Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label Bonita Mersiades. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bonita Mersiades. Show all posts

Friday, January 14, 2022

RIP Andrew Jennings, legendary investigative sport reporter who exposed corruption in FIFA, IOC

Andrew Jennings testifies in a Brazilian legislative probe  of the national football
federation (photo by Waldemir Barreto/Agência Senado CC BY 2.0).
A pause today to take stock of the work of investigative reporter and anti-corruption advocate Andrew Jennings, publisher of Transparency in Sport, who died on January 8.

Jennings was a tireless and cantankerous thorn in the side of Big Sport.  It would be difficult to overstate the role he played in precipitating the sea-changing revelations of corruption in the administration of the Olympics and international football.  He broke new ground with his books, The Lord of the Rings (1992) and Foul! The Secret World of FIFA (2006).  The "fall of the house of FIFA" and boss Sepp Blatter in the 2015 corruption scandal probably would not have happened had Jennings not sewed the seeds a decade earlier.

Jennings was a prolific writer across media, his many books besides.  Notwithstanding a more-than-fair share of earned global acclaim and enmity, Jennings also was a tirelessly supportive colleague in his crusade.  Email to his blog's contact address went directly to him; he personally and kindly answered a query of mine when I was researching on sport accountability.  He penned a foreword and praise for Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way, the book (reviewed) by Australian whistleblower (and friend of The Savory Tort) Bonita Mersiades.

Andrew Jennings has been widely memorialized, e.g., Sports Illustrated. His death leaves a gaping hole in the agencies of accountability for the quasi-corporate behemoths of transnational sport.  But his work has shown the world irrevocably that corruption thrives in the dark soil of secrecy.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

My Summer Book Report (2020)

Coronavirus propelled UMass into financial crisis in the spring, and, as a result, law faculty summer research stipends evaporated.  With that change in incentives to compound coronavirus travel restrictions, I found myself with more than the usual time to catch up on reading this summer.  I'm going to try to keep my observations here brief; drop me a line if you want to talk more detail.  (All links are to Amazon.)

Books About Soccer


When I signed off from the blog in May, I wrote about starting two books from Australia, Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way and The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe.  The former remains for me the definitive story of the fall of FIFA and corruption of global soccer.  Whatever It Takes was written by whistleblower Bonita Mersiades, once an Australian football executive.  I met her at Play the Game and immediately became a big fan.  I filled out the FIFA story with David Conn's Fall of the House of FIFA: The Multi-Million Dollar Corruption at the Heart of Global Soccer and Ken Besinger's Red Card: How the U.S. Blew the Whistle on the World's Biggest Sports Scandal.  Conn's book gave a thorough global picture, but I didn't enjoy its journalistic perspective as much as Mersiades's animated firsthand account.  Red Card was a compelling take on the story from the U.S. law enforcement perspective; it's a good read for students of U.S. criminal justice.  I especially appreciated it in coincidental tandem with the thoroughly enjoyable TV series El Presidente on Amazon.

By John Maynard, The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe is a tribute to the best players of Indigenous Australian ancestry and their experiences and undersung impact on soccer in Australia.  Joshua Nadel's Fútbol: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America does similar work for that continent, colored with somewhat more attention paid to the interaction of soccer and Latin America's tumultuous independence movements and subsequent political upheavals in the twentieth century.  In African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World Game, Peter Alegi also takes a continental approach, but thoughtfully traces players through the post-colonial interdependencies of African socioeconomic development and big-business European sport.

Simon Critchley in What We Think About When We Think About Soccer and Tamir Bar-On in The World Through Soccer: The Cultural Impact of a Global Sport both endeavor to make the social sciences of sport palatable for average people such as me.  Perhaps neither rises to the gold standard of David Goldblatt or Franklin Foer, but both books are rewarding, congenial reads and make worthy contributions to the literature.  Bar-On's is the more academically rigorous, but Critchley made philosophy fun for my freshman fluency.

