BR Open Mic: Race and Sports

June 5, 2008

This week’s Bleacher Report Open Mic topic was race and sports. This was my contribution.

There are many important issues surrounding race and sports.

A lack of minority representation can be found in nearly all sports, collegiate or pro, from administration/ownership and all the way down to the coaches. The media coverage of players of different races tends to differ as well. For example, when an African-American player has a child out of wedlock he’s usually vilified for it, while white players like Tom Brady and Matt Leinart generally get a pass.

There’s so much more than that, and all legitimate topics should be discussed in constructive ways until all people are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Too many people, myself included at times, would rather just sweep racial issues under the rug and pretend they don’t exist.

However, it is important that when racial issues are broached that there really is a foundation in reality to the issue.

Back in 2006, it became national news when Chris Leak was booed briefly by Florida fans during the game against Kentucky. Much-hyped freshman QB Tim Tebow had injected some energy into the sputtering offense that day, and when he was pulled towards the end of a drive for Leak, a brief chorus of boos could be heard. Here is the AP game recap if you have forgotten the rest.

After the game, many sports pundits around the country saw the occurrence of Gator fans booing the return of the black senior quarterback over the freshman white quarterback as a racial issue. At the time I wrote a piece on it, mainly directed at then-Orlando Sentinel columnist Jemele Hill and CBS Sportsline columnist Mike Freeman who had taken that stance.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m going to quote from what I wrote at the time:

“She [Hill] echoes the sentiment of a CBS Sportsline writer named Mike Freeman that Leak has been a punching bag at UF because it’s the South and Leak is black. The fans are down on the black starter, and want the white backup to be the savior.

To begin with, that’s crazy. Yes, there were racists in the crowd on Saturday. If you take any random set of 90,000 people on the planet, there will be racists of some type in that group. However, she must be forgetting 2003 when the UF fans were breathlessly pining for Leak to supplant Ingle Martin as starting quarterback. Martin is white. He ended up transferring to I-AA Furman where he played well, and he was a fifth round pick of the Packers in this year’s draft. There also were fans last year who wanted to see Josh Portis take away some of Leak’s snaps because of his running ability. Portis is black. He transferred to Maryland for a variety of reasons this offseason.

The booing only lasted about 2 seconds too, and it was only a small fraction of the people in attendance. It was like the thought process of the fans was:

  1. What? Tebow’s going out?
  2. Urban is an idiot for doing this! Tebow deserves to score after all that running!
  3. Boo!
  4. Oh crap, it looks like we’re booing Leak.
  5. Yay! Go Chris Leak!

Now, I know from people who were there that people were cursing Chris Leak’s name in the student section. In the alumni section where I sit with my folks, there were a few people who were booing the player, not the coaches too. However, the vast majority did their best to make up for the others. After a night of offensive frustration, people were excited to see Tebow run all over the field and they wanted to see him get a chance at the touchdown, not see the first team offense get more reps in the red zone. They were thinking about running up the score on Kentucky, not about what will get the team ready for the next four games.”

Gator fans are notoriously impatient, most especially when it comes to the offense. There were times last season when a vocal minority of fans wanted offensive coordinator Dan Mullen fired on the spot, and Florida was in the middle of turning in one of the best statistical offensive seasons in school history.

Freeman should have known better since he was once a local columnist in Jacksonville. I don’t know how much Hill knew of Gator fans’ nature at the time since she’s originally from Michigan and didn’t spend much time at the Sentinel, but I have no doubt that someone more experienced with the locals could have filled her in about Gator fan impatience.

Hill lost some credibility in my eyes since she was trying to bolt a racial frame on a situation that had 95 percent nothing to do with race. It has caused me to pause when reading anything else she’s written, wondering if she did everything she could do to research her columns.

As with any touchy subject like race, it is important to stand on firm ground when discussing it. When someone makes a race argument that isn’t well-grounded, it takes a little something away from those that do make legitimate arguments.

The people that need to hear the legitimate discussion will be less likely to take it seriously if they hear arguments like the one detailed above that are false alarms.

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In Gainesville This Weekend

April 10, 2008

I will be in Gainesville this weekend, visiting family and friends and of course, attending the Orange and Blue game. I’ll try to get some good pictures to share.

