Monday, September 24, 2007
Don't Haze Me, Bro
Just saw this on SportsCenter. Some brief thoughts:
--For the record, since Coach Gundy chose to lambast the column without reading or quoting from it, here's the dastardly piece in its entireity. I don't particularly think it's a great column-- I think its insistence on finding a kind of oedipal truth in the quarterback's relationship with his mother is tiresome, poorly thought out, and unbearably macho; I also think it's pretty par for the course in the way football is covered on both the pro and college levels. If you're going to make "toughness" the key criteria and definition of what it means to "be a man" (hell, if you're going to rabidly link football and 'manliness' in the first place), you shouldn't be surprised if it blows back on you.
-- "This article embarrasses me to be involved with college athletics" and "I think this article's worth readin' " v. "I didn't read it" and "This is why I don't read newspapers": Way to trumpet your aliteracy on television, Coach Gundy.
--Ambiguous use of false statistics: although he hasn't read the article, Gundy can make the mathematically precise declaration that the article is "3/4 inaccurate", which begs the question: which 1/4 of it is true?
--Misleading use of false anecdotes: Gundy makes reference to a mythical child being picked on because he's fat, or being criticized for dropping a pass, leaving the implication that Carlson made these remarks in her column. She didn't, and Gundy's shameless play on his audience's emotions (I mean, I'd feel bad for that mythical kid) really blurs the coverage here. It's the equivalent in political reporting of the "some people say...", which allows reporters and pundits to make things up and parrot party talking points while claiming to speak for the will of the people. Also, if Gundy wants the reporting to center on "what happens on the field" (as he says more than once in this tirade), wouldn't dropping a pass count as that?
-- I love the way his shirt blends into the OSU backdrop: L'etat, c'est moi.
--"If you have a child someday," Gundy sneered, "you'll understand how it feels. But you obviously don't have a child": Jenni Carlson, if the column above is any indication, is a terrible writer whose work is a slew of macho cliches, but I do wonder if Gundy would've made that remark to a male columnist. It seems to tap into a stream of resentment and cultural expectation constructed around gender lines that remains an ugly black mark in college football (hello, Garry Barnett!) (also, in a continuing series of "how sensitive is he, really?" head-scratchers, Mike follows up this "concerned parent" bit with the lovely wish that Carlson's future, hypothetical child suffer slings and arrows of criticism and put-downs, although he does stop short of wishing that her future children sport gills).
--This article documents the aftermath of Gundy's tirade, and also quotes Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Nebraska's Bill Callahan, Colorado's Dan Hawkins (who not only wants restricted media criticism, but also thinks fans shouldn't boo-- wow, what confidence he must radiate to his team), and Texas's Mack Brown about how horrible it is that newspapers don't act as boosters for their local sports programs (hmm, mabye I shouldn't use the words "booster" and Oklahoma in the same sentence...). Do you think there's any link between the antipathy these men feel and the fact that their programs have all been involved in highly publicized, self-inflicted, off-the-field scandal in the last fifteen years? I know the SI reporter was just interviewing Gundy's fellow Big 12 coaches, but that's like a Murderer's Row of College Football Outrage, which makes their "woe is me" defense of student "innocence" more than a little disingenuous.
--I'm of two minds on whether or not to criticize college athletes.
On the one hand, yes-- they are younger, and possibly less emotionally developed than their NFL counterparts (although the early entry of many into the NFL means that age gap is shrinking). My sister was a D-1 college athlete, and I know how heavy their schedules can be, how hard they work, and how fragile their psyches can get in the middle of a season. I think Gundy became a nutjob in the middle of his rant, but I respect the underlying principle of a coach defending his team. And in the end, it's just a game, right?
On the other hand...This is D-1, not D-III, and it's (as Gundy himself proclaimed) "Big 12" D-1, not the Ivy League. And it's football, the King of College Athletics, not a relatively uncovered sport like volleyball or lacrosse, where press coverage might be lighter, and therefore more shocking if highly critical. Football is a huge event in Oklahoma: when Boone Pickens gave $165 million to OK State last year, he didn't give it to the school's academic program: he specifically earmarked it for the athletics department, saying at the time, "What I keep coming back to is we're in the Big 12 and it's a tough conference. I want us to be competitive." The players specifically come to schools of that size and athletic caliber, not just to get an education, but to get media attention, to position themselves for the draft, and to win championships. All of which is great-- I attended two D-1 schools myself. But, to paraphrase Michael in The Godfather Part II, let's not kid ourselves: we're all part of the same hypocrisy. If bigtime football players reap the benefits of being BMOCs, the trade-off is scrutiny, and a silly column in the local paper is hardly the worst thing that could happen to them. And is this distinction between NFL and college players really an ethically logical argument, anyway? If it's "mean" and "wrong" in one case, is it really, to pardon the pun, OK in the other? The argument Gundy and ESPN commentators like former Gator Jesse Palmer seem to be making is that NFL players get paid, so they should be able to withstand it. But this is an unfair argument: it's the NCAA and the various conferences that have vociferously blocked attemtps to pay college football and basketball players for their efforts, preferring to reap the sizable economic benefits of their free labor through alumni donations, ticket sales, television deals, paraphernaila, etc. (and the NFL says nothing because college is a free farm system for them). When confronted with the gross hypocrisy in their rhetoric about it being "just a game," defenders of this system point to scholarships, free room and board, etc., that the players receive (one could also say the players reap, in a delayed fashion, the economic benefits of all the interest, sales and PR they generate down the line in their respective pro drafts). Fine, but aren't you admitting, then, this is a form of "payment", which might open the players up to the kind of criticism you say shouldn't befall an "amateur" athlete? Do the ethics shift on a sliding scale of salary? "He's not a professional athlete," Gundy raged, "and he doesn't deserve to be kicked when he's down"-- so, you do deserve it if you are a pro athlete? Perhaps unwittingly, Gundy seems to be opening up a recurring debate about the real nature of the student-athlete, and the role he plays in the public consciousness.