Howe: When Does Media Cross the Line?

Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy and a local columnist grabbed headlines as the sports story of the week. He raised a lot of questions, not the least of which is how college athletes should be covered by the media. columnist Rob Howe discussed the idea with several Hawkeye players and Coach Kirk Ferentz. He adds his thoughts in this piece.

Jenni Carlson's piece really must have steamed Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy. It also must have sent him to an unconscious state. Why else would he have gone on a tirade at his postgame press conference on Saturday?

In this day and age of internet message boards and You Tube, coaches understand that their every move is analyzed and dissected around the clock. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz understands this concept and carries himself accordingly. That's not to say he's a pushover, but he's more discreet.

Gundy's rampage ripping Carlson and her editor from the Oklahoman has made the rounds. She has appeared on Good Morning America. The Associated Press has covered it like a story.

Carlson wrote that Cowboy Quarterback Bobby Reid's was benched because of his attitude more than from his ineffective play. She chose an analogy about Reid's mother feeding him chicken to question the signal caller's nerve. Gundy took exception.

Football Writers Association of America president Mike Griffith and the Association for Women in Sports Media have called Gundy's actions inappropriate. He has not backed down at all from what he said or how and when he said it.

Carlson's column, to me, lacked taste. It seemed to me that the paper had some sources that wouldn't go on the record and they chose to break the story in column form to allow for opinion to deliver a news piece. I side with the coach on this one even though it was a poor way to get his point out.

The interesting thing to come out of this story was discussion related to how college athletes should be covered. What's inbounds? What's over the line?

The topic came up quite a bit at Iowa's Tuesday press conference. We journalists always have loved localizing a story.

It seems like the line between pro and college sports becomes more blurry by the day. College athletes receive so much public exposure with all the avenues to criticize them from radio talk shows to internet message boards.

Des Moines Register Columnist Sean Keeler caught some flack last year when he wrote something derogatory about Iowa running back Damian Sims. Ferentz took exception and called the paper as did position coach Carl Jackson.

Ferentz has cited the advancement in media, which some definitely would question it as being an advancement, as his reason for cutting off contact between journalists and his true and redshirt freshmen. It has created somewhat of a roadblock for reporters as four of the team's top five receivers fall into that category.

Ferentz has made pretty clear through the years what he considers over the line when it comes to his players and coaches. If they're getting paid, they can absorb personal shots, meaning rip the coaches and not the athletes.

He was asked if he's OK with 18-23 year olds being criticized for their play on the field, which to me is fair game.

"Yeah, I'm not saying every day is rosy and all of that stuff. You report the facts. There have only been several times where I thought people crossed the line and got a little personal. That's not right. Facts are facts. We can all deal with the facts. I don't know if it's right if you start pecking away at somebody beyond the facts. Players are more invested than anybody. They hurt more when they play poorly."

That thought led Ferentz into another about fans. He recalled the situation in 2001 when the crowd at Kinnick Stadium booed quarterback Kyle McCann during the Michigan game.

"That's not representative of the kind of fans we have. Kyle was a good quarterback and nobody was working harder. You hate to see those things, but we all understand that it's the reality of what we do. The players know that, too."

Ferentz had not seen the Gundy scene as of talking to the media on Tuesday. He was asked if he could ever see himself going off on the journalists at a press conference.

"We all have our switches, I guess. I try not to let mine get triggered too often. I can understand how it could. But I haven't seen it to know if it was merited or not. Is it ever merited? I don't know. Perhaps. Sometimes you get pushed."

Iowa Quarterback Jake Christensen saw the Gundy video. He had an idea of why it happened.

"He was just trying to defend his players," Christensen said. "You respect a coach who wants his players to feel like he's in their corner. He might have overreacted a little bit, but the message overall was probably a good message."

Christensen plays the position most criticized by fans and media. As Ferentz says, people don't write stories about the right guard.

"You just have to welcome it," Christensen said. "Ever since you decided to play quarterback when you're little you know that all the blame goes on your shoulders. I don't shy away from it. It's my job to get the offense going, first half, second half, whatever the case may be. I take that role and I accept it fully.

"I don't go out of my way to buy all of the newspapers. If you see it, you read it. If not, it's no big deal. People are entitled to their opinion. I'll read it and probably not think twice about it."

Christensen is more diplomatic about the criticism than is running back Albert Young. The senior especially laughs at armchair quarterbacks on internet message boards.

"It is ignorant," Young said. "You have to watch the film, the real game film and understand the game. The only people that we're really concerned about getting constructive criticism from is our coaches, our teammates or guys that we played with before. If I see Brian Ferentz around and ask him what he saw, what he thought, he's going to tell me the truth because he's been there before.

"Besides, people that aren't in that football circle, you can't really take much from because all they do is see the basics. It is ignorant. And those are the fans that are fair weather fans, first and foremost. We don't really care. Don't come to the game then. I don't need them."

Young also wonders if many members of the media are qualified to analyze the play of he and his teammates.

"When you critique, just realize what's going on," he said. "(ESPN analyst) Ron Jaworski is one of my favorite ones. He played. When he's going to critique a player or say he's doing wrong, he's going to show you eight clips of what's going on. I don't really care, but have some knowledge of the game just don't be ignorant about it."

Thing is, that train left the station years ago. Few have spent enough time around the game to know it as well as Jaws. But it hasn't stopped them from giving their opinion.

The Carlson column has caused quite a stir because of Gundy's response, but it happens all over the country in college football. It has happened here and will happen again.

Ferentz was upset about an ABC graphic on Saturday night that showed his players that have been arrested this year. It's not just about the games. That's where we are. There's no going back.

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