This week seems to be a lull in the college football season. Maybe it’s just that Gator irrational exuberance has subsided thanks to the wakeup call at Ole Miss, but actual football hasn’t dominated the college football headlines this week – Mike Gundy’s tirade has.
It’s hard for me to give a neutral, third-party opinion like I usually like to give since I am only a year older than Bobby Reid. I cannot look back hindsight and say that I would have handled the kind of criticism leveled at him in Jenni Carlson’s piece better now than when I was back in college, because I still am in college. I have no idea how I would handle something like that because I am not in the public spotlight, but I know that if for some reason a professional writer had some reason and motive to rip apart my writing style on this blog, I would probably take it hard.
The main issue a lot of people are looking at is how much should college athletes be criticized. I don’t know if that’s the root issue here, because I can think of some recent examples in Gator football where an athlete got heavy criticism and no one had a problem with it. Look at DeShawn Wynn – he had been criticized in Gainesville all the way up to during his senior season for not fulfilling his promise that he showed in the 2003 Miami game. He was either overweight, had an attitude problem, couldn’t get out of the coaches’ doghouse, or some combination of the three.
The difference between Wynn and Reid is that during both the Zook and Meyer regimes, they had said those very things. It was nicer, in terms of saying that he wasn’t doing as well in practice as they’d like, or that his conditioning could use some improvement, and things of that nature, but because it was coming from the coaches, that criticism on him was never seen as overly harsh in the way that this article about Bobby Reid has been seen.
In the end, it’s not what Carlson said, but how she said it and where she got it from. The following are the reasons why everyone is upset:
- If you believe the rumors and the rumblings
- Tile up the back stories told on the sly over the past few years
- Word is
- apparently, Reid considered leaving OSU
- Reid has been nicked in games and sat it out instead of gutting it out
- Reid’s injury against Florida Atlantic — whatever it was — appeared minor but just might have been the thing that pushed Cowboy coaches over the edge.
- insiders say
- Does he have the fire in his belly? Or does he want to be coddled, babied, perhaps even fed chicken?
- If you listen to the rumblings and the rumors
These are all direct quotes from the article. As you can see, a lot of it is based on rumors, hearsay, and “insiders,” and that is bad journalism. It is full of speculation (#4), character attacks (#5, #8), and conclusions made from ignorance (#6). Gundy was right when he criticized the editor for letting something like this go through. Not even a student newspaper would print something solely based on unsubstantiated facts. The worst part is that this article was the front page feature story of the sports section of the largest newspaper in Oklahoma on a game day.
It would be a different story if Carlson had stated she had specific sources telling her this information rather than just repeating “stories on the sly.” That way, there’d be some kind of accountability with the article. There would at least be a face, even if an unidentified face, to the stories. Instead she has the weasel excuse of just repeating what she heard from “insiders,” which for all we know could be a janitor who overheard something in the coach’s office. If 75% of the article really isn’t true, then the coaches have no way of knowing who to go to to set the record straight, so all Mike Gundy can do is announce it at a press conference.
In the end, this was not an article, it was a blog post that ran in a newspaper. I hate to say that too, since I write this blog and I feel like I undermine my own credibility when I draw that comparison. However, this is exactly the sort of thing that appears on blogs and message boards all the time and no one ever knows where it comes from. Remember when Deonte Thompson was supposedly transferring two weeks ago? It turns out that was not true, but no one knows exactly where that story came from, so no one can be held accountable for spreading the misinformation. At least in the case of Bobby Reid, we all know where t find Jenni Carlson.
I am disappointed in a lot of sports writers on the Internet who are taking Carlson’s side by default and attacking Mike Gundy. Should Gundy have taken up the issue with a cooler head? Of course, but he also had to drive home a point to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Dennis Dodd of Sportsline has gone so far as to call for Gundy to be fired, which is insane. It’s almost as though they think that if they don’t defend her and she doesn’t win in the court of public opinion on this issue, then they are somehow losing freedom of the press. That’s completely absurd; only a small lunatic fringe is suggesting Carlson should be silenced. Anyway, they decide to do what Gundy invited them to do – attack him.
The standard response is that Gundy should be more concerned with his 15-17 record at Oklahoma State than with what the newspaper says. That completely misses the point; if a coach lets an article like this one, which by the way appeared in the largest newspaper in the state and was based on rumors and full of cheap shots towards his quarterback, go without addressing it, he risks losing his players completely which would make that record look a lot worse. Carlson writing this piece is not evidence of the sad state of sports journalism, it’s the people blindly coming to her defense without thinking that is.
Sure Carlson had the right to write that article the way she did. That doesn’t mean she should have written it though. She has a responsibility as a newspaper columnist to report the news and opine on that news, but not to try to make news by reporting hearsay. She probably thought it was some kind of minor coup, having used her privileged “insider” knowledge to crack the Case of the Benched Quarterback in grand Encyclopedia Brown fashion, but instead she went too far and ended up writing an attack piece of hack journalism. The fact that she’s been unapologetic about it makes matters worse.
Now, I personally try to keep my criticism of the Gators to on-field matters only. I have not said a word about Kyle Jackson, despite the fact he gets killed almost daily on other sites and message boards, because he personally is not the only problem player in the defensive backfield for UF. He’s an easy target, to be sure since he’s a senior and a lot of the other guys are in their first or second year. However, everyone has missed tackles and had bad plays. Hence, I say that the secondary as a whole is the problem, not Jackson personally, because that’s the truth and so it doesn’t get personal. I’m not here to be a cheerleader, but I prefer to single guys out when they’re doing well, not when they’re struggling.
In the end, I don’t think anything will change. Someone will come along attempting to be the journalistic equivalent of Andrew Meyer, causing a scene just to get noticed. Hopefully, other coaches will have the courage and conviction to call out the journalist like Mike Gundy did, although hopefully with a cooler head. When a guy is getting paid millions to play football and has chosen to live a life in the spotlight, fire away. If he’s just a college student though, what he does off the field (provided it’s not illegal) is no one’s business.