‘It cannot be full consent’: OU drama alumna reports sexual relationship with professor who resigns amid Title IX inquiry

Trigger warning: This story describes a sexual relationship between a professor and a student, and describes in detail an instance of sexual assault.

It had been more than six years when the actress posted “Me too” as her Facebook status.

October 2017 was a time of reckoning for the theater, film and media industries as the Harvey Weinstein scandal spurred the #MeToo movement across the globe. Actresses around the world were asked to post “Me too” as their status if they had experienced sexual misconduct or harassment in the industry.

In Chicago, an OU alumna was one of them.

Soon, the professor, whose office was on the third floor of OU’s Fine Arts building, saw the public status and sent the actress his first and only apology.

“For what it’s worth. I’m truly sorry,” he wrote. “#ididit I did it, and I’m ashamed. I hope you are well, and I’ve never blamed you. You’re right. You’ve always been right. All my best.”

That professor was Matthew Ellis, former associate professor of movement and acting. Nearly two years later, Ellis was investigated this September by OU’s Title IX office after that actress, Taylor Schackmann, a 2013 School of Drama graduate, filed a report alleging an inappropriate relationship with Ellis along with a sexual assault allegation.

Schackmann said she was prompted to file the report by School of Drama professor Alissa Mortimer, who told her that she “wasn’t the only one, and that this has been building for some time.”

Mortimer declined to speak with The Daily.

During the spring and early summer of 2011, Ellis and Schackmann exchanged sexual text messages and had sex three times before Schackmann ended things. At the time, Ellis was Schackmann’s professor, play director and academic adviser.

When Ellis was contacted by Title IX investigators late this September, Schackmann said investigators told her he admitted to the inappropriate relationship.

Ellis was subsequently notified that he had violated OU’s consensual sexual relationships policy and the university would pursue abrogation of his tenure, and he tendered his resignation Sept. 28, according to the Notice of Outcome letter sent to Schackmann by Title IX investigators confirming the violation of OU policy and Ellis’ resignation.

However, Schackmann said Title IX investigators told her his resignation is not effective until Dec. 31 but that he was immediately taken out of the classroom and not allowed back on campus. The office is still pursuing a sexual assault/harassment investigation against Ellis, but the Title IX office has no authority over non-employees.

Experts say sexual relationships between professors and students can never be truly consensual because of the stark power dynamic. This is why OU’s policy is in place, which prohibits professors from having sexual relationships with a student they have an evaluative or supervisorial position over, and why many universities are leaning toward stricter policies in this area.

In the #MeToo era, sexual assault prevention campaigns have reframed more clearly the meaning of consent: The absence of a no is not a yes, and when a student’s grades are at stake it can become even more difficult to give a verbal no.

“When the power differential is that great, it cannot be full consent,” said Billie Dziech, a University of Cincinnati English professor who has researched and studied sexual relationships between students and professors as well as authored books on the subject.

The Daily sent a Facebook message to Ellis and attempted to reach him by phone six times between Nov. 22 and Dec. 7, outlining the story it was pursuing. He never responded.

Schackmann said the course of her life was dramatically altered by Ellis’ abuse of power, and only in the past year has she been able to come to terms with what happened and begin to move on.

“I thought they knew,” Schackmann said of various people during her time at OU. “I thought they didn’t care.”

‘I’m just one of the special ones now’

Schackmann was raised in the Houston suburb of Spring, Texas, in a conservative, middle-class family. A ballet dancer for years, Schackmann always loved the arts and being creative.

It wasn’t until her sophomore year of high school when she discovered her love for drama and acting, as she participated in her school’s drama program. In a class of around 800, Schackmann found the place she could be herself.

“I am from the South, from a town where football is everything,” Schackmann said. “And arts were not cool. It was just nice to feel like there was a community of people that I felt similar around.”

Schackmann acted in around eight plays and musicals in high school, and those successes fueled her choice to study to become a professional actor. She applied to a few schools and was offered a spot in OU’s conservatory-style drama program by then-director Tom Orr just days after her audition.

When Schackmann arrived at OU in August 2009, her family had been “devastated” by the economic recession of 2008. She would have to pay for her schooling on her own, so she soon began working in the Union food court and later worked for the School of Music office for the majority of her time at OU.

Schackmann said she always had one, but sometimes two to three jobs during college.

As she juggled her responsibilities, Schackmann said it was especially hard to meet the expectations of the school while also ensuring she had a place to live and food to eat. School of Drama students needed to be available outside of class for responsibilities like rehearsals, auditions and networking. Most students, she said, could do that.

Schackmann also said there was a culture of favoritism in the school, with professors and students often texting and having very friendly relationships that resulted in being invited to their houses and cast in their productions. Schackmann wasn’t a favorite, and she felt no one cared how hard she was working to be there.

Schackmann said that isolation and feeling of being misunderstood led to the situation with Ellis, who cast her as the lead female role of Athena in “The Odyssey” in November of her sophomore year.

The next spring, Ellis was not just her director but also her professor and academic adviser. Rehearsals began, and Ellis gave his phone number to the cast. That’s how their encounters started.

“(He said,) ‘I think a text message is like little gifts,’ and gives us all his phone number,” Schackmann said. “So we start texting, and … I was like, ‘I’m just one of the special ones now. This could be a really great thing for me.’”

