Give CNN Research on How College Athletes Can't Read, Get Death Threats

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Mary Willingham, an academic advisor at UNC-Chapel Hill, revealed to CNN that, based on her research, 60 percent of the school's athletes were reading between a fourth and eighth grade level. Because she did, she's now a target of multiple death threats. "Willingham said she's gotten four death threats, and more than 30 other alarming messages," CNN reported on Thursday night.

Willingham contributed research to CNN's revealing and damaging report that college athletes at public universities (many of which have strong basketball and football programs) across the country are reading  at a grade-school level. Many schools did not reveal their statistics to CNN.

Willingham, a clinical instructor and academic advisor on the university's payroll, shared with CNN that school's basketball and football players (revenue-generating sports) might be reading like second graders: 

-- Of 183 athletes in revenue-generating sports admitted to UNC between 2004 and 2012: 

-- About 60% were reading between the fourth and eighth grade reading levels. 

-- Between 8% and 10% were reading below a third grade level. 

People, probably college sports fans, don't seem to be too happy with her at the moment. And that reflects a bigger, scarier problem — that people don't want to fix the problem and will punish anyone who points it out. On top of the death threats, UNC-Chapel Hill, the school Willingham works for, is maintaining that they do not believe her research, did not authorize the data, and have not seen the data. CNN says it has evidence — emails shared between Willingham and members of university's administration — that the university might not be telling the truth: 

As well as questioning UNC many times about the story before publication, CNN has also detailed Willingham's research.

And purported e-mail exchanges obtained by CNN since August show that Willingham did share her findings at least twice -- once with Executive Vice Provost James W. Dean Jr., and once with a member of a university committee on academics and athletics.

In addition, Willingham says her research on the students in the athletics programs that make money for the university was done based on screenings that the university itself paid for.

Willingham says that despite the threats on her life, she knows she did the right thing and is getting support from other advisers and teachers across the country."It's really OK, because I'm telling the truth," Willingham said. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.