Gundy’s A-blazin’!

Reacting to a Jenni Carlson column from the Daily Oklahoman (link valid as of this writing) that basically labeled the demoted quarterback Bobby Reid as a spoiled and indifferent quitter, Oklahoma State football coach and former quarterback Mike Gundy went ballistic in Saturday’s post-game press conference. In fact, not one speck of insight from the game itself — an exciting and wild affair won by Gundy’s OSU team — was discussed. The entire press conference consisted of his three-plus minute rant, ending with Gundy hissing, “Makes me wanna puke,” as he stormed out the door. This is one of the all-time classic and entertaining football coaches’ tirades, and it’s well worth watching. [Search YouTube for “Mike Gundy” or, for now, go to this link.] That eruption is sure to endure as hilarious Internet video fodder for years to come.

Gundy’s reaction is a classic case of right message, wrong method. I have to give due props for Gundy’s standing up for his unfairly beleaguered player in the face of front-page criticism that was based (by the writer’s own admission) on mere rumor and hearsay, as well as on the typically cowardly anonymity of “insider” sources. As he noted, these young players are not paid, not professional athletes in any way, and are simply college kids trying to get a head start on this world. It’s fair to get on the case of a pompous pro multimillionaire for acting spoiled or for not playing through minor injury. Gundy was right in that, as paid professionals, the coaches and their decisions are fair game too, because they ultimately are responsible for preparing the team to do its best on the field. It’s valid for any columnist to critique college players’ mistakes in a game or their history of performance, or to offer suggestions about how they can perform better.

To attack Bobby Reid for letting his mom feed him chicken, however weird that fact may seem, was absolutely out of bounds and had no place in the public arena nor in the column. Also invalid was the admitted use of rumor and innuendo, which may be what ignited Gundy to such a level of rage. He not only is Reid’s coach, he is his players’ overseer (by NCAA requirement!), and their public representative. He obviously cares a great deal about his charges. As such, understandably, he wants to protect and defend them from attack by those (e.g., in big media) who largely are immune from repercussion for any but legally libelous or fraudulent action. I greatly admire such passion on Gundy’s part.

Unfortunately Gundy misdirected his passion as public rage in the form of a screaming fit. Again, the problem wasn’t the content, it was the delivery. If Gundy had erupted in private somewhere, then later delivered a more calm and well spoken public denouncement of Carlson’s column, great! His best approach would have been to show the newspaper and say basically the very same things, but in a calm, controlled, matter-of-fact manner. Hammering home a point in a calculating, premeditated and methodical way makes much more impact and is taken more seriously than losing one’s cool in a venom-spitting tantrum. Maybe it’s not Mike Gundy’s personality to be cool and methodical with something so important to him. I respect that. If so, however, his thin skin ensures he isn’t well suited for his role, and may not last long there before either embarrassed bureaucratic pinheads or health problems force his exit.

In reading the column and others by this author on occasion, one thing has been apparent glaringly to me: Carlson’s writing skills and journalistic techniques each are rather poor. Her style of presentation hardly befits a small-town West Virginia weekly, much less a major monopoly paper serving a metropolitan area of over a million. What reporter or columnist worth one molecule of the ink on his/her diploma relies on “the rumors and rumblings” and “back stories told on the sly” to form a basis for her assessments? That’s just sloppy, unethical, inexcusable and lazy, a violation of one of the most time honored, basic core tenets of responsible journalism.

Moreover, for the authentically professional writer, attention to detail must matter also. For example, since when is either “Or,” “Which,” “Word is” or “Thing is” the correct way to begin a sentence in the English language? I counted several split verbs, along with at least four compound sentences that either should have been broken up or made to carry semicolons in place of commas. Such sloppiness in English shows either an incomplete education, a casual indifference unworthy of a professional writer, or most probably, a loss of compositional self-discipline at the expense of bloodthirsty zeal.

Meanwhile, other reporters and columnists across the spectrum of sports writing have jumped to Carlson’s defense, as if blindly following the lemmings of the journalistic brotherhood/sisterhood. Must it be necessary to engage in mindless camaraderie simply for its own sake, as some misguided show of fraternity? That’s exactly what is occurring. It is a predictable and typical pattern whenever a journalist comes under fire for his or her mistakes, but blind defense of a wrong is tantamount to collusion in the error.

To those defending Carlson, I plead: Wake up, and actually read the column! Ethically, can you stand for that? Is bad writing and attack journalism something to defend? Go ahead and criticize Gundy for his own lack of both self-control and professional composure, but don’t defend or excuse Carlson for the same.

They both messed up. They both need to admit their mistake, make amends and pledge to show more professional accountability to their audience. Maybe Gundy will, at the behest of controversy-averse bureaucrats in OSU and the Big 12. Carlson probably won’t, since big-media writers often cloak themselves in the First Amendment as a misguided justification for irresponsibility.

Ultimately the best solution isn’t for Gundy to be fined or reprimanded by OSU or the Big 12, both of which are likely. Neither is it for Carlson to be given a slap on the wrist by her bosses at the Oklahoman, which isn’t very probable anyway. Both of these individuals said or wrote ridiculous and unfair attacks, and simply need to put forth personal and public apology — Carlson to Bobby Reid, Gundy to Carlson — composed and delivered by them and not by representatives or PR people.


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