‘You thought he was on your side’

Ellis graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a master’s in theater pedagogy with an emphasis in movement and fight directing in 2004, where he met his now ex-wife, Tonia Sina Campanella.

Ellis began his OU career in 2005, and for the past 14 years, he taught classes on movement for the stage, clowning and fighting. According to his LinkedIn, he was approved for tenure in 2011.

Throughout his career, Ellis has acted and directed across the country, including at Dallas Theater Center, Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre and the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, according to his biography on the Society of American Fight Directors website. He has also served as the vice president of the society.

Schackmann said Ellis was well-liked in the School of Drama, especially by students like her, who were not Orr’s favorites.

“(Ellis) and Tonia presented themselves as a safe space for students,” Schackmann said. “He seemed nice, he seemed approachable … You thought he was on your side.”

I truly just felt like I couldn’t leave or say no’

At first, Schackmann and Ellis would text about day-to-day things, and he would help her with “The Odyssey” script. Then, it moved to her venting to him about her issues with school, money and family. He became someone she trusted and treated as a friend.

Eventually, Schackmann found out Ellis and Campanella, who was an adjunct in the School of Drama, had an open marriage, though being involved with students was against their “rules.” However, a line was crossed, and things became sexual between Ellis and Schackmann.

“I was 19. I was dealing with problems that were much older than me … and I felt like I wasn’t being listened to or taken seriously,” Schackmann said. “And so I found someone who would listen to me and would validate my issues … and I think that’s why I trusted Matthew Ellis and let him into my life in that way.”

Schackmann and Ellis’ relationship progressed that spring. They exchanged sexual texts and met for coffee at Cafe Plaid on Campus Corner about once a week, Schackmann said.

Schackmann said Ellis told her he would try to talk his wife into being open to him and Schackmann having a sexual relationship. He said he would explain that Schackmann was “different than other 19-year-olds,” she said.

“Because I was lonely and desperate and looking for validation, so I was absolutely willing to not tell anyone,” Schackmann said. “I didn’t feel like I had a lot of really good friends. I didn’t feel like anyone really cared about my well-being. So I was like, I might as well do this. Like maybe something will come out of it.”

Campanella, who is the founder of Intimacy Directors International and now lives in Chicago, told The Daily she had no knowledge of the relationship.

“I was unaware at the time of a physical relationship with any student that occurred during our marriage, and cannot comment on the actions of my ex-husband,” Campanella said in an email.

Dianne Armstrong, Schackmann’s classmate and roommate at the time, said she remembers noticing a change in Schackmann’s behavior that semester.

“Taylor was really looking forward to auditioning for ‘The Odyssey’ in particular, and … when she was cast she was just super excited,” Armstrong said. “And then, once the show actually started happening, she started to kind of withdraw a little bit.”

Near the end of the semester, Schackmann said she went in for her sophomore evaluation with Ellis, Orr and a few other faculty members.

When the meeting ended, Schackmann said she met Ellis at his office, where he told her he was trying to look up her skirt throughout the evaluation.

Ellis then “pushed” her onto the couch and performed oral sex on her. This came out of nowhere, Schackmann said, and was the first time they had any physical sexual interaction.

“Most of my sexual experiences with Matthew were very rushed, which in retrospect, I think was intentional,” Schackmann said.

When finals week came around, Campanella was going to be out of town, so Ellis invited Schackmann to his home.

Packing an overnight bag, Schackmann said she went to his house, where he offered her alcohol, though Schackmann was still underage, and things soon escalated. The two had sex, during which Schackmann said Ellis choked her, something she hadn’t consented to and didn’t want. He was 35 at the time, and she was 19.

“He didn’t ask me if he could choke me,” Schackmann said. “And at that time, again, I didn’t know that you could say no, I didn’t know that that was a thing. I just didn’t know how to advocate for myself and be like, ‘Hey, don’t do that.’ And so it just happened.”

Afterward, Ellis told Schackmann to leave so he could get a good night’s sleep.

“So I drive to my apartment, I go to my room, I lie down in my bed, and I just think, ‘No one knows where I was. And no one knows what’s been going on, and I am just alone in the universe with all of this,’” Schackmann said. “And that was very isolating.”

They had sex again the next night.

Schackmann stayed in Norman that summer because she was cast in a Sooner Stock play. As classes and “The Odyssey” were over and she wasn’t seeing him frequently, she was beginning to feel like she wanted to end things with Ellis. However, she said she was afraid of the consequences, considering he was a well-liked, tenured professor.

“At this point, he’s almost like a mentor,” Schackmann said. “And he’s still a professor, and he’s still my adviser. (I thought,) ‘If I sever this relationship, what is going to happen to me for the rest of my career? And what will I lose?’”

That June, Ellis asked Schackmann to come to his office to have sex before he went on a three-week trip to Italy with Campanella. Schackmann told The Daily she hadn’t wanted to, but she went anyway, fearing the consequences of not doing so.

“He’s like, ‘Hey, want to meet up for sex?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, not really. Like I kind of feel very used at this point,’ but I didn’t know what else to say,” Schackmann said. “I felt a ton of pressure at that time to be there and sexually available. I truly just felt like I couldn’t leave or say no.”

Schackmann went to Ellis’ office in the Fine Arts building during her lunch break. She recalls not many people were in the building, and thinks Ellis came to campus that day only to have sex with her.

