Criticism A Delicate Matter

FAYETTEVILLE -- There's been a lot of talk this week about what role a journalist should play in the coverage of college athletics.

Do you go after coaches?

Or, do you go after the players?

Is the media in charge of keeping coaches in check? What about when players fail?

The key in the eyes of most is that the players are amateurs and young. I laugh when I see, "Well, these players are old enough to vote." I don't buy it.

As for fans, they probably go back and forth. Depends if they like the coach, or don't. Or, are they are mad at a player who doesn't pan out?

The columnist at the Oklahoman that wrote about Bobby Reid, the benched Oklahoma State quarterback, has journalists taking sides. Some defend a sports reporter's right to write anything about anyone.

I'm probably the wrong person to ask. I was trained differently than the younger generation.

I can't get forget the challenge Bill Connors, a Hall of Fame writer from the Tulsa World, gave me when he hired me in 1978 after a couple of years at the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway.

Bill put me up two days before my apartment was ready. He told me how he wanted me to cover college and high school athletics. He explained that the most important thing was not to embarrass the community or the newspaper.

Then, he gave me a mental check that amounted to something from the Kiwanis creed.

"What would you think if that story was written about your son?" Connors said. "If you do that and you still feel a need to be strong in your comments, then it's probably still going to be OK."

This came from a man who broke the story about Oklahoma State's athletic slush fund. That story eventually caused an NCAA investigation and cost the coach his job. Connors was an OSU alum and dearly loved the university. But he knew what he uncovered was wrong.

I do not think it's right to write about how a benched player has no fire in his belly or eats fried chicken from his mother standing by the bus after games. There were other thoughts that were out of line.

OSU coach Mike Gundy was wrong, too. Blowing up in a post-game interview that should have been about his team's victory was the wrong direction. He should have privately gone to the bosses at the newspaper to point out solid arguments, not go off in front of TV cameras in what now will be preserved for all-time on the Internet.

Yes, his defense of a benched player will probably go over great in his locker room. However, just as many potential players, and their families, will wonder what they might be getting themselves into by going to OSU. Do they want to go to a place that is in a fight with the media covering the team?

I don't like to see a coach jump a player in trouble or one sitting the bench because of poor play. I like it better when he handles things like that behind closed doors.

I like it when the coach takes the blame for problems on the field and then is careful to let the players take the credit for victories. But, I tire of repeated apologies for losses. Danny Ford did some of that and it was a painful routine.

I liked the way Nolan Richardson handled that area, mostly. After defeats he said, "This one is on me. My players win games. I lose them."

The key is not to have to do that too often. Richardson could because he mostly won. It's like talking about the football team's inability to return punts in slick fashion. The real problem is not forcing enough punts. Paul Bear Bryant was good at handling losses. If you usually win, a few apologies come off good.

Defending your players is a good thing in most cases, too. Defending them when they are benched is a good thing, too. I liked the way Reggie Herring talked about some of his younger defenders after they were moved down the depth chart. He talked of the decision to move a junior ahead of a redshirt freshman.

"It was unfortunate that we didn't play a defense in our first game that gave him much time," Herring said. "We were playing nickel and dime packages and pulling the linebacker. So it was like he didn't even play. Then, he played OK against Alabama and then made some youthful mistakes against Kentucky.

"We'll bring him along slower now. We'll still play him and he'll get better. That's what you need to do with talent, bring them along and get them ready. We'll go with more maturity right now. Usually the older players are a little more dependable."

I'm guessing that behind the scenes Reggie is not talking so calmly around his players, especially the young ones. What he tells them inside Walker Pavilion or in the meeting room is probably harsh.

It's kinda like the way you talk about your children behind closed doors, and the way you talk about them around others. My children often thought I was mean, but I think others probably thought I was too easy.

I listened to Bill Connors talk about the way to raise children and the way you wrote your stories. He didn't have any children. He married late in life.

How did he know all of that? He was smart.

It's said that the reporter who penned the Oklahoman State article does not have children. I don't think that is the problem. I think she just had the wrong mentor.

What's going to happen to Gundy? He needs to win, same as all coaches. It's the way Nolan Richardson always said it, "Just win, baby." You do that, they won't be writing about the quarterback you benched.

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