game. New MU basketball coach Kim Anderson said “maybe down the line something will develop.”

So, what’s next? It’s worth noting that many collegiate rivalries have broken up for years, sometimes decades, before getting back together. Missouri’s three-year spat with Kansas has nothing on the 41 years Alabama and Auburn didn’t play each other. 

But, why wait another year to play a game? It seems every semester Missouri doesn’t take on Kansas, the university and its fans fall into a contrived state of “ya’ll’s” and “SEC-SEC-SEC” chants while relishing its more genuine jokes and stories about Kansas. It’s like Missouri suddenly relocated to the “cool kid’s” table (SEC) but wished it still could stuff lasagna up its nose and make its old friends laugh without feeling embarrassed (Big 12).

Please put your white suits, mint juleps and lace fans back in the costume closet because “ya’ll” aren’t truly southern, Mizzou. That’s all right, too. If anything, MU’s culture is a mix of Yankee and rebel, navy and gray, city and country, still needing a Border War game with Kansas to figure it all out.

For the love of baseball

You have to love this kid's enthusiasm for the photobomb.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I went to a Cardinals game with this really sweet girl. The date was going well, she looked great and I had even taught her how to keep score.

Throughout the game, I was consumed with the thought of kissing her, but I knew that I didn’t quite have the guts to just go for it. I realized, though, that the Kiss Cam happened every game and there was just a chance, albeit slight, that a cameraman could help me out.

When the fifth inning rolled around, I clenched up as the Kiss Cam panned the stadium, and, despite finding some younger-looking couples, the camera never found us (an ill-advised choice of later consuming an entire bag of peanuts probably nixed the chance of getting a kiss after the game as well).

Even though I failed to secure a smooch, I have always associated love with the game of baseball. I used to love the game for its stats, instant replays and massive home runs drilled out by burly men. My dad would point to me as a kid at parties and have me recite the average, home run and RBI totals of every player on the team. In an era before a smartphone could quickly Google search statistics, the skill was fairly useful.

Cardinals’ victories meant everything for me growing up and a quick glance at the box score most mornings in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch affected my mood throughout the day. Looking back, I remember feeling acutely depressed for weeks as an 11-year-old kid after the Cardinals lost the 2004 World Series.

I’m not sure when things began to change and I started to find less value in the stats, highlight reels and wins. As I’ve grown older, I’ve cared much more about the stories behind the players and fans instead of religiously memorizing every box score. I’m more interested in slapping a Wiffle ball around with friends or hearing my grandpa tell me about watching Stan Musial hit than obsessing over the minutiae of numbers.

Often, when I go to Cardinals games now, I have no idea who St. Louis is playing because I’m happier about being with my friends and family at the game. For me, baseball is now about the relationships and love that the game forms more than anything else.

On a professional level, though, the game is a business, and it was sad to read about Allen Craig and Joe Kelly getting traded away a few days ago. I thought about their friends and apartments and neighborhoods that they were leaving. I thought about Joe Kelly dancing, his stand-off and that one time he interviewed Nelly as an old man. I recalled Allen Craig’s tortoise named “Torty” and I smiled.

I guess Kelly and Craig were traded to improve the Cardinals’ chances of winning a World Series. Right now, I could care less if the Cardinals won another won of those because I’m going to miss those two guys.

And, yes, my opinion about the trade is worthless because a.) I’m not a general manager and b.) I would be a “terrible” at running a team. If I did manage a ball club, I would focus on my squad’s chemistry and positive interaction with the community before I’d tally up wins and losses. You might not ever see a playoff victory, but our first basemen would always win the 5th-inning hot dog eating contest.

Anyway, good luck with the rest of the season, Cardinals. Sorry if I’m not completely paying attention to what’s happening on the field. I’m just trying to get the Kiss Cam’s attention.