While Schackmann said she did not verbally say no, she tried to make clear with her body language and her facial expressions that she did not want to continue.

Schackmann said she has recently realized all of her sexual encounters with Ellis were nonconsensual due to the power dynamic, but she first realized their last encounter was rape around six months ago.

“I don’t remember all of it, but I do remember that it was rape,” Schackmann said. “I am bent over his desk, I turn around, look at him over my shoulder, and I’m just like, glaring at him in the face. Pretty much everything in my body is saying ‘Get the fuck off of me.’ … And he looked me in the face, closed his eyes and kept going.”

Schackmann said her body began to shut down, and they were not physically able to continue. She said Ellis asked her to “finish” him orally, and after she did, she left.

‘I didn’t really want to believe that it could happen’

After that encounter and before leaving for Europe, Ellis sent her a naked photo via Facebook. She deleted the photo immediately and tried to move on.

Between then and August, Schackmann started a relationship with her now-partner of eight years Mitchell Reid, and she said she finally realized how toxic her encounters with Ellis had been.

In one final coffee meet-up in August at Michelangelo’s, Schackmann said Ellis discouraged her from dating Reid. After that, Schackmann switched academic advisers, further limiting their contact.

Slowly, she began opening up to those close to her about what had happened, although she never went to an authority in the School of Drama or a university authority.

After having a leading role in a three-hour play her sophomore year, Schackmann thought it was only the beginning of her success in the school. However, she never got cast after that except in one student-produced show.

Several of Schackmann’s former classmates told The Daily that while they’re unsure if faculty members knew, the dynamic with Ellis was an open secret among students.

Joey Hines, who graduated in 2013 with Schackmann, said even before she told him about her and Ellis, he had heard rumors they were involved during “The Odyssey.”

“I remember … people questioning the nature of their relationship, and I guess I was a little naive,” Hines said. “I guess I didn’t really want to believe that it could happen … especially because Matthew was a teacher I personally had a good relationship with and actually kind of looked up to.”

“We all still took his class, and people still wanted him to like them because their grade was at stake,” Hines said. “Whereas with Taylor, she became someone I think people were inclined to be less associated with.”

‘When someone has the power to destroy your life … you can’t consent’

Many different things make a student more vulnerable to sexual encounters with professors, said Dziech, the Cincinnati professor who has written books on the subject. One factor is what department the student is in.

“If you’re a (drama) professor, you have more ability to touch than you would if you were in an English class,” Dziech said. “You also have more ability to get inside kids’ heads than you were if you were in a math class. There’s a kind of chaotic environment in most institutions that allow people access in different ways.”

Dziech also said freshmen and sophomores are often more easily victimized. In Schackmann’s case, Dziech said Ellis had much more power over her, which would further frighten and deter her from coming forward.

And it did. Only this year has Schackmann felt ready. Schackmann said she and Mortimer spoke on Sept. 20, and Mortimer filed a mandatory report with Title IX Sept. 22. On Sept. 25, Title IX investigators called Ellis, Schackmann said.

When asked about Ellis, the university said in a statement sent to The Daily via email from Public Affairs that a “faculty member” was placed on administrative leave pending abrogation of tenure proceedings on Sept. 27, five days after the Title IX report was filed. The statement said the university could not comment on specifics of the case, therefore it did not name Ellis in the statement.

Before the proceedings could take place, Ellis resigned on Sept. 28.

Dziech said policies like the one Ellis violated, OU’s consensual sexual relationships policy, are necessary because of the stark power dynamic between a student and a professor.

“When someone has the power to destroy your life or seriously hurt you, you can’t consent to be involved with them,” Dziech said. “It’s as simple as that.”

According to OU’s policy, if Ellis hadn’t been in a supervisory or authoritative role over Schackmann, the relationship could have been allowed if his supervisor was aware.

However, some universities — including Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown and Penn — have started implementing stricter policies by banning sexual relationships between undergraduates and faculty/staff altogether, even if the employee has no power over the student.

The only Big 12 school with a complete ban on sexual relationships between students and faculty or staff members is the University of Texas, whose consensual relationships policy was revised in 2017.

When asked if the university has considered moving to a complete ban on these relationships, OU Public Affairs responded that the university is continually examining the Title IX office and what changes may be needed to “ensure compliance with federal regulations and adherence to best practices for personnel hiring, services, investigations, and victim advocacy.”

Dziech said she thinks the broader policy is the right direction for universities.

“I think there are three ways to look at this,” Dziech said. “Relationships between professors and students are dangerous to students, who have to live with it for the rest of their lives. They’re dangerous to professors who do it because they can be terminated, no matter how tenured, (and) they can be sued, no matter how they declare their innocence. And they are dangerous to the institutions where they work.”

‘What happened to me wasn’t normal’

Reid and Schackmann have been together for more than eight years. As one of the people closest to Schackmann, Reid has seen firsthand the impact those six months have had on her life.

Many of Schackmann’s greatest struggles were exacerbated by the relationship, including anorexia and other mental health issues, Reid said. “(It affected her) immensely, and in all aspects of her well-being.”

Dziech said it is not uncommon for it to take years for someone to move on from encounters like Schackmann had with Ellis.

