By Patrick Donohue
Much like local sports legends Johnny Unitas and Wes Unseld, Diana Huffman’s roots come from Louisville, Ky.
Both the late Unitas and Unseld played their college ball at the University of Louisville, where Huffman grew up watching sporting events because that’s where her father was a professor and a dean.
Unitas starred for the Baltimore Colts and Unseld was a Hall of Fame player and executive with the Baltimore Bullets and later the Washington Bullets.
“I was always a sports fan as a kid,” Huffman said. “I actually have a great essay that I wrote when I was 12 that says I want to be a boy. And I wanted to be a boy so I could play basketball.”
Huffman’s career didn’t end up in athletics, but like these Hall of Famers, she eventually landed in Maryland, where she found most of her professional success and has lived for the past 40 years.
After receiving her doctorate in law from Georgetown, she went to go work on Capitol Hill for nearly two decades in various positions.
But once she decided to adopt a daughter and settle down, Huffman began to feel the urge to join the family business that is teaching.
“My father was a teacher, my sister is a law professor, and my other sister has a master’s in childhood education,” Huffman said. “So I was sort of the last holdout.”
Huffman came to Maryland first as an adjunct professor to teach the law class. She was eventually hired full-time after one year.
And although journalism law and ethics are Huffman’s areas of expertise, she has never lost her passion for sports and said she often uses sports journalism examples to help teach her classes.
She is also a supporter of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and attends nearly all of its events.
“It’s been wonderful for the school,” Huffman said. “It gets us a lot of attention because George [Solomon] puts on fabulous programs because he knows everybody, he gets everybody to come.
“We’ve had a lot of students who were interested in sports, but there was only one class. But [the Center] allows us now to attract students by allowing them to take several courses and have a concentration or specialization in sports journalism.
“It really just gives our program an added dimension.”
Huffman believes that these extra courses are valuable because they not only teach students about sports journalism but also about sports in society. And that is where she sees the intersection between law, ethics and sports.
“If you’re a sports journalist you do have to know what you need to do to not get sued for libel,” Huffman said. “And you do have to know the legal system. Whether it is [Jerry] Sandusky, or Bernie Fine, or the concussions, it’s all part of the legal system. I think it is important for any journalist to know because we are such a litigious society and sports are such a part of our society.”
While Huffman does recognize sports as a specific type of journalism, she does not believe that it requires different standards or ethics from any other type of journalism in order to report the news properly.
“Sports journalist should practice solid journalism and not be held to different standards as far as ethics or accuracy or anything else,” Huffman said.
She used Maryland alumni Scott Van Pelt as an example by saying that he is an objective sports journalist, but he also has a talk show where he can express his opinions. So her question is where do you draw the line between sports journalist and entertainer?
“There’s such a merging of roles at places like ESPN,” Huffman said. “It used to be you were either a reporter or a columnist, and now we have analyst, people who do talk shows. And so it’s really hard to define what is journalism and what is entertainment. And I would say a lot of that has to do with the rise of ESPN.”
But at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism and the Povich Center students are learning what the essentials of reporting are across all types of journalism.
“I think here we make sure students have the fundamentals of reporting whether they want to do sports or not,” Huffman said.
Regardless of what form of journalism they intend to pursue, Huffman always likes to make one fact clear to her students.
“I think it’s important to point out to our students that the only profession mentioned in the constitution is the press,” Huffman said, “which gives us special rights and privileges, but I also believe it gives us responsibilities, in that we give up some of our rights.
“There’s things we can’t do ethically as journalists, not just sports journalists, any journalist. It’s really important to maintain our credibility. We are so quick to judge members of congress but sometimes don’t hold ourselves to the same standards.”