When you think of photography scandals, what do you think of – paparazzi? Maplethorpe? The New York Daily News? Sadly, you can now add my name to the list of people who have managed to break the rules or offend by looking at life through a camera lens. Photogate started in late January when I nearly got kicked out of the Mullins Center for photographing a UMass Hockey game without credentials. I tried to plead my case and told them I’m not a professional and make no money off my photographs, that I’m merely a fan with a nice camera, but none of that mattered. I was infringing on UMass’ intellectual property by using a long lens and a monopod (which I concede I shouldn’t have been using but that’s the ONLY thing I’ll admit to doing wrong) without the express consent of the athletic department. It was the verbal equivalent of a cease and desist order, so as embarrassed and furious as I was, I left before I could cause any further trouble.
Looking back, I understand the Mullins Center’s position – they are an independent entity which operates in conjunction with UMass for hockey and basketball, but the staff that actually runs the arena aren’t UMass employees. They don’t know me from Adam’s housecat and out of respect for NCAA regulations, they can’t just take my word for it that I’m not doing anything untoward with my photographs. They have to make sure everyone is credentialed to protect their bottom line and I respect that. Afterward, I kept thinking that I should check with the football administration to make sure they were ok with what I had been doing at practices and games. I certainly want to remain above board with what I do for the team, and I figured that the football staff wouldn’t have a problem with it because they know me and my intentions. I had Bill email the sports information director, and of course, the caveat was exactly what he asked me, “are you prepared to get an answer you don’t want?” I wasn’t but that’s exactly what happened. He got a response saying that the Mullins Center was right and that I shouldn’t be photographing any sport because it can affect a player’s eligibility. If I wanted to continue to photograph the team it would “warrant further conversation.” I was willing to make compromises, but the tone of the email convinced me I wouldn’t get anywhere if I tried, so for now, I’ve given up on photographing my team.
Part of me keeps beating myself up thinking “if you’d just kept your mouth shut you moron, everything would be status quo.” I still feel like I had to ask since I would never want to do anything that could negatively impact the team. Even if I could profit from my football photography, I wouldn’t want to. I take those pictures to share with family and friends who can’t make it to the games, and, more importantly, to give all the fleeting moments that constitute football games back to the team. I’ve been a photographer for a while now and I love the challenge of shooting football. I’ve gone out to day and evening practices with my gear, but I’ve always been respectful of the team and I shoot from a distance so I’m not a distraction. The books I’ve made were gifts to the team as a whole and were on a table in the lobby of the Performance Center for everyone to enjoy. If I’d truly been been doing anything wrong, there was ample time to have brought it to my attention, which the powers that be never did.
I’m as stubborn as a mule when it comes to being told I can’t do something, especially when I know I’ve done nothing wrong, so I looked up the NCAA media regulations. Sections 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52 deal specifically with sales of photography. Private personal use is, at best, a gray area that is allowed at the discretion of the administration. I don’t think the former sports information director cared but the new people in charge are sticklers for controlling the UMass Athletics brand and media image. I honestly feel like there is underlying professional jealousy of my photography, though I could be wrong. Whatever the reason I’ve been told I can’t photograph the team anymore. I am going to probably try it again at some point with my semi-zoom lens just to see if I can get away with it, but for now I’m not going to get anywhere near the stadium with my camera. Thank you all for your support of my work in the past. It has been much appreciated.