My unexpected favorite of these books in the cultural studies vein was The Away Game: The Epic Search for Soccer's Next Superstars.  Sebastian Abbot takes the reader inside the world of the football talent scout and training camps, especially the lives of young African players thrust against the high stakes of the sport business in Europe and the Middle East.  I didn't know how much I didn't know, and the reality of this under-acknowledged netherworld is unsettling.  The painful truth is that the contemporary colonialist harvest of African talent is hideous, and, yet, it can't so wholly and easily be written off as exploitation.  It's complicated.

Books About Free Speech

I read many books about free speech, and I've loosely divided them into three categories here.  The broadest ranging works in this "general" set are Timothy Garton Ash's Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World, Lee Bollinger and Geoffrey Stone's The Free Speech Century, and Floyd Abrams's The Soul of the First Amendment.  Ash's book is described by a reviewer as "encyclopedic."  It is; it's otherwise difficult to categorize and difficult for me to grasp the scope of his knowledge and insight.  With a trans-Atlantic perspective, he grapples with the adaptation of free speech norms to our globalized world.  The Bollinger-Stone collection is at times interesting.  One might ought pick and choose from the contents; it would serve best as a course-supplement reader.  The Abrams book is a paean to free speech, not terribly original but eminently quotable.

Samantha Barbas's Newsworthy, Eric Robinson's Reckless Disregard, and Jeff Kosseff's Twenty-Six Words are legal biographies, respectively of Time, Inc. v. Hill (U.S. 1967) (false light privacy tort), St. Amant v. Thompson (U.S. 1968) ("actual malice" as recklessness "plus"), and Communications Decency Act section 230 (1996) (ISP immunity).  Each is a solid legal history with important contemporary implications.  Robert McWhirter offers a well organized and beautifully illustrated history of the First Amendment, appropriate to scholars of all ages, in The First Amendment: An Illustrated History.

The unexpected best of this set was Mark Tushnet, Alan Chen, and Joseph Blocher's Free Speech Beyond Words: The Surprising Reach of the First Amendment.  I had not expected to be so captivated by this work that dares to investigate a question typically glossed over: why, and to what extent, should non-speech, such as art and conduct, be protected by the legal freedom of speech.  This interdisciplinary analysis unpacks a problem that runs as deep as the very nature of the human being as a social animal.

Books About Hate Speech and Free Speech on Campus


This second set of free speech books I classify as about campus speech, though the books about hate speech plainly have broader application.  A range of perspectives is to be found here.  I am persuaded to the more absolutist view of Nadine Strossen, who has capably maintained and defended a consistent position over decades, even as academia and neo-liberal thought have left her increasingly out in the cold.  She sticks to her guns in Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship.  Anthony Lewis's book in the same vein is disappointing.  I'm a big fan of Lewis's insightful Make No Law (1991), the seminal biography of New York Times v. Sullivan (U.S. 1964).  Unlike that book, this rather facile treatment, Freedom from the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment, could have been written by a research assistant.  

In Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech, Keith Whittington builds the best possible case for universities to care about free speech.  I fear, however, that he gives today's university too much credit for not already being overrun and ruled by bean counters.  Sigal Ben-Porath has the most academic offering of these with her Free Speech on Campus.  But I was frustrated by her refusal to take a firm position consistent with the title of the book, free speech, as if she were afraid of tarnishing left-wing bona fides for failure of sufficient sensitivity.  Finally, the entertaining Mick Hume, a hardened alum of the U.K. newsroom, thinks about trigger warnings what Lou Grant would have thought about them, and he isn't afraid to tell you about it in Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?  Spoiler alert: yes.

