How low can you go?
That seems to be the endless challenge for the thundering herd of sports writers who have screamed for Butch Davis’ scalp even as a sensationalized scandal story has steadily unraveled over the course of this season. Rumors, gossip, conjecture – even now debunked garbage – all have proven useful in furthering the agenda. Everything, no matter how flimsy, inflammatory, or downright irrelevant, is fair game when it comes to this oddly vogue goal of trashing a previously untarnished program and attacking an accomplished coach. And, by all means, please do not worry about small details like the credibility of the source or the tortured nature of the logic.
Yes, as the old Don Henley song goes: “Just give me something, something I can use. People love it when you lose. They love dirty laundry.”
The most recent example of the mindless reporting agenda spread like wild fire just last week as seemingly every sports website announced that former UNC Associate Head Coach John Blake had introduced Brian Bosworth to an agent back in their Oklahoma days. Now, for those fortunate enough to have forgotten, Bosworth was a linebacker who played for the Sooners in the mid-1980s, roughly a quarter of a century ago. In other words, this reported event occurred before any player on UNC’s team had even been conceived. Can someone, please, explain the relevance of this information? And for those who argue that it provides a reason to criticize Davis’ decision to bring Blake aboard at UNC, how many of you go back a quarter of a century with reference checks? Are we now to conclude that Davis is not only expected to monitor what each of his 100+ players does during the summer months, but that he should also have interviewed every player who Blake ever coached?
The absurdity of this latest disclosure is made all the more extreme by the unsavory source of the information. Brian Bosworth was widely recognized as one of the biggest flakes in the game. His short football resume included steroids abuse, expulsion from his own college team, and several bizarre quotes, including one in which he labeled the NCAA communists. For all of his boasts and bravado, he went on to a two-year NFL career and a well-deserved position on the list of all-time NFL busts. In short, Bosworth was a fruitcake’s fruitcake. Doesn’t it reveal how short on legitimate fodder the media must be for it to cling to such dubious and ancient sources to support their case? What’s next, a character reference from O.J. Simpson? Maybe we can bring Mike Tyson’s thoughts on sports integrity into the analysis.
Logical thought process seems also in short supply in this bizarre witch-hunt. Bomani Jones penned one of the more difficult to follow pieces on the subject. In his column UNC’s Defense Rings Hollow, Jones correctly notes at the outset how Butch Davis turned around a scandal-ridden University of Miami program. Then, in one of the more backward exercises in logic ever printed, he offers this historical achievement as a purported basis for condemning Davis today. Can anyone follow this reasoning: because Davis cleaned up a dirty program in Miami, we should conclude that he is equally responsible for dirtying a clean program in Chapel Hill? Wouldn’t any reasonable person find that Davis’ principled leadership in Miami furthers the presumption of innocence more than a suspicion of guilt?
As best can be discerned, Jones’ reasoning is that because Davis knew how to clean up the problems in Miami, he should have known how to prevent any and every problem from ever occurring at any school he coached again. It’s much like suggesting that the fireman who works wonders in extinguishing a fire should be presumed guilty if lightning ever ignites a forest again. Under Jones’ reasoning, the doctor who successfully cures a patient of cancer should be surely faulted if the disease strikes another of his patients fifteen years later. And that technician who repairs your car’s transmission surely should never allow another engine to falter again.
Earlier in the same piece, Jones criticized Davis for instituting a records system for keeping track of where players go on out-of-town trips. Jones mocked the remedial measure with the following cutesy line: “High school teachers, who can’t even get kids to come straight back to class with their hall passes, just laughed in unison.”
It is a perfect example of the insanely inconsistent, damned if you do, damned if you don’t mentality that permeates the anti-Davis media agenda. Throughout the NCAA investigation, the criticism most consistently directed at Davis has been the suggestion that he failed to keep tabs on his star players’ off-season whereabouts, (as if any college coach can know where all his players are on any given summer’s day.) Short of twenty-four hour surveillance, or surgical placement of a tracking microchip beneath the player’s skin, it is an impossible demand for any coach. Davis and his staff nonetheless attempt to address the beef, only to have Jones and his implacable friends mock the response. It’s enough to cause the objective reader’s head to spin.