“It’s like PTSD,” said Dziech, speaking in general about cases like Schackmann’s. “You can go along and then all of a sudden you wake up and say, ‘Oh, my God … What happened here?’ She might blame herself, she might feel terrible about herself, she might be haunted by things that happened. A lot of the time … it can take years for someone to say, ‘This is what happened to me.’”

Both of Reid’s parents are professors, and he said it immediately struck him that the encounters were wrong, even if Schackmann thought she was consenting at first.

“I don’t believe that it’s possible for a student and a teacher to have a consensual relationship,” Reid said. “It’s a false consent because (the students) don’t understand the implications, and the professor does … I hesitate to even call it a relationship. It’s manipulation, it’s gaslighting, it’s abuse.”

As the years passed, Schackmann said she came to understand that what happened to her was not her fault. However, she stopped acting for three years after graduation because she so closely associated acting with Ellis and with feeling ostracized by the department.

She started acting again at 25, but when news about sexual harassment within the School of Drama surfaced in 2018, the trauma came up again. She considered coming forward, but she didn’t feel she was ready yet.

In the summer of 2018, scandal surrounded the School of Drama as harassment allegations emerged against John Scamehorn, a former donor to the school and professor emeritus. His emeritus status was revoked, and more information began to surface.

Orr was accused of enabling Scamehorn and of sexual harassment himself. He was investigated by Title IX, and while not found to have violated any policies, he stepped down as director, though he continues to be a professor.

When The Daily reported on allegations against Orr, an estimated 500 copies of the paper were stolen from buildings in the fine arts area of campus, and then-interim director Judith Pender sent an email to drama faculty calling the story a “horrible smear campaign” that contained “inaccuracies and outright lies.”

Last winter, things worsened for Schackmann. She stopped eating and started having suicidal ideation. This April, Schackmann was admitted to the Chicago Behavioral Mental Health Hospital.

Though Schackmann did not want to go, she said six days spent in the all-women’s ward was “the best thing” she ever did.

“The biggest thing I got out of it was, ‘If you don’t deal with this stuff, you’re going to die,’” Schackmann said. “It really forced me to be honest about the fact that I wasn’t over it, and I had almost a decade of trauma stored in my brain that I hadn’t processed, and that was really affecting my everyday life.”

Today, she is regularly seeing a therapist and taking medication.

Schackmann said one of her biggest issues with the way sexual harassment and sexual assault are talked about is that people focus on the perpetrator and largely ignore the system that enabled them to prey on someone.

“There’s a reason these relationships developed or were allowed to develop, were allowed to flourish and keep going, is because … people didn’t care enough to stop them,” Schackmann said. “So while I’m glad that Matthew has now been removed … until we really talk about the core issues of this, it’s never going to get resolved.”

Both Schackmann and Reid hope that by making her story public, today’s students, both in OU’s School of Drama and beyond, gain a better perspective of those in charge and make sure things like this don’t happen again.

“Eventually, I realized through talking to other actors (in Chicago), that what happened to me wasn’t normal,” Schackmann said. “And that the School of Drama wasn’t normal.”

“It was abusive. And maybe I didn’t hate acting — maybe I just hated that I had been raped and abused, and no one cared.”

Family-owned Norman gas station closes doors following death of beloved son, ‘face’ of station

By Jana Allen

It was 1983, and Def Leppard walked into Joe’s Texaco in Norman, Oklahoma.

The band members entered the station, beers in hand, long hair in full 80’s style, looking the part of trouble waiting to happen, recalls Mike Smith.

At least, that’s how it looked to Smith’s father and the station owner, Joe Smith.

“My dad could be kind of a hard ass…so he told them they couldn’t drink that beer in there and they insisted they were going to drink that beer,” Smith said. “My dad pretty much just told ‘em to get out the door and somehow in the conversation it came up that they were Def Leppard… (My dad has) made fun of that band name ever since.”

This is one of Smith’s favorite stories to tell of his years working for his dad’s gas station.

Joe’s Texaco, more recently known as Sooner Stop, closed its doors for the last time on October 16 after being a Norman staple since 1977.

Joe Smith had been in the gas station owning business for a few years, and when the station on Main became available he sold the one he was at and went to the Texaco. From the time he bought it until 2001, Joe’s Texaco was a full-service gas station.

It was at this station that he and his children spent thousands of hours working and creating memories that would turn a gas station into something more special than anyone ever thought it could be.

***

Mike Smith started working summers at the station when he was just 12, working 30 hours a week at $1 per hour. 

“My dad is one of those that thinks you need to work about the time you can walk,” Smith said.

He continued to work summers until he was 16, and his hours and responsibilities steadily increased.

With countless memories of working at the station, both good and bad, Smith acknowledged that being part of a family business has its advantages and disadvantages for he and his siblings.

There was the convenience of being able to utilize the station for their car’s needs, and it wasn’t hard to take vacations since their father was the one making the schedule.

However, Smith said their dad was harder on he and his siblings than he would have been on a regular employee. 

“And if there was an issue at work, ‘course we went home and that issue was right there waiting on you,” Smith said. “But, for the most part it worked out well as a family… we had a whole lot more advantages than disadvantages.”

As a family-owned business, Sooner Stop and the Smith family left a mark on many members of the Norman community.