Other Speech Reads


This last set of free speech books I'm calling "free speech-related."  David Rieff's In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memories and Its Ironies is one of the most memorable books of my summer.  I read it because I am endlessly intrigued by the right-to-be-forgotten issue and the problem of cultural memory emphasized by institutions such as the stunning Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile.  Rieff turned upside down and shook an interrogation out of everything I thought I knew about the subject, leaving me with a highly uncomfortable uncertainty about what we should remember as a global human society, and whether we're anyway invariably doomed to forget all the right stuff.  I also picked up (used) Carol Fichtelman's Right to be Forgotten: Legal Research Guide.  It's essentially a bibliography and good for its 2018 publication date, but already in 2020, at about $15, I overpaid.  I'm not sure why WS Hein decided to bind and sell what should be a free online resource.

Adcreep: The Case Against Modern Marketing is a book I picked up at a Law and Society conference a couple of years back.  I'm interested in the implications for commercial speech, and Mark Bartholomew amply demonstrates the how and why of something we're all instinctively aware of: that we as individual consumers are hopelessly outmatched in today's sophisticated commercial marketplace of ideas.  Finally, I read through an unusual item that's been on my to-do list for a while: John Greenewald Jr.'s Beyond UFO Secrecy.  Wait wait, before you come to confiscate my tin foil hat: I read this book because of its acclaim in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) community.  Much of the book's leaves are dedicated to the reproduction of produced government documents blackened with redactions, which is fun and interesting for the FOIA enthusiast.  You will get your ink's worth and your conspiracy suspicions stoked.

Other Reads

Tom Wolfe achieves his usual excellence in The Kingdom of Speech, which compelled me to break my blog hiatus in late summer.  The Curve: A Novel, about life at the "Manhattan Law School," by Jeremy Blackman and Cameron Stracher, was a delightful self-indulgence in fiction, though if you've ever worked in academics, it'll have you recollecting the truths that are stranger than....  In contrast, Kent Newmyer, The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr is hardcore nonfiction, if excellent supplemental reading for the Hamilton devotee: a biography of one of the most important legal cases in U.S. history that somehow usually manages only the scarcest mention in constitutional legal studies.  Equally serious about its social science, Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny tells both the nonfiction history of said bears and the story of their masters, the latter amid a psychoanalysis of dark reaches in the collective human mental condition.  More than once a Polish friend has recommended Witold Szabłowski's book when I struggled to understand something about eastern European thinking.  And ... yeah, I see it now.  Con Job: How Democrats Gave Us Crime ... I know will seem an odd pick for those who know me; I don't usually take my partisanship without at least a teaspoon of Splenda.  I admit to interest in how Crystal Wright, self-described "Conservative Black Chick" came to be who she is.  As I suspected, disillusionment is not a partisan affliction in America, and we ignore it at our peril.

Most memorable of this set was Mikey Walsh's haunting Gypsy Boy: My Secret Life in the World of the Romany Gypsies.  It had been on my to-do list for years, and I never quite felt up to the heartrending drama.  It's not unlike Hillbilly Elegy.  Walsh evinces a grudging appreciation of his Romany heritage and teaches the reader a great deal about its proud traditions, alongside its shames.  The journey was at times painful, but overall enriching.

I only got about halfway through my summer reading to-do list, so more books await.  For now, though, I need to get back to figuring out how to teach 1L Torts online.  Happy reading.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Report from a Social Distance Week 8: Speaking of Football, Magic, and Beer ...

Del's is a Rhode Island tradition.  (Photo by Lady Ducayne CC BY-NC 2.0.)
This will be my last weekly report for a while.  I've tried to make it extra savory.  My law school cut summer compensation, so my lemonade from lemons will be much less screen time in the next three months.  These eight "Reports from Quarantine" / "Reports from a Social Distance" have been a lot of fun to write, and I'm grateful for the positive feedback you've sent, dear reader.  Nevertheless, it feels like work anytime a laptop is staring back at you.

Though still experiencing a record-cold spring, the temperature here is at last topping 60°F (15.5°C) as many days as not.  My sprained ankle seems healed, thanks to my Instagram medical team, so I'm looking forward to more time out of the house.  We're reopening in Rhode Island, but there's not yet any timeline for phase 2, much less phase 3.  As I wrote yesterday, people's patience is wearing thin even here in staid New England.  Here's hoping that falling infection numbers bear out our anxious economic plan.