But nobody has taken the state of sports journalism to lower depths than CBS correspondent, Gregg Doyle. One of the first to take up the cause of prejudging the program, Doyle also thought it cute to wildly exaggerate the story with fantasy perspective and inflammatory language in his column entitled, We’re Stuck with UNC Football, but we don’t have to like it. Published in early September, before many of the initial allegations and innuendo had been disproven, Doyle’s basic thesis was that UNC should simply forfeit the entire season. That’s what everyone deserves, he said, because, “The college football season is a three-month-long celebration of sport. It’s confetti, strobe lights and a kazoo. It’s a party. It’s a punch bowl.” UNC football, Doyle then cutely concluded, is the “Turd floating in that punch bowl.”
Where even to begin? Let’s start with the basic premise. In his effort to make the UNC story more than it ever has been, Doyle asks the reader to believe that college football was as pure as the driven snow before Marvin Austin and Greg Little interacted with agents. Never before, in Doyle’s fantasy world, had college football experienced problem behavior. Auburn, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Nebraska were all innocent Snow Whites before UNC robbed the pristine sport of its virginity. To Doyle, Texas, Texas Tech, Houston, Michigan, Clemson – all have squeaky clean histories in the utopia that is big-time college football. In reality, of course, UNC has been one of the precious few clean programs over the past century. From SMU to FSU to USC, college football has been more an alphabet soup of scandal than the delectable punch that Doyle attempts to describe.
In fairness, Doyle makes his living from hyperbole and colorful language, much like a radio shock jock. Doyle reminds us of the second grade child who prides himself on referring to body parts and bodily functions with the most colorful language he can without being sent to the principal’s office. But, truly, shouldn’t even he want to avoid such eye-rolling overstatement? Shouldn’t we wonder why, if the UNC story is meritorious, someone like Doyle would start with such a comically false opening platform?
From this distorted introduction, Doyle goes on to promise how things “will only get worse” for UNC. Then, realizing he had no basis for this grim prediction, what does Doyle do? He proceeds to recount the sordid details from the 2007 Florida Stateathletics scandal. How nice. Not exactly guilt by association – since there is absolutely none between the two schools – but apparently it was the best Doyle could do. He actually suggested that UNC, like Florida State, would find its scandal grow to similar extremes that would engulf some sixty plus athletes. What happened at Florida State was, Doyle proclaimed, “the future for North Carolina.”
Doyle emphasized how the Tar Heels suspended thirteen players for the school’s opening game against LSU. Far from growing, as Doyle suggested it would, that number has steadily eroded to less than half after a painstaking investigation by both the university and the NCAA.
Doyle defamed the entire UNC roster as one that has been “cheating its ass off.” With his bogusly broad brush, Doyle closed his hit piece by suggesting that North Carolina’s is “a team that didn’t give a damn about playing by the rules, academically or otherwise.”
Were any of these comments fair, let alone responsible, to write? Has it occurred to Doyle that perhaps UNC does care about the rules, so much so that it erred on the side of caution by suspending innocent players during critical games of what promised to be a huge season? Does it matter to this guy – at all – that several UNC players were denied the opportunity to compete in games during their senior year, in part due to the furor that such grossly irresponsible journalism ignited? Or that the vast majority of players on this team have done nothing at all wrong?
Thanks to Gregg Doyle, I suppose we now know what the “BS” in CBS stands for. It is interesting indeed that he uses the “turd” metaphor in his writing.
But all jokes aside, which has been the bigger professional transgression: a football coach’s failure to track his players’ off-season whereabouts, or grossly irresponsible journalism that has intentionally overblown the story from day one? I hope this question will be decisively answered in the coming weeks.