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Officials deny athletes given extra breaks

They say students' rights should be protected

January 7, 2003

Despite witholding information about run-ins with police officers, university officials denied reports Monday that embattled athletes receive special treatment.

The State News reported Monday All-American wide receiver Charles Rogers allegedly pushed an MSU parking enforcer and had a verbal argument with the same officer last fall. County prosecutors confirmed the incident occurred, but university officials would not release a police report.

During the same month, officials also declined to comment on the suspension of junior quarterback Jeff Smoker. The controversy has led some to wonder whether student-athletes receive more leniency when dealing with police.

Trustee Joel Ferguson, a staunch MSU football supporter , doesn't believe student-athletes receive preferential treatment over students.

"They get treated worse," Ferguson said. "If an average person was in this incident, they wouldn't be prosecuted."

Neither Smoker nor Rogers are being prosecuted.

Ferguson said the university officials' decision to honor the privacy requests of students was "wonderful."

Last November, MSU officials denied a Freedom of Information Act drafted by The State News, citing the requests were an invasion of Rogers' privacy. An appeal was filed in December and was rejected by President M. Peter McPherson for the same reason.

McPherson could not be reached for comment and Trustee David Porteous refused comment.

Steve Clark, a senior defenseman on MSU's ice hockey team, said the collaboration between reporters and police officers insures every detail of a high-profile athlete is found out and pursued.

He also dismissed the notion that football players are treated better than other athletes.

"A lot of times, when people do find out you're an athlete, they make sure to make it extra hard on you," Clark said. "I guess, scholastically, when your teacher finds out you're an athlete, it doesn't give you any extra leeway - other than maybe missing classes for games and stuff like that.

"A lot of teachers seem to even have a negative attitude toward athletes - makes it harder on you."

George Perles, who was MSU's head football coach from 1983-94, said the university had to abide by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act in these situations. The act allows universities to only release academic and disciplinary records with student permission.

Students should - and do - get the same treatment in these circumstances as athletes, he said.

"I don't think athletes get any more treatment than anyone else gets," Perles said. "Everybody's worried about them getting preferential treatment, so they go the opposite way."

Some students, such as pre-dental sophomore Dylan Schneider, feel athletes are treated differently than average students.

"I think they do get preferential treatment," he said. "I doubt if it were me, I'd get that privacy. But it could be an issue of privacy. Everyone knows his name. I work at a grade school and the kids know who he is."

Staff writer James Jahnke contributed to this report.

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