This has been my week 8 since coming home from Africa, and week 8 at home.  Literally, at home.

What I'm Reading

Mary Sidhwani, How to Find the True Self Within: Secrets of Relieving Stress and Anxiety (2019).  I'm not the self-help sort.  But my aunt wrote this book.  I can't imagine a more fitting title to kick off my time away from work.  I'm only as far as the introduction, and I'm keeping an open mind.  Audio chapters are available also.  Dr. Sidhwani is the compassionate soul behind the Women's Therapeutic Health Center, based in Ellicott City, Maryland.

John Maynard, The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe (2019).  This unusual nonfiction selection was a gift—name drop ahead 🤭—from Bonita Mersiades, whom I met last year at Play the Game, and of whom I became an instant admirer.  Mersiades is known in world sport circles as "the Australian whistleblower" for exposing FIFA corruption in soliciting nations' World Cup bids years before the 2015 indictments made whistleblowing fashionable.  She suffered enormously for the perceived betrayal, persecuted both professionally and personally.  Watch her talk about it at Play the Game, or read my account of the session.  A powerful personality already schooled in fighting the establishment as an executive in women's sport, Mersiades was not so easily deterred.  She wrote her own book, aptly titled Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way (2018); started her own boutique publishing house, Fair Play; and became a renowned commentator on the global business of football.

Knowing my interest in comparatism and sport and society, including research on Australian indigenous media, Mersiades gifted me the 2019 Maynard release.  John Maynard hails from a Worimi Aboriginal community on coastal New South Wales. He is a professor of indigenous history at the University of Newcastle in Callaghan.  Maynard's cultural-comparative work has set Aboriginal politics alongside African American and Native American policy problems.  He's also an avid football fan, and this book is a definitive biography of soccer and Aboriginal society.  The 2019 book from Fair Play is actually a revised update of an out-of-print 2012 original.  If you're a football fan, or you want to buy a gift for one, check out Fair Play's many other titles, too.  They include histories of Aston Villa, Liverpool, and Everton, as well as other socio-cultural studies of Asia and Brazil.

The 12 Minor Prophets.  With our church, we continue our year-long reading program, moving on to the intriguing teachings of the 12 minor prophets.  As usual, the BibleProject has fabulous drawing videos, starting with Hosea, Joel, Amos, and Obadiah.  Worship services are continuing online for now, and, as always, all are welcome, 0930 EDT on Sundays.

What I'm Watching

The English Game (2020).  This limited series was developed for Netflix by none other than Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey).  Its six episodes are sometimes in a clumsy rush to deliver its upstairs-downstairs social message.  Overall, though, this story about the origins of association football (soccer) in late-1870s England makes for a thoroughly rewarding work of television.  The series uses football, today the world's game, as a lens through which to view evolving society.  The show brings within its scope not only thinning social strata, but emerging women's and labor rights.  Football itself was at a pivotal point of development at this time, transitioning from elite pastime to professional play, and introducing a more sophisticated form of passing play, recognized as the norm today, relative to a simple strategy of dribbling attack.

The story of a working-class mill team making an unprecedented run to steal the FA cup from elite-establishment collegiate players is very loosely based on real events.  Read more at the publication of your choice: Daily Mail, Digital Spy, Esquire, Express, i news, Mirror, Radio Times, The Spectator, or The TelegraphKevin Guthrie is stately as earnest Scottish footballer Fergus Suter; Guthrie was Abernathy in Fantastic Beasts.