Mark Floyd was literally a lifetime customer, having been born the same year the Smith family bought the station. His family had gone to the station for gas and other services for as long as he could remember.

One of Floyd’s favorite memories of the station is one Joe never let him live down.

It was 1993, and Floyd had just recently gotten his driver’s license. On his way to school he stopped at the station for gas.

It was business as usual, and after his tank was full he drove off to school. It wasn’t until his friends in the parking lot told him to look at the side of his car that he noticed he had taken the gas nozzle and cord with him.

“From that day forward, that was from 93 till a month ago, anytime I filled up there it was ‘Mark, make sure to hang up your nozzle,’” Floyd said.

One thing the Smith family, and the few family friends who worked for the station, prided themselves on was having a completely different atmosphere than other convenience stores, said employee Kristi Watson.

“It was a family atmosphere,” Watson said. “We never made you feel like a customer when you came in there.”

Floyd would agree with this sentiment, saying “you don’t get quite the same deal” at corporate convenience stores.

“It was kind of like a ‘Cheers,’” Floyd said. “You wouldn’t just buy gas. You go inside and kind of shoot the breeze with them, that’s just how it’s always been my whole life in Norman.”

***

When most small businesses close, it’s because the business isn’t doing well enough to stay open.

For Sooner Stop, this wasn’t the case.

When the station made the switch from full-service to convenience store in 2001, from Joe’s Texaco to Sooner Stop (a Phillipp’s 66 station), there was also a shift in who was the “face” of the station.

It went from being Joe to his son Rodney, Smith said.

“Rodney was so friendly and jovial, the minute people got to know him they’d just keep coming in,” Smith said. “He was the type, even if he’s never seen you before, he’s going to talk to you pretty much the whole time. He’s not on the phone or looking at a computer, he’s very involved with his customers.”

Smith’s sister Staci McCathern said there were even customers that started calling it “Rodney’s”.

When Rodney passed away unexpectedly in 2017, it was a blow not only to his family but to those who had become accustomed to seeing his face behind the counter of their go-to gas station.

“A lot of customers came in distraught,” McCathern said.

McCathern recalls going up to the station just a few days after Rodney passed to do bookkeeping, it taking her about 15 minutes to actually get out of the car and walk in.

Not long after she was working in the back office, Kristi Watson, a family friend who had started filling in for Rodney, came to tell her that someone had asked for a member of Rodney’s family.

The woman ended up donating $100 for Rodney’s funeral, McCathern said.

Others didn’t hear about Rodney’s passing, so they would ask about him when they came in and saw that he wasn’t there.

“The hard part of them coming in asking about Rodney… was that it’s hard to say what happened,” McCathern said. “And I didn’t want mom and dad to be up there when they came to ask. In all honesty, (dad) just got to where he didn’t want to be there.”

McCathern and her brother both believe the station would have continued in business if it hadn’t been for Rodney’s passing.

“(Rodney) was just going to take over the station,” Smith said. “My dad was just going to step down, hand it to him. That was the original plan, that didn’t get to pan out. So that’s why he wound up selling it.”

The selling process took about a year, McCathern said, but finally Joe closed a deal.

It’s been extremely hard on the entire family to let go of the station, she said, especially because the buyers are planning to knock the building down to build an optometrist office.

“When we knew we had three weeks till it was going to close, (dad) kept saying it wasn’t, he got to where he couldn’t sleep,” McCathern said. “My mother said, ‘I can walk in here and I can just see Rodney walk around the corner. I walk in the door and I hear him say ‘Hi Mom.’’ That’s where the hard part of closing came.”

As a longtime customer and someone who considers the Smith’s like family, Floyd said it’s been hard to see the business go away, hard to see the station now gated off and preparing to be taken down.

“When you think of Norman… there are certain places that old Normanites think of,” Floyd said. “Joe’s is one of them. They’ve had an impact on my family, and many other families in this town. Not just a handful, but hundreds, if not thousands of people.”

Floyd is a business owner himself, having owned Downtown Fitness on West Lindsey for 16 years and gearing up to open a new business, Golden Rule Pawn which will be on Main and 24th. 

The pawn shop will be just down the street from where Sooner Stop was, and as a way to continue the station’s legacy Floyd bought all of their cabinets, casing and shelving to use in his new shop.

“I did it intentionally because I was like, ‘Hey, we’re going to kind of keep this going, we’re going to be just down the street, and we’re going to have a bunch of Joe’s Texaco stuff in our new place,” Floyd said. “Whether it’s in the warehouse, our showroom, we’re going to clean it up, make it look brand new, but Joe’s will continue through our place.”

Kelli Masters: An agent like no other

By Jana Allen

It was April 22, 2010, when Kelli Masters made history without even realizing it.

That was the night of the NFL Draft and Masters, who had been an NFL agent for just four years, was representing Gerald McCoy. It came time for the third overall pick, and McCoy’s name was called, drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

During the hustle and bustle of the event, taking care of McCoy’s family, making sure they got on stage for the pictures and simply doing her job, Masters didn’t once think about this being ‘her moment.’ However, she had just made history as the first woman to represent a top-five, first-round draft pick and only the second woman to represent a first-round draft pick at all.

“I had the satisfaction of, ‘Okay, this was a goal and I’ve reached (it),’” Masters said. “But it wasn’t something that was about me.”

