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Michigan Media Puts Juwan Howard’s Reputation Above Editorial Freedom

Who’s Afraid of Juwan Howard?
Photo of former Michigan Basketball coach Juwan Howard clapping court side during a game.

The Michigan Daily’s slogan, which updates annually, reads: 133 years of editorial freedom.

But after its editors changed the front page of the March 20 edition, it’s time to reset the counter. 

Here’s why:

Juwan Howard, the glue guy who brought the Fab Five to Ann Arbor as a young man, and then brought them back to Ann Arbor as head coach, just coached the worst basketball season at Michigan since James Naismith invented the game. Not even in the days of peach baskets did a Michigan team go 8-24.

Juwan Howard just coached the worst basketball season at Michigan since James Naismith invented the game.

So why won’t the Michigan Daily say so? 

Howard was fired after a mostly bad five-year run at Michigan. 

Howard’s last Michigan team was worse than the Michigan teams under NCAA punishment due to the misdeeds of the original Fab Five. Howard’s last Michigan team would get run out of the gym by Cazzie Russell and his crew—today. 

The first Fab Five run resulted in two NCAA Finalist banners that are now at an archival library. The second was less historic than that. And now, it’s all over. Everything the Fab Five was and could have been is Michigan Basketball history now.

It had nothing to offer the present and will have nothing to offer the future. Kind of how the 1989 National Championship team is treated, except their banner still waves at Crisler Center.

Screenshot of a tweet by the “Michigan Daily Sports” reading “Following a disastrous season, @umichbball has parted ways with former coach Juwan Howard. This week’s front cover: Fab Failure.”
Photo supplied by James David Dickson

After 30 years, Michigan Basketball can exorcise itself of a Fab Five era that resulted in zero national championships. Only the heartbreak of what could and should have been, if only.

The Michigan Daily’s March 20 cover summed it up: Fab Failure.

Front Cover of Michigan Daily with headline “Fab Failure” and photo of former men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard.
Photo supplied by James David Dickson

Then, the Daily started getting calls. And emails. And hearing from Michigan Daily alums, alums of Michigan athletics, and alums who donate to the university, all with one message: This was no way for college kids to treat a Michigan man.

With powerful people learning their names for the wrong reasons, with their fragile young careers in journalism flashing before their eyes, the editors of the Daily blinked.

Here’s what they chose instead:

Michigan daily first page with headlines “CSG hosts annual executive debate prior to 2024-25 elections,” “Ann Arbor Tenants union sees revival after long hiatus,” and “UMMA hosts third annual queer night for feel good friday.”
Photo supplied by James David Dickson

Anything jump out at you?

Of course it doesn’t. That it’s boring is the point. Boring and safe and everybody still gets a job in New York when they graduate.

When the sports page does take on Howard, it takes the softer tone its critics lobbied for.

“It was time for Juwan Howard to go, but that shouldn’t define his Michigan legacy,” read the main headline.

Front page of Michigan Daily sports section with headline reading, “SportsMonday: It was time for Juwan Howard to go, but that shouldn’t define his Michigan legacy”
Photo supplied by James David Dickson

Now there was no Fab Failure, only the memories we made along the way. 

People forget this, and because newspapers are good about wielding institutional might, they seem stronger than they are. But newspapers are made and printed—and funded—by people.

By flesh and blood human beings who respond to the same motivations we do. Including the disappointment of people we respect, the prospect of a rocky road in the job market, or the legacy of being The Guys who decided they mattered more than the team, and brought on ruin.

So they blinked.

These kids will indeed enter the job market someday. Their instincts in the first cover speak well of their judgment. The choice to change the cover makes me worry for their courage.

Journalism is about the printing of the truth—not what rich donors wish had happened.

A college journalist who can’t tell the truth about Juwan Howard will someday refer to Lia Thomas as a “she.” When the news no longer prints true stories, readers will choose to get their fiction from the pros.

The job of Michigan Basketball players and coaches is simple. Just win, baby. 

In the end, a man who was so level-headed as a teenager—the ultimate team guy—returned to Ann Arbor as an entitled adult who couldn’t control himself or bring the best out of his recruits.

Juwan Howard didn’t deserve better, any more than he deserved to get the job in the first place.

Nobody deserves anything. The game is the game, and his teams lost.

Any journalist who can’t say that, and take whatever pushback comes, should consider another line of work.

I want to see you be brave, Michigan Daily. Tomorrow is another opportunity. 

James David Dickson is a former Michigan Daily columnist.

Photo of James David Dickson in yellow shirt.
Photo supplied by James David Dickson

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