The Great (2020).  I watched the first few episodes of HBO's Catherine the Great with the resplendent Helen Mirren, who received a Golden Globe nomination for the lead role.  I've been embarrassed to admit that I found the show too slow and didn't finish it.  Now comes Hulu's The Great to tell me, it's OK, and to make Catherine's remarkable story so much more delightfully digestible.  This dark comedy features Elle Fanning (Maleficent's Princess Aurora and Dakota Fanning's sister) as Catherine and Nicholas Hoult (X-Men's Beast, the big screen's J.R.R. Tolkien, and the most recent Watership Down's Fiver) as Peter III.

At times laugh-out-loud funny and taking great liberties with history—TV Catherine only arrives in Russia for her wedding to the already-emperor, whereas the real Princess Sophia had been brought to court decades earlier—the story is, as the show's title card disclaims, "occasionally true"—as in portraying Count Orlov, played ably furtively by Sacha Dhawan (Doctor Who's latest Master), as an enlightened co-conspirator in Catherine's inevitable coup. The magnificent sets meant to emulate 18th-century Russian imperial opulence include one real Italian palace and several English castles and houses.  Be warned, there are brief and highly fictionalized portrayals of violence against animals.

The Politician s1 (2019).  This creation from Glee trio Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan was much hyped, but ... weird.  I was interested enough to watch it all the way through.  But Glee it is not.  The Politician lives somewhere amid a wicked ménage à trois of Napolean Dynamite, My So-Called Life, and Alex P. KeatonDear Evan Hansen's defining stage star Ben Platt snagged a Golden Globe nomination for the lead role, and he's terrific.  But the story of a socially awkward teen hell-bent on winning his high school presidency as a ticket-punch on his life-road to the White House is more aimless in the execution than the funny trailers suggest. Season two is expected in June; I'll probably skip it.

Good Eats Reloaded s1-s2 (2018-2020).  Devoted fans of the 14-season Food Network phenomenon that was Good Eats (1999-2012), we went twice to see cinematographer-turned-food-guru Alton Brown share his scientific approach to the culinary art on stage, in 2014 and 2016.  At the latter show, Brown caused an eruption of audience elation upon a cryptic clue that Good Eats might be coming back.  It has, and season 15, retitled Good Eats: The Return, is now free to view in 13 episodes at the Food Network online.  In the interim, Brown made two seasons of Good Eats Reloaded, the second coming out weekly now from the Cooking Channel, available there and on other platforms.  At first I did not want to watch Reloaded, because they looked like just rebroadcasts of the old show.  I was wrong; they're much more.

Hosted by Brown, Good Eats Reloaded is an often hilarious, sometimes MST3K-like look back at Good Eats highlights with plenty of new content.  Contemporary Brown mercilessly mocks his younger self, often breaking away to tell us, for example, how he cooks a burger now, with decades' more experience, or that he no longer uses rolling pin rings because, what seemed like a good idea at the time, they broke soon after the show was filmed.  Sometimes there are all new recipes; he cuts out early from s1e01 Steak Your Claim: The Reload to show us how to make my favorite Korean comfort food, bibimbap.  But, I say, leave out the fish sauce 😝 for the authentic urban-Seoul variant.  Speaking of eats ....

What I'm Eating

Lasagna.  My wife made her incomparable vegetable lasagna (pictured before the oven) for Mother's Day.  Get off my case.  I made breakfast.  She likes to cook.  It's her escape.  Heaven knows she deserves to escape.

Antoni's baked turkey mac'n'cheese.  Furthermore for Mother's Day, we had a family Zoom on my wife's side, wherein everyone made mac'n'cheese comfort food, feat. ground turkey, from Antoni's cookbook, Antoni in the Kitchen.  (That was just one of three Mother's Day Zoom calls.)  The product was tasty, but heavy.

Crepe cake.  Another self-sacrifice 😉 in the #SaveOurRestaurants campaign, we went back to neighbor-owned Crepelicious for its signature, 14-layer, green-tea crepe cake.  Speaking of heavy...

I'll lose weight after lockdown.  Promise.

