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“[Fans said] what happened at Auburn shouldn’t have and the truth needed to be told”

ESPN The Magazine's Tom Junod discusses his reporting on Auburn's controversial softball program

Tom Junod invested more than a year in reporting and writing his article on the Auburn program. (Scott Clarke/ESPN Images)

ESPN The Magazine writer Tom Junod reflects on his most recent report “Secrets Within the Game,” the story about the sexual conduct and secrets kept within the Auburn softball program.

What has the reaction in the community been like so far?
I wasn’t sure how people were going to respond to a deep dive into a softball program. But what has been really rewarding to me is that it’s not just the like-minded who have come in and supported this story. Both Auburn fans and college softball fans have come out and said that what happened at Auburn shouldn’t have and the truth needed to be told. That’s been really great.

Auburn’s powerhouse softball program has endured intense scrutiny.
(Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)

How did you tell your daughter about this? (Junod’s daughter Nia plays softball and is one of the reasons he became interested in learning more about the sport).
She’s been living with the story like I have. My entire family has to a degree. We took Nia to meet Clint Myers when Auburn played at the University of Georgia and at the time Corey [Myers’ son] had just quit but I didn’t know how deep the story went, I hadn’t spoken to any of the players yet. We met Clint [Myers] and he was incredibly gracious to Nia. He told her she should come to softball camp and of course, now I look at that conversation differently.

Do I think he had any evil intent? Not at all, but parents have to be really aware of what’s going on with their children when their children play sports. So the whole story, my family lived it. It’s one of the few magazine stories that I’ve done that has been more than a year in the making. I took many trips to Auburn, we’ve watched a ton of softball on TV and there have been many occasions while I’ve had to take urgent calls on this while my daughter has had a game. It’s been a family experience and it’s kind of fitting in that way because softball is a family sport.

Tom Junod
(Joe Faraoni/ ESPN Images)

Has your opinion on the game changed?
I really did go into the story looking at softball as sort of a uniquely joyful sport. But the girls were a lot harder than I expected them to be. You see them on the sidelines cheering and dancing but when you meet them you realize they have given up a lot for the sport. It’s one of the things the story explored. The sport has made them harder and yet more vulnerable at the same time.

What do you hope people take away from this story?
The biggest thing I learned on global terms is this: Do you really want your coach telling you as a parent that the sport your child is about to enter provides him or her with another family? I know that is supposed to make people feel comfortable but after experiencing this story, I would look askance at that. I think the nature of family is to sweep secrets under the rug and that’s clearly what was going on at Auburn. A lot of the biggest scandals have occurred at the most close-knit and family-oriented programs. Penn State is the most obvious example. Auburn’s scandal is not on that scale but it’s the same dynamic where you have a venerable coach and people who just believe in him. That provides a space for a bad operator to operate. When people hear the word family I hope they do not take that on face value.

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