In a male-dominated industry, Masters has been making waves for over two decades now. She owns her own Oklahoma City-based agency and has a clientele of about 30 athletes, 8 of those being NFL players.

This wasn’t always her dream, but she knows she has found her calling.

‘If you’d been an agent, we would have signed with you’

Before Masters career as an NFL agent, she was working for Fellers Snider law firm doing litigation and nonprofit law. She began doing legal work for former NFL players, helping them out in the creation of foundations.

She hadn’t worked in the sports legal world before, but one former player’s mother said something that caught Masters off guard.

“(She said,) ‘Where were you at the beginning? If you’d been an agent, we would have signed with you,’” Masters said.

This was something that had never crossed Masters mind as something she wanted or was supposed to do, but after that she couldn’t get the idea out of her head.

So, like any good lawyer, Masters began doing as much research as she could. For months, she talked to anyone and everyone she could get ahold of and gathered all the information she would need about the world of being an NFL agent.

“After about a year, I realized it was probably the most insane career move I could make,” Masters said. “It made no sense. But at the same time, I also knew I had found my calling.”

So, she took a leap of faith and founded KMM Sports.

And Masters was no stranger to career changes. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in Journalism, with the plan to become a broadcast journalist.

Before she could fully launch into her career in TV news, Masters decided that she would go to law school to become a better journalist. She felt that it would give her an extra skill set and help her better understand a lot of the things she was covering.

In the middle of law school, she decided she would practice law instead of returning to the studio. And then, just a few years later she again made a new career decision: starting her own sports agency.

‘I didn’t plan on being the first anything, I didn’t plan on being a pioneer’

At Masters’ first NFL Combine as an agent, she was approached by one of the more successful agents for some unsolicited advice.

“(He) point-blank told me I didn’t belong there,” Masters said. “That women never make it as agents… And I said, ‘You don’t know me, you don’t know I am here. I’m going to prove you wrong.’ And I have.”

At the time, Masters said there were about a dozen women who were agents, and only two or three who actually had clients on NFL rosters.

Just being a certified agent doesn’t guarantee you clients, and it especially doesn’t guarantee you will have clients that actually get signed by teams, Masters said.

Today, out of 795 total NFL agents, 41 of them are women; of those, only 21 have a client on a current NFL roster, Yahoo Sports reported in May, attributed to the National Football League Players Association.

It’s also extremely rare for an agent, man or woman, to go out on their own and start their own agencies, Masters said.

“Not only is the agent business brutal, and highly, highly competitive, it’s also virtually impossible to start an agency and compete against the established companies,” Masters said.

But she did exactly that because she said she knew she wanted to approach representing athletes different than most agents did.

As a lawyer, Masters said she was in a “protection and advocacy” mindset.

“As opposed to just negotiating the biggest deal, I look at every situation very comprehensively, almost like a general counsel of a company,” Masters said. “On the personal side, I genuinely care about the person that I’m representing, not just his athletic ability.”

Dale Reneau III, director of Operations for KMM and lifelong friend of Masters, said Masters’ agency has an extremely high retention rate compared to most others.

Reneau III said he believes the reason Masters has found so much success is the way she treats her clients.

“Every decision she makes, even from the beginning of the recruiting is what’s best for the player,” Reneau III said.

‘With Kelli, you feel like you are ‘The Guy’’

Tress Way, punter for the Washington Redskins, has been Masters’ client for over six years, signing with her when it was time for him to enter the 2013 NFL Draft.

Way said Masters is a rare kind of agent. She consistently checks in on his overall well-being, along with sending an encouraging message or prayer before every game.

“I say this pretty proudly, just to kind of really boost up what Kelli does: I can confidently tell you that I don’t know of anybody in my locker room that has that kind of relationship with their agents,” Way said.

Masters doesn’t make you feel like just another one of the players she represents.

“With Kelli, she makes you feel like you are ‘The Guy’” Way said.

Way said there was a time when he was considering no longer playing in the NFL. It was 2013, and he had just been dropped by the Chicago Bears who had signed him as an undrafted free agent just months earlier.

A job offer had come up in Oklahoma City, and Way and his now-wife were weighing the options of him moving back to Oklahoma versus continuing his career in the NFL. Way reached out to Masters for advice, and after hearing him out she told him she still believed he could make it.

“She just said, ‘Hey, Tress, this is how it goes with kickers and punters, you have the hardest time actually cracking the surface and getting in. (But) once you get in, and you prove to everybody what I know you can do, you set yourself up for a great long career. But you’ve got to withstand the battles and the adversity right now,’” Way said.

So, after talking it over with his girlfriend and family, he decided to give it another try. The Bears signed him in 2014 but waived him again before the season started. However, just two days later he was claimed by the Redskins and is still with them today.

In his rookie season, Way led the league in gross punting average with 47.5 yards per punt. But he may never have gone on to the Redskins had he not had an agent like Masters who believed in him more than he believed in himself.

‘If I don’t get this, it’s going to change the way the rest of my life works’

Masters said she feels like another thing that helps her stand out from other agents is that, as a former athlete herself, she can relate to those she’s representing.

“I understand the sacrifice on a daily basis to be better,” Masters said. “Doing the things that nobody sees, so that when you do step onto the field, you’re prepared to be at your best.”

From a young age, Masters and her twin sister began to dream of becoming the baton twirler for OU.

