Sports column: We love you too, Malcolm — but we also have a responsibility to uphold

Published 4:00 am Saturday, March 30, 2024

There’s an old hypothetical dilemma that’s often used in journalism ethics classes about reporting on a misdemeanor arrest of a prominent member of the community.

Like most of those hypotheticals, the question is designed to make you think about how to deal with a no-win situation. Reporting on it creates blowback from your community. Not reporting on it makes it look like you’re showing favoritism.

And, like all of those situations, the only real correct answer is to plow ahead and do your job. Report the news accurately, fairly, and objectively. Without those things, you have no credibility. Without credibility, you have nothing.

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Earlier this week The Vicksburg Post unfortunately had to take this hypothetical situation into real life. One of the city’s favorite sons, former NFL star Malcolm Butler, was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in North Providence, Rhode Island. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

We were not the first to report the news. A half-dozen newspapers and TV stations in Providence and Boston did it before we did. TMZ, CBS, Fox News and several other national outlets also picked it up. Butler’s status as an NFL icon and celebrity made it newsworthy. The Vicksburg Post not running the story would not make it disappear.

The article we posted to Tuesday evening was an aggregation of several of those other stories, with links to the original reporting and attribution to their work. It was a very fact-based news account of the situation. Until this column, no commentary or opinion has been published associated with it. Doing so would not have been appropriate.

In other words, we reported some unfortunate news on a local celebrity that was already being widely reported elsewhere.

It’s obviously a story you never want to have to write, especially about someone who has given as much as Butler has to his hometown over the past 10 years. But it’s our job and we did it truthfully, accurately and objectively. More than our job, that is our responsibility — and it’s something we take very seriously.

It didn’t take long, though, for people in Vicksburg to take offense with what we’d written. Comments on social media about our story were almost universally negative — not about the tone of the story, or any facts we might have gotten wrong, but rather that we’d written it at all.

A frequent comment was that the story was “unnecessary” or that it was “his business.” Some people seemed to think The Post has a vendetta against Butler and we couldn’t wait to tear him down for whatever reason.

We’ve already talked here about why we thought it was necessary and the public’s business to know. If the latter is true, then we’re really dedicated to playing the long game.

Since 2012, The Post has written nearly 100 stories, many of them extended features, about Butler and his amazing rise from undrafted free agent to two-time Super Bowl champion. Not one could be perceived as “negative,” let alone as trying to tear him down.

We’ve covered not only his on-field exploits, but his numerous good works in Vicksburg as well. From his annual youth football camp to Thanksgiving turkey giveaways, from giving gift cards to kids to being honored by the NFL for his charity work.

Malcolm Butler is, by all appearances and accounts, a good person who has done his hometown of Vicksburg proud. He’s given back to the community with his time and money and been an inspiration to everyone here.

He’s a shining example of how far in life hard work, dedication, and a refusal to quit can take you. He has earned every accolade given to him.

None of that will ever be taken away from him, nor should it be forgotten by anyone in Vicksburg. The same passionate comments questioning why we would dare report on his one misstep also show how much he is beloved by people here, and why he deserves forgiveness rather than any type of scorn.

Malcolm Butler is a good person who made a mistake. Hopefully it’s one that he’ll learn and grow from, and a storm in his life that will soon pass. We wish him well as he deals with it.

We love you too, Malcolm — but we also have a responsibility to uphold that is bigger than either of us. That includes reporting the bad as well as the good, no matter who it is.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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