Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Taking coach Gundy's side

ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

I'll never forget the time as a sports writer for my college newspaper when I was berated by football players for an article.

As the Sports Editor of The Pleiad, Albion College's weekly, I wrote an article about how many Albion students would rather watch Michigan or Michigan State football games on TV than attend Albion games. It was a poorly written article — with not enough sources or a wide diversity of sources — and it didn't take long for a pair of e-mails from Albion football players to appear in my inbox.

Both e-mailers were big, tough players for the Britons, but they were also — as I learned — very sensitive. They couldn't believes that I wrote an article basically saying that their fellow students didn't care for them. They swore at me and said I'd never make it in the world.

My words had obviously gotten to them.

And I was just a college paper writer in the middle of nowhere.

I wonder how Bobby Reid felt after "Oklahoman" writer Jenni Carlson ripped the Oklahoma State quarterback in a column last Saturday?

Regardless of the 21-year-old's initial reaction to the column, I'm sure he felt better after his coach, Mike Gundy, absolutely erupted at Carlson in this postgame tirade by now widely popular all over the country.

My first reaction to the video was disgust. Who does this coach think he is to spend the entire press conference after a victory — 49-45 over Texas Tech — belittling a reporter who, to her credit, sat through the entire outburst? At first, Gundy appeared an out-of-control coach of a struggling team (2-2), who likely will not hold onto his job for long. A madman taking out his anger on a media member.

(And he sure did a great job of taking the attention away from his team with the rant).

But after a day to think about it, I can see where Gundy was coming from. While I don't agree with the childish way in which he attacked Carlson (be the adult; talk to her civilly, whether in public or private), he was right to protect his player. Carlson shouldn't have criticized Reid the way she did, using vague references to his behavior on and off the field, not to mention quoting other writers.

College athletes, as I learned first-hand while at Albion, are still really just kids. It's OK to say they performed poorly on the field or to ridicule them for off-the-field incidents that are transparently bad (i.e. getting arrested or busted for underage drinking).

But when it comes to issues such as eating chicken from their mother, not playing due to nicks and bruises, or laughing on the sideline with an assistant coach (all claims Carlson made about Reid), lay off them.

As a recent college graduate, I can tell you that despite the tough-guy countenance many college kids put on, they're still kids growing into their bodies. Many of them, especially Division 1 athletes, are coddled. They don't pay rent bills. They certainly don't work jobs. They're not — despite all the coverage we, the media, grant them — adults.

Proponents of criticizing Division 1 athletes for everything from performing poorly, to sulking on the bench, to making too many visits home to mommy, point to the benefits these athletes receive compared to their fellow college students.

The free tuition, room and board. The athletic tutors. The professors who relax on their grades. The TV exposure. The excessive praise heaped on them by the media and during recruiting. The gifts we know many of them illegally accept to attend their universities.

What they fail to point out, however, is that the athletes don't ask for any of this. They're simply products of the environment in which they become stars. It's the schools and media that plop these athletes on a throne, that place them on the covers of national magazines.

While some athletes bask in the spotlight of big-time college athletics, I'm sure the majority of them wouldn't mind if all the attention was focused elsewhere. Sure, the large crowds pump them up for the big game, but all the outside smoke is unnecessary.

And let us not forget that as much as we glorify Division 1 football and basketball players, the majority of them are not going to play professionally. For every five Michigan football players who are drafted each spring, 20 go on to work in some other field. While football is a huge part of their lives while in Ann Arbor, the majority of them leave the game after four or five years.

The everyday criticism should be reserved for the pros. They know it's coming. They get used to it. Regardless of their age, they become adults on draft day. They're no longer kids once they sign on the bottom line.

I know that must be difficult in Oklahoma, where college sports rule since there are no pro teams (that I know of). The college athletes there probably receive the attention that the Yankees and Mets garner in New York.

But that's no excuse to rip a kid to shreds for such minuscule actions as accepting chicken from his mother.

After all, I, for one — even as a 40-year-old — will always let my mom feed me. It's cheaper than eating out.

5 comments:

Sportsattitude said...

Excellent post! It was quite unfortunate Gundy made such a scene because a lot of discussion now is about the fervor of his behavior and not the behavior of the columnist, and fails to highlight the key question raised of where does the media draw the line...what is off limits, etc. As many have pointed out since his remarks, when pressed on what specifically was "inaccurate" in the article, he has chosen to not comment further. On one hand, that response looks like an admittance he got carried away in his assessment and knows what HE said isn't true; on the other hand, you can't blame him for not commenting if most of it WAS untrue. If someone writes or says something terrible or uncomfortable about you which is untrue, responding in any matter dignifies the original comments to a small extent...and if you expound further on what specifically was untrue, what was kind of accurate, etc. you just wind up committing to making the originally written or spoken comments "legit."

jbo said...

I find it ironic that Gundy closes his childish tirade by asking "Who's the kid here?" I agree with you that the performance of student athletes should not be grilled in news publications, but two wrongs don't make a right. Gundy's rant was immature and he spent far more energy trying to emotionally debilitate the reporter than he did trying to defend his player or encourage dialog on the issue.

jbo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
zekejennings said...

Jake,

Nice post and I totally agree with your take. Though Gundy acted like a child throwing a tantrum at the press conference, I don't have a problem with him taking up for his player, especially given that he felt Carlson's criticism crossed the lines of amateur athlete coverage, something that is obviously quite blury at this day in age.

Carlson had every right to write her column, but I would be willing to bet there are things she'd like back. Coverage of college and high school athletics probably needs to be tightened up a bit. It's tough because of the level that college sports has achieved, but at the same time you have to remember that these are non-paid (theorhetically) kids.

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