“The twirler at half-time just captivated me,” Masters said. “She’s out here in a funny costume and she’s throwing her batons in the sky and everyone’s cheering. I just thought, that’s what I want to be, I want to do that.”

One had to have national recognition to be considered for the OU twirler spot, so the competition was on, so to speak. Masters mother became their daily twirling coach, practicing 4-6 hours a day.

The twins attended a Tahlequah twirling camp a few summers in a row, where they got connected with the OU twirler at the time and ended up driving to Norman to take lessons from her.

When Masters was 14 she won her first national title and later became a world champion in baton twirling, all to become the twirler at OU.

When it was time to audition, the Masters twins tried out against each other, knowing either one or neither of them would get it.

“And I remember that day thinking, how I do today is going to determine what my life looks like because I’ll either be twirling for Oklahoma, fulfilling my dream, or I’ll be moving to a different state,” Masters said. “I just realized the gravity of the situation, that this is my entire life goal… And if I don’t get this, it’s going to change the way the rest of my life works.”

A few weeks later, the twins were called to the principal’s office of their high school in Midwest City. They were told OU’s band director had called and wanted them to come to Norman to talk to him.

Masters recalls the heavy silence between her twin and herself on the half-an-hour car ride as the two had no idea what news they were soon going to hear.

Thankfully, it was better than they had ever hoped for. They were both OU’s future twirlers.

“The ultimate goal was being a twirler for OU and my sister and I achieved that,” Masters said. “It was the experience of a lifetime.”

Masters was right about the decision OU would make deciding what the rest of her life would look like. If she hadn’t gone to OU, she may never have gone to law school, become a lawyer, or ever be approached by former football players because of her connection to OU.

After the 2010 NFL Draft ended, Masters said there were dozens of messages from colleagues and friends congratulating her, but it didn’t make the news and wasn’t something she was widely recognized for immediately after. A few years later, Masters was contacted by a member of the media to talk about that night, about being “the first.”

Originally declining, Masters decided to go ahead with the interview in an attempt to inspire others.

“I thought, there are maybe young women out there, people out there, that are holding back on pursuing things that they want to because they don’t see anyone else like them doing it,” Masters said.

Masters said she started receiving messages from women all over thanking her for sharing her story, and she’s thankful she can be a point of inspiration for anyone who is facing an uphill battle, just like she did when she walked into that room full of other agents for the first time.

Brianna Bailey of The Frontier

Still Waiting: Oklahoma’s juvenile life without parole prisoners struggle to get attorneys, new hearings

By Jana Allen

Brianna Bailey knew she wanted to become a journalist after being part of her high school’s newspaper, and came to OU to study journalism after taking a few years off of college to get married and be with her Air Force husband in Germany.

When Bailey started in college in the early 2000’s, the only thing she knew she wanted to do was work for a newspaper. That is what she did for the beginning of her career, but she had no idea when she started that newspapers were going to be dying.

After graduating from OU, Bailey worked for the Norman Transcript for a year and did a little bit of everything: copyediting, page design, cops reporter one night a week and wrote the religious section.

She and her husband then moved to Orange County, California where she worked for a daily newspaper called the Daily Pilot for three years and then moved back to Oklahoma to work for the Journal Record for three years, then worked at The Oklahoman for three years.

In 2016, after ten years working for newspapers, Bailey was offered a position with The Frontier, a nonprofit news organization that would allow her to focus on longform investigative work.

This April she published the story she had worked the longest on in her career, a total of about six months spent researching, reporting, and then writing.

The three-part series titled “Still Waiting” focuses on prisoners serving life without parole sentences for crimes they committed while juveniles, and how their Constitutional rights may be being violated by not being able to get a new trial.

The Supreme Court laid out new standards, saying that most of these prisoners are entitled to a new sentencing hearing that takes into account their age and potential for rehabilitation into account.

Bailey found, through a lot of manual digging through court cases, that only seven of the 43 prisoners this applies to in Oklahoma have been resentenced. She decided to write a letter to each of the 36 that had not, and said she heard back from some but not all.

Most of those that she spoke with had either been trying to get an attorney for a new sentencing hearing, didn’t know how to go about getting an attorney, or didn’t even know they were able to.

And most of them had been convicted of murder.

When asked what it’s like talking to someone convicted of murder, Bailey said despite being somewhat desensitized to some of it at that point, it was definitely weird.

“Some of their crimes were really horrible,” Bailey said. “But every one of them that I talked to, I tried to treat with respect and just talk to them like a person.”

One of the most important things Bailey did when interviewing the prisoners was “trust, but verify.”

“It’s hard to know if a person’s always telling you the truth, or if they’re telling a version of the truth that’s more beneficial to them, or makes them look better,” Bailey said.

Bailey said the most challenging part of the project was being fair with the stories.

“I mean, the victims families, yes, they were wronged,” Bailey said. “But, also, the state of Oklahoma has to follow the Constitution, and these people have constitutional rights that are being violated. I don’t know that I got that across successfully. There’s things I would probably do differently or report differently if I were to go back to do it today.”

After the project was released, Bailey said there was a mixed reaction. A lot of people don’t like murderers, Bailey said, and don’t want them to get out of prison.

But there was also some positive outcomes.