What I'm Drinking

Mardi Gras King Cake.  My last order from Community Coffee brought Mardi Gras King Cake to my door.  It tastes almost sweet on its own, flavored as it is with cinnamon and vanilla.  It recalls my wife's king cake from March and reminds us of our beloved New Orleans, an especially welcome nostalgia since the cancellation of this summer's AALL conference there.

Koloa Estate.  We took an interlude from Community to visit the far side of the continent with medium-roast Koloa Estate from Kauai Coffee.  Kauai brands often get a bad rap because they're not 100% Hawaiian grown.  You're forgiven if the package led you to think otherwise.  Still, if you don't overpay, it's a solid coffee, for a blend, with some of that nutty flavor that characterizes beans grown in Pacific Rim soil.

Sharish Blue Magic Gin.  I brought this gin back from Lisbon.  Its name is the Arabic name of its home town, Monsaraz, in the southeastern Alentejo region of Portugal, and the unusual whale-fin bottle shape pays homage to the region's easterly hills.  Sharish is made by António Cuco, who, according to various accounts, was an unemployed teacher when he started experimenting with distillation in his home pressure cooker in 2013, set to head a multimillion-euro operation in a few short years.

Sharish's defining feature is its brilliant blue color, more indigo in brighter light and undiluted density, and its "magic" is that this color turns to pink in the presence of tonic.  I experimented, and it was fun. The blue color comes from the flower of the blue pea blossom, clitoria ternatea, in fact named for its, uh, feminine shape.  Tonic really does change the color, not just dilute it, shifting the acidity balance to alkaline, like when we played with pH paper in grade-school science class.  When the novelty wears off, a gin with a rewarding and summery flavor remains.  Sharish leads with its fruits, raspberry and strawberry, and they're backed up by a palette of Alentejo-grown botanicals: angelica, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and licorice, besides the blue pea and juniper.  Sharish goes down so pleasantly, even straight, that its 40% ABV sneaks up on you.

Clitoria ternatea is not a European native, and this is not the only gin that uses it.  The flower goes by many names around the world, including butterfly pea and Asian pigeonwings.  It's an Asian native and has long been known in Asian cuisine, notably Thai blue rice.  The flowers give Empress 1908 gin an indigo hue and a savour overlapping with Sharish.  Made in British Columbia and shipped worldwide, Empress is easier to find in North America, though I think a rung below Sharish in finish.

French 75.  I wanted to make a special cocktail for my wife for Mother's Day.  The French 75, a champagne-and-gin mix, was the signature favorite of Count Arnaud Cazenave in 20th-century New Orleans, according to the John DeMers book, Arnaud's, that I wrote about two weeks ago.  I used a Bon Appetit recipe, a French champagne, and New Amsterdam gin.  My French 75 made me feel like a high-class continental cultural import.  I was so carried away that I briefly joined the neighbor's bichon frisé in looking down (figuratively) on our lab mix.

Death by King CakeI ventured to the "essential" liquor warehouse to bring my wife two new beers to try for Mother's Day.  We love whites and sours.  Both of these were indulgent treats.  Death by King Cake let us end the day the way we started it.  From Colorado-based Oskar Brewing, King Cake is a 6.5% ABV white porter brewed with vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cacao nibs, orange peel, and pecans.  Oskar promises Death by Coconut coming soon, an Irish-style porter in the same "series."

Key Lime Pie Sour.  Of all the food and bev I've tried around the world, I remember vividly my first frozen-key-lime-pie-slice-dipped-in-chocolate-on-a-stick in Key West, Florida.  That was the moment I realized that humanity had achieved Roman Empire-level gluttony on a global scale, and that our fall is inevitable, probably coming sooner than later, but that it would be a helluva ride down.  This is that in a beer.  From New Hampshire-based Smuttynose Brewing Co., there's an adorable seal visage on the back of the can. 6.3% ABV.

It was a Zoom Mother's Day


Stay thirsty, my friends!