I’ll be interested to see the progress of Urban Meyer‘s prized Gateway of Champions, as detailed by Pat Dooley at the Gainesville Sun. Apparently it’s all covered over and will remain as such until its done, but that’s somewhat of an improvement over the random steel girders blighting the southwest corner of the stadium last fall. It apparently will contain a large alligator near the entrance with the names of every player from the 1996 and 2006 national title teams on it. That brings up two questions:

  1. Will Marcus Thomas‘ name be on it? (guess: no)
  2. Will they put the names on it like a tag cloud where the most important players’ names are the largest?

My guess on #2 is also no, though it’d be awesome if they did. It would start one of the all-time great discussions/arguments/flame wars in Gator football history. The biggest name for 1996 obviously would be Danny Wuerffel, but for 2006 I’d put Reggie Nelson‘s name as the biggest, followed closely by Jarvis Moss.

Never underestimate the importance of Jarvis Moss to the 2006 team.

If you can’t make it to Gainesville, you can watch it on ESPN at 1pm. GameDay will be there, and the first hour will be on from 11-noon on ESPN2 and the second hour is from 12 -1 pm on ESPN.

I’m looking forward to the Race for a Scholarship; it’s not that I think some random kid will beat Louis Murphy, Chris Rainey, or Deonte Thompson in a footrace, but to see just how badly three highly motivated speedsters smoke 15 regular college students. It’s too bad Percy is hurt, but the tradeoff is we get to see Rainey or Thompson go (who we otherwise wouldn’t) after not getting to see much of anything from them last year.


June Jones’ Comments about Tim Tebow

December 4, 2007

First, a video:

Jones went on to clarify his remarks here.

This is my interpretation of what happened:

June Jones finally got a chance to do a live interview on ESPN during a time when people on the East Coast are still awake and watching. He wanted to make the best case he could for his guy, Colt Brennan, to win the Heisman Trophy, so he did what everyone else has done in 2007: put Brennan in terms of Tim Tebow. He compared his guy to the front runner for the award and said Brennan is better. How he made that case was from the start bound to cause confusion.

You see, in the college football world, the spread offense is commonplace and there’s nothing unusual about it. It is considered to be a normal part of the landscape. June Jones however is first and foremost an NFL guy, so when he evaluates football he looks at both the NFL and college. The spread has not been tried in the NFL, so for him it goes alongside the triple option, the Nebraska power option, and other college-only systems. For an NFL guy, an offense has to work in both college and the NFL to be a valid offense and not a “system” that manufactures good stats due to scheme rather than talent and technique of the quarterback. Because of this mindset, Tim Tebow is a “system quarterback” for running the spread.

Now, June Jones implemented the Run & Shoot offense at Hawaii, which he also ran in the NFL while coaching the Atlanta Falcons from 1994 – 1996. His argument is that because Colt Brennan has proven himself in Jones’ NFL offense, then Brennan could run any offense and therefore is a better pro prospect than Tebow is. Also, because Brennan is the better pro prospect, he is plain and simple a better quarterback and should win the Heisman Trophy. Remember: in an NFL guy’s mind, anything that is NFL-related is automatically better than anything solely college-related. Tebow runs a college-only scheme, so he is not as good as the pro-offense running Brennan.

There are two glaring problems with Jones’ statements, though. First, he says Tebow is not a natural passer due to a lack of accuracy and not being able “to make all the throws” required by his offense. I find it overwhelmingly unlikely that Jones has had time to break down tape on Tebow, and due to time zone differences and just plain being busy because he’s a coach, its just as unlikely that he’s seen Florida play a full game. He’s probably only seen highlights of Tim’s play. That’s unfortunate because the majority of his highlights this year are of his runs, not his throws, because it’s his running style that makes him unique from any other QB. If Jones had seen Tebow play all year, he’d know that Tebow has made every throw in the book, from screen passes all the way up to 50-yard bombs. He’s stuck on the old “Tebow can’t throw” theme, and he hasn’t had the chance to see enough of Florida to know it’s not true.

The “inaccurate” comment is completely inexcusable when it’s easy to look up that Tim Tebow has a better passer rating than Colt Brennan himself does. Plus, Tebow faces much more difficult defenses week in and week out. Boise State and Hawaii going to a BCS game in consecutive seasons does a great job at disguising the fact that the rest of the WAC is really, very, extremely, deplorably bad. Take out the top two and you’ve got the Sun Belt west.

