Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

How the Ahmad Bradshaw episode will reshape Army's season

A familiar dynamic of American journalism -- or perhaps American search engines, or both -- returned last week. The Army football team was thrust into the middle of the episode. It might not matter at all ... but what if it does?

It is part of the nature of human beings, and part of the nature of technology: Negative developments gain more of a reaction than normal events. Initial statements on a person, event or topic -- even if incorrect -- often draw more attention than any subsequent correction.

We've seen these dynamics unfold in journalism: A hot-take artist, or a reporter who wants to get the story FIRST (not correct), blurts out an errant report. Social media goes wild, the rumor mill churns, emotions are stirred to no end.

The next day, the report is refuted. The truth of a situation stands in perpendicular opposition to the initial statement which spread like wildfire across the internet prairie. People shrug their shoulders. "Oh, false alarm. Back to normal business."

Yeah -- back to normal business ... as though nothing of consequence happened. Back to normal business ... as though the besmirching of a young man's reputation -- or the damaging of a government's credibility, or the staining a public figure's name -- is no big deal.

Do this if you have the time: Google "Ahmad Bradshaw Army." Just do it. 

The Google results ought to have Bradshaw's return to Army football practice last week listed as the most prominent story -- first, because that story is the most recent development in Bradshaw's summer; second, because the event directly refuted reports the night before which indicated that Bradshaw had left the team. In terms of both chronological order and overall significance (not to mention veracity -- minor details, right?), Bradshaw's return meant a lot more than (the not-even-true reports of) his exit.

Yet, on the evening of Tuesday, August 23, if you Googled "Ahmad Bradshaw Army," the erroneous reports of his departure from the team and the United States Military Academy still appear higher on the page. Those untrue accounts outnumber the links to Bradshaw's return. 

The errors based in rumor and speculation got the ol' SEO mechanisms humming. Bradshaw's return -- an irrefutable factual event -- did not.

This might seem like a disjointed journalistic rant removed from the world of Army football, and how the Black Knights can try to win six games this season and snap the 14-game losing streak against Navy. However, there's something to be said here for the power of an event -- perhaps only through its symbolism, not anything substantively essential -- to either transform a season or propel it in ways that would not have existed if the event had never occurred.

Think about it: It is relatively commonplace for a team or an athlete to manufacture (or at least embellish) a sense of outrage in relationship to the world. The team develops a chip on the shoulder -- whether an oppositional party actually meant to harm or antagonize the team is beside the point. What matters is that THE TEAM GETS ANGRY (and in a good way). A bunch of athletes find something to rally around, something to concentrate and unify their collective focus. The team plays with an extra fire in the belly it lacked before the event unfolded.

Does it seem stupid? I understand if -- and why -- it would. However, this is part of the complicated art of motivation -- not just in sports, but in any part of life.

If you were a struggling athlete or coach on a team that was trying to find itself, would you go out of your way to find and then manufacture a sense of outrage which could perhaps give your team a lift?

Yes, you would. 

Whether the source or object of your (perhaps-contrived) outrage really is in the wrong is not relevant. What matters in the theater of motivation is that YOU gained fresh and enduring inspiration, something to carry you not just for 24 hours or a week, but for a full season.

Army's coaches and players could just shrug off the Ahmad Bradshaw episode. They could become distracted by it. They could become confused and -- later in the season -- doubt Bradshaw if anything goes wrong in his progression and/or any quarterback competitions with Chris Carter ...

Or ... Army could use this moment to stand up for Bradshaw; rage at the media outlets who undercut Bradshaw's reputation (perhaps not intentionally, but certainly through deficient application of journalistic standards); and develop an us-against-the-world mentality.

Tactics, execution, poise, strength -- these qualities will ultimately win or lose games for Army. However, don't discount how much emotional fuel the Black Knights can gain from L'Affaire Bradshaw in the media spotlight last week. A struggling program can turn a bizarre and anger-inducing public episode into a positive internal engine.

Let's see what Army does in the season to come.


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