Eating and Drinking images by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0 with no claim to underlying works
Zoom captures by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 with no claim of data protection waiver

Monday, October 21, 2019

Whistleblowers call foul, Play the Game

Marcus Carmichael
(Chris Turner CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Whistleblowers are basking in an adoring limelight in the United States right now. They better enjoy it while it lasts, because the American taste for whistleblowing is fickle.

All the attention being paid to whistleblowing in Washington, you would think that whistleblowers are heroes of democratic liberty, Paul Reveres on midnight rides of revelation. Now there’s a second whistleblower, and maybe a third, and, why, people just can’t get in line fast enough to become whistleblowers.

I have to roll my eyes when I hear people waxing poetic over the great tradition of the American whistleblower. Catch those same people on a different day, different issue, or different side of the fence, and they’ll be lashing the whistleblower to the stake and setting their torches to the kindling like it’s the Spanish Inquisition. For much of American history, whistleblowing has been synonymous with disloyalty and treachery.

The Washington whistleblower caused WNYC’s On the Media to replay a 2015 segment in which Brooke Gladstone interviewed language writer Ben Zimmer and consumer protection advocate and civil rights crusader Ralph Nader. The early-20th-century word whistleblowing, Zimmer explained, comes from what it sounds like: a referee blowing the whistle to stop play in event of a penalty. (See Transparency International for the word’s translations, born of other cultural contexts.) No sooner did the word come about that it acquired a dark connotation. It meant, Gladstone said, “to snitch, to rat, to steal.” You can hear that usage, Zimmer pointed out, in the classic film On the Waterfront (1954), in reference to the enemies of organized labor. In this sense, Trump’s “spy” notion is not so far off the mark.



Nader was responsible for turning the word around in the 1970s. He pleaded for insiders to break ranks in his public safety crusade against Big Auto, and he repurposed the term whistleblowing with the positive spin of serving the greater good, despite disloyalty in the short term. So the word is not the thing. Gladstone nailed the salient distinction, which is whether the whistleblowing accords with one’s value judgments. Trump’s traitor is Pelosi’s star witness. Ed Snowden deserves either a presidential medal or an espionage prosecution. Even Upton Sinclair was a duplicitous meatpacking worker.

Blow the Whistle


Our ambivalence about whistleblowers finds expression in law. When we protect whistleblowers at law—common law usually does not—it’s usually a legislative reaction to something awful that happened, when we wonder why no one in the know said anything. While whistleblower protection statutes are prevalent in the United States at state and federal levels, they are often controversial, hardly comprehensive, and likely to pertain only to the public sector. Protection tends to be narrow and sectoral in scope; to depend upon abundant and variable technical prerequisites; and to offer scant shield from the full range of consequences, formal and informal, that the whistleblower faces. Woe to the would-be whistleblower who fails to hire a lawyer in advance to navigate the legal process. The Washington whistleblower was meticulous. The person either is a lawyer or consulted one.

Far from the glamorous escapades of the Hollywood Insider, the real-life whistleblower’s lot in life is lousy. More whistleblowers become infamous than famous, and most become no one significant at all. Typically whistleblowers find themselves, through no fault of their own, in a catch-22. Behind door number one, go with the flow, stay with the pack, look the other way, and sell out your principles. Behind door number two, stand on principle, and probably lose your job, your livelihood, your home, and your friends, alienate your family, and maybe put your life at risk.

To be fair, not all whistleblowers are motivated by altruism, and not all whistleblower motives are altruistic. Sometimes whistleblowers themselves are victims of the misconduct they are reporting. Sometimes they are grinding an unrelated ax against a perpetrator—which doesn’t make the perpetrator less an offender. Whistleblowers’ motives can be complicated. People are complicated. Altruism is a factor. Courage is a constant.

Play the Game


Last week, I had the extraordinary experience of meeting some whistleblowers in world sport. For me, it was the highlight of Play the Game, an initiative and biennial conference of the Danish Institute for Sports Studies, its first meeting outside Europe.  Play the Game aims to raise ethical standards and to promote democracy, transparency, and freedom of expression in world sport.

