LOS ANGELES — The operator of a popular Central Valley high school football website will be allowed to cover this Friday's Division IV quarterfinal at Taft Union High School in Taft, California, after the ACLU of Southern California threatened to file a lawsuit on his behalf.
Derek Brown operates CVHSPreps.com, a website devoted to news, analysis, and statistics on high school football in the Central Valley. Brown was denied access to the sidelines of the football game by Taft school officials, who felt his website contained comments that portrayed some Taft coaches in a negative light.
"We're happy Mr. Brown will be able to cover the quarterfinal playoff game at Taft this Friday," said Peter Bibring, a staff attorney for the ACLU/SC. "Government officials cannot selectively exclude a reporter from open press areas just because they don't like the coverage."
School officials apparently objected not to content written by CVHSPrep staff, but to comments posted by the public in the "Community Forums" portion of the website. But in a letter to the ACLU sent this week, the school agreed to restore Brown's access to the Friday game.
"I'd never say anything against the school," Brown said. "But people get passionate when they talk about sports. We make sure everything on the site is family-friendly, but some of the comments still seemed to upset the coaches."
"I'm glad we've gotten our access back, so we can continue to provide the kind of comprehensive coverage our members and readers have come to expect," Brown continued.
Until a few weeks ago, Taft had consistently permitted Brown, along with other local newspaper and television reporters, to report and take pictures from the sidelines of Taft high school games. But on Oct. 20, Brown was escorted off the field and informed that no one from his web site would be allowed on the sidelines at future games due to the coaches' concerns with the website's content. Other media were permitted to remain on the field and cover the game as before.
"It's troubling that Taft wrongly kept Brown off the sidelines for two games," Bibring said. "But by restoring equal access, they've shown that CVHSPreps did nothing wrong in exercising their constitutional right to free speech and a free press."