Any good story of redemption needs a hero people can rally around. But an eight and half minute story airing on WOI right after the Oscars about a local wrestler’s third shot at a comeback has led some viewers of the Des Moines, Iowa, ABC affiliate to complain about the station’s viewpoint.
Morning anchor Elias Johnson did a story about local wrestler Andrew Long, a registered sex offender, who was accused of raping a 55-year-old woman while wrestling for Penn State. Click here to view the story.
“Long says he doesn’t remember the incident because he was drunk, but later pleaded guilty to indecent assault and served nine months in a Pennsylvania prison,” says the WOI story.
Most of the story paints the picture of a talented wrestler taking the wrong path, finding God, and getting his third, and possibly final, shot with the Grand View University wrestling team with no mention of the victim.
Facebook lit up with people saying the station got it all wrong. One commenter wrote, “I hope his victim wasn’t watching this. How horrible would it be to see your rapist portrayed as some type of comeback kid who has overcome *his troubles*. To have your rape viewed as a bump in the road for his wrestling career would be horrible. I cannot believe grand view would allow a convicted rapist within their walls. Sadly I guess it doesn’t surprise me that sports accomplishments trump rape convictions.'”
Johnson tagged the story by giving out numbers of sexual abuse hotlines. He also quoted Beth Barnhill, executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, by saying, “No matter what happens with Long on the mat, there will always be a victim that shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Long’s comeback ended shortly after the story aired. “Informing the public of what’s happening proved important as just 12 hours later, Andrew Long was dismissed from the wrestling team and university for violating his code of conduct contract he was required to sign to be enrolled to GVU,” said Johnson.
Long’s dismissal comes to light hours after a Des Moines TV station ran a lengthy piece on him at the top of its Sunday night newscast.
— Andy Hamilton (@Andy_Hamilton) February 29, 2016
Johnson also wrote on Facebook:
I think it’s important for you to understand the work that did go on in producing this story. Before this piece was ever aired, I was in contact with Beth Barnhill, Executive Dir. with the IA Coalition Against Sexual Assault because its important to never forget there is a victim in this story. As I’ve been trained and hopefully you understand as a journalist, it would be grossly inappropriate to contact the victim in this story as it has the potential to do more traumatic harm to someone who has already been a victim. Ms Barnhill was grateful we did not try and get the victim to comment. She was happy to provide the ending to the story – reminding everyone there will always be a victim and to never forget the resources available to survivors. I value my relationship with Iowa CASA and continue discussions with them today. There is merit to this story on the basis of this being a public figure who has been making headlines as an athlete. I have a duty to provide context into what’s been happening behind the success on the wrestling mat. Now that he’s been dismissed, you have the back story on why he was under scrutiny in the first place. Everyone has their own feelings, opinions on whether Andrew deserved a second, third chance or not – that is not my job as a journalist. -Elias