Whistleblowing in sport might not sound like a big deal, but it is. Consider that transnational sport governors such as the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are among the most powerful non-governmental organizations in the world. Technically they are “nonprofits,” but no one says that with a straight face. Until recently, FIFA and IOC execs sashayed into the offices of presidents, prime ministers, governors, and mayors like they were Regina George’s mean girls on a tear at North Shore High. There were real costs to their shameless greed: global contrails of worthless constructions, impoverished populations, and broken dreams.

That started to change when FIFA and IOC were exposed as corrupt at their cores. Their corruption was exposed by whistleblowers.

Bonita Mersiades (Play the Game CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Bonita Mersiades was a top exec with the Australian Football Federation from 2007 to 2010, when she worked on Australia’s failed bids for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments. She blew the whistle on the extraordinary demands that FIFA placed on would-be hosts and her own country’s willingness to bend the public interest to conform. Those tournaments we know now were awarded to Russia and Qatar upon such rank corruption as resulted in a 2015 raid by U.S. and Swiss law enforcement and dozens of criminal indictments. Mersiades herself was outed when the investigative report of Assistant U.S. Attorney (now N.Y. Judge) Michael Garcia was made public.

At Play the Game, Mersiades described social ostracism in her community, loss of her career in sport administration, burglary of her home, and hacking and online harassment. She wrote about FIFA corruption and her experience in a 2018 book, Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way.

Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov (Play the Game CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Also on the whistleblower panel (below in full) were Yuliya Stepanova and Vitaly Stepanov. Yuliya was a Russian Olympic runner, and Vitaly worked for the Russian anti-doping agency. Together they blew the whistle on Russian doping, breaking open a massive scandal that rocked Russia and the world, exposing not just systematic Russian doping but reckless, if not criminal, indifference in the World Anti-Doping Agency. With good reason, the Stepanovs feared for their lives.  They applied for Canadian asylum and now live in the United States (with their adorable little boy, also in attendance).


Vitaly told a spellbound audience that the stress of the couple’s situation had them on the verge of divorce when, at last, they took the leap into whistleblowing history together. They would have to leave homeland and family behind, and their lives would never be the same. But it was OK, he said, because “after that, … we were united.”

My dinner companions: Mersiades and Dr. Joel Carmichael,
chiropractor to U.S. Olympic athletes
When, over dinner, I lamented the state of patchwork American whistleblower protection law, Mersiades was quick to correct me. It’s much better than Australia, she said. [See UPDATE below.]  In the United States, we do have a somewhat vigorous qui tam field. (Read more at Troxel, Krauss, & Chapman.)  And the federal whistleblower law now at the heart of the impeachment inquiry is better than the yawning void of jeopardy into which FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley stepped when she testified in the Senate on 9/11 failures in 2002. She retired from the FBI two and a half years later.

Mersiades book
Still, it seems to me that as a society, we should be able to do better. When the dust settles around the peculiarly technically adept Washington whistleblower, we might ought wonder why whistleblowers aren’t all around us—at every level of government, and in the private sector. Did no one at Purdue Pharma know about aggressive opioid peddling? We should wonder why, in the land of the First Amendment, there are so many disincentives—legal, social, economic—for anyone to speak out as a citizen on a matter of urgent public interest.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it,” Sinclair said in 1934. That’s why the rule of law must support the apostate who speaks the truth.

The documentary Icarus tells the Russian doping story.
Director Bryan Fogel also spoke on the whistleblowing panel (above) at Play the Game 2019.


For more from Play the Game 2019, see the conference website and the #ptg2019 Twitter feed.

[UPDATE, Oct. 21, at 10:50 a.m. U.S. EDT: A testament to Mersiades's lament that Australian whistleblower protection lags behind democratic demands, witness today's remarkable protest action by Australian newspapers.]