The second glaring weakness is his implied assertion that the Run & Shoot is a legit NFL offense. As far as I can tell, only two teams actually ran it in the NFL: the early 1990s Houston Oilers and Jones’ Atlanta teams. Other franchises have done no-huddle or other fast-paced schemes, but those two teams are it for the actual Run & Shoot. Those teams never made it to even a conference title game much less the Super Bowl, and the offense hasn’t been used again since Jones’ firing by Atlanta due to it not employing the running back enough. Jones’ final NFL record was 19-29. At best, the Run & Shoot was an experiment run by two head coaches (Jerry Glanville and Jones) that was discredited for a lacking a sufficient running game and not having enough blocking. In other words it’s no West Coast Offense, something that has been employed in the NFL consistently for more than 20 years.

Jones did backtrack from his initial comments some, saying that Tebow is a great QB who will likely win the Heisman and probably a national title as well. However, he continued, Tebow is productive by doing things that can’t be done in the NFL, whereas his guy Colt Brennan is the “best passer in college history.” While that’s true if you look at the record book, Jones should also look at the guys Brennan has been passing up: Andre Ware, David Klingler, Kliff Kingsbury, B.J. Symons, and the like. Owning records in college is an awful predictor of NFL success, especially when you consider that Jones’ and Brennan’s Run & Shoot is what Ware, Klingler and (more or less) Mike Leach’s Texas Tech guys (Kingsbury and Symons) ran in college. You should also note that when pressed on the issue, Jones bases his evaluation of Tebow more on how Alex Smith is performing with the 49ers than anything Tebow has actually done at Florida.

In the end what we have here is someone seeking to promote his player by denigrating another. We also have an NFL supremacist taking a shot at the spread offense, despite the fact that his own “pro-style” offense hasn’t been run in the NFL for over a decade. We also have someone asking for 70+ points to be scored on him come August 30, 2008. Perhaps when Tebow levels his linebackers, June Jones will understand why Tebow is such a special player as a runner. And maybe, just maybe, as he watches Tebow connect with Percy Harvin on a 70 yard touchdown pass he’ll realize a year behind the rest of the country that hey, this kid can throw after all.

UPDATE: Tebow responds with humor, Jones backtracks, and Bob Griese talks some sense.


Today’s Picks

October 13, 2007

These are my ESPN.com College Pick ‘Em Picks. As always, they are arranged from 10 confidence points down to 1.

Illinois over Iowa

Texas Tech over Texas A&M

Cal over Oregon State

LSU over Kentucky

Oklahoma over Missouri

Penn State over Wisconsin

Colorado over Kansas State

Purdue over Michigan

USF over UCF

Arkansas over Auburn


Picks

October 6, 2007

These are my ESPN College Pick ‘EM Picks, and as always, they are listed in order from 10 points to 1. I only got three correct last week, but I actually moved up in the standings from the 84th percentile to the 87th percentile. No one did well last week.

Miami over North Carolina

Ohio State over Purdue

Oklahoma over Texas

Virginia Tech over Clemson

Georgia over Tennessee

Nebraska over Missouri

Rutgers over Cincinnati

Kansas State over Kansas

Florida over LSU

Illinois over Wisconsin

Season: 29-21, .580; 189 points of 275 possible (69%), 87.8th percentile in game

You’ll note that I picked almost every undefeated team to lose. ESPN is calling this Gut-Check Saturday; I think it’s Regression to the Mean Saturday. A lot of these unbeaten teams aren’t that good, and it’s time for some of them to take on the first of their probable several losses.

Also, anyone notice how placid the LSU fans are at GameDay? In 2003 when I was there, they were like that the whole game after we took the lead. Kind of worked up sometimes, but mostly quiet. If we can get an early lead, the crowd will flat-out disappear tonight.


This Week’s Picks

September 29, 2007

These are my ESPN College Pick ‘Em Picks for the week. As always, they’re ordered from 10 points to 1 point.

USC over Washington

Virginia over Pitt

Texas over K-State

Wisconsin over Michigan State

Alabama over FSU

Clemson over Georgia Tech

South Carolina over Miss State

Oregon over Cal

Air Force over Navy

Penn State over Illinois

Season: 26-14, .650; 159 points of 220 possible (72.27%), 84th percentile in the game


Slow News Week

September 26, 2007

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:

  1. If you believe the rumors and the rumblings
  2. Tile up the back stories told on the sly over the past few years
  3. Word is
  4. apparently, Reid considered leaving OSU
  5. Reid has been nicked in games and sat it out instead of gutting it out
  6. 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.
  7. insiders say
  8. Does he have the fire in his belly? Or does he want to be coddled, babied, perhaps even fed chicken?
  9. 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.