“One of the women that I wrote about, Dana Barker, she has an attorney now who is working on her case pro bono, and that came as a result of my story,” Bailey said.

Bailey said one of her biggest takeaways from working on this project was how to organize such a large amount of information and figure out what your story is from gathered data.

When it comes to advice for young reporters soon to start their career, Bailey said she would suggest trying out as many different beats as you can.

Everything she learned from covering a city council meeting to a court case to an armed robbery to being a business reporter, she uses everyday as an investigative reporter.

And you don’t have to wait until you’re a big shot somewhere to do investigative work, Bailey said.

“You know, if there’s something on your beat that you see is something that could be more of a story, you could uncover more information, file a couple records request,” Bailey said. “You don’t have to just report on what people tell you the story is, you can you can decide what the story is, and, and get records and talk to people and answer the questions.”

Q&A with Jordan Miller: losing someone, finding yourself

By Jana Allen

Jordan Miller is a junior journalism major at the University of Oklahoma, and the OU Daily newspaper’s news managing editor. Houston, Texas is where she calls home and before college she lived there with her brother, dad, stepmom and step brother. Jordan’s mother died of brain cancer when Jordan was in the fifth grade. All these years later, Jordan still cherishes the memories she has with her mother and the lessons she learned from losing someone so close to you so early in life.

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Tell me about your family and your childhood.

We moved around a lot when I was young because of my dad’s job. So I was born in Oregon, we lived there for about a year and a half. And then we moved back to Houston whenever my mom was pregnant with my brother. We lived there for a little bit longer, until I went to preschool. And after preschool, and after my brother was born, we moved to Connecticut and my dad worked in Manhattan. I think he might have worked for Enron at this point, like their headquarters in Manhattan. 

I turned five in New York City, which was cool, and I went to private school for a little bit. And then after a year, we moved to Austin. And then after I completed first grade in Austin, we moved back to Houston. And I lived in Houston until I went to college.

My mom got sick whenever I was in third grade. She had breast cancer and then it metastasized to her brain. She got one of her tits removed, so she had like this fake gelatin tit.

Just so you know, I’m not writing tit on this.

You better put tit that’s what I said. But anyways, she died whenever I was in fifth grade. And then once my dad like got remarried, and like my step mom and my step brother were in the family, we moved to a different house, like a one and a half storey house. And I lived there until I came to OU.

What’s your favorite memory of your mom?

So like, my brother did a bunch of baseball growing up. And I didn’t really have a sport. Like, I tried a bunch. I tried to do soccer when I was really little. I didn’t really like it. And then whenever I got older, I tried to do softball, but I hated it. And so I just never really got that bonding experience with my parents, because like every weekend was devoted to my brother, he had tournaments all the time. But my mom kind of made up for it. So like, if my brother had practice and my dad was helping, we would have ‘Lavender Nights.’ We would go get dinner at Taco Bell, and then we’d go to Hollywood Video and rent a movie and get like a soda from there. Then we’d go home and watch that and then I’d have a lavender bath afterwards. Those nights are nice to remember.

What’s the most important thing you learned from losing your mom at such a young age?

I guess just always treat every time you see your family like it’s the last time that you see someone because one of the last nights I spent with my mom, I told her that I hated her, which was screwed up. We went to Outback and I was mad at her for something dumb. And then later, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I really did that.’ And she died a few days later.

So did your mom have a job or was she a stay-at-home mom?

My mom was an accountant before she had me and my brother, but she was a stay-at-home mom for the time we were kids. She was supposed to go back to her job after we both came out of elementary school.

So what made her decide to stay at home with you guys? 

I guess that’s just what she wanted to do, get us through elementary school. And then she would be like, they can kind of take care of themselves, and then I can go have a job. I guess that’s what she thought.

Did you guys ever talk about aspirations for your future, your career?

Not really. I mean, I was too young at that point. I think I wanted to be a vet or something when I was a kid.

When did you decide you wanted to become a journalist?

I had an open elective spot in high school, and my friend was on the paper so I thought might as well try it. And then I really liked it. I liked being in a leadership role at that little paper we had, and I had a good time. So it was like, ‘Oh, might as well keep doing this. It seems pretty cool.’ I really wanted to do something that makes change, you know. And I wasn’t sure if I could do that, but then I went to this Northwestern Journalism Institute thing where they had people come and talk to us, like fantastically insane journalists who were super talented. I just learned you really could make a change of journalism, even if it’s small. There was this one person who talked to us about how they did a story on this type of baby crib and how much infants were dying getting their heads stuck in there, something like that. And because of their story on it, they stopped selling the crib, and more regulations were made to make sure it doesn’t happen again. So I was like, ‘Well, I can do this.’ So that’s where I am now.

What is one of your stories that you wish she could read and why?

I really like this story that was about this former football player who now owns Ray’s Barbecue. That is a story that I really enjoyed writing. And I feel like a lot of my voice came out in it. And I think a lot of the time I kind of tie my parents pride in me with sports stuff, because that’s how it was growing up. My dad was really interested in it because I talked to Barry Switzer and he told all of our family, ‘Oh my god, you know who Jordan just got off the phone with? Barry Switzer.’

Do you ever think about how supportive your mom would be of this career path?

I just kind of feel like she would be happy with whatever I do, like my dad is. He’s just happy that I’m happy. I’m sure she would have been happy.