Saunders's vision of massed Wolfpack fans chanting taunts at Paul paints a riveting picture, and an embarrassing one for NC State. Fortunately Saunders relies on inaccuracies and overstatements, not facts.
There's no evidence that Saunders attended the game– let alone heard taunts directed toward anyone. What is the source of his claims? Wake Forest Sports Information Director Dean Buchan, Saunders wrote, "[A]ssured me that Paul heard the taunts from the fans and was affected by them."
That hearsay is the entire factual basis stated in Saunders's column: Buchan told me that Paul told Buchan that Paul heard taunts. That's it. No attempt to check with NC State, its Sports Information Director, or its Athletic Director. And no attempt, from all appearances, by Saunders to confirm his charges from anyone in attendance, whether Wake Forest fans or those cheering for NC State – the school Saunders suggests should apologize to Paul for its crowd's lack of class.
How classy is it to base a column on one hearsay statement? Saunders, true, is an opinion columnist. And Saunders's work here exemplified his one-trick style: State a flimsy premise and camouflage it with purportedly authentic argot such as "Sweet Thang," "dawg," and the clichéd "pimp slap" reference in yesterday's column.
But if there's a pimp slap here, it's to the journalistic standard of having basic knowledge that what one writes is factually accurate. Saunders failed miserably here. Despite various efforts, investigation reveals not one person substantiating Saunders's description of a chanting, taunting Wolfpack crowd making light of Paul's loss.
And that includes Wake Forest's Dean Buchan.
Buchan responded promptly and graciously to questions about the event, stating in an email message that "It should be noted that the ‘chants' [his quotation] about Chris' grandfather came from a select few. Understand that this is not an indictment against NC State fans, who all except those few were simply supportive of their team."
In response to the question of whether he personally heard taunts about Paul's grandfather, Buchan's email stated that "Two reporters told me independently that they head this disgusting remark yelled at Chris once. Chris heard it throughout the game." Buchan continues that "I am just reporting what I was told. I could not hear from where I was sitting."
Breaking this down, Buchan reports what he was told, but had not heard. While Paul told Buchan that he heard the remark "throughout the game," the two reporters told Buchan that the "grandfather" remark was yelled at Paul one time.
Buchan, in fact, states the opposite of Saunders's premise – that this remark was the work of a "select few." No chants, no roaring crowd, but merely a couple of fans yelling something classless. Buchan, again, is Saunders' only stated source for his allegations.
What of the two reporters Buchan mentions? This writer emailed the Winston-Salem Journal and asked whether their reporter, Dan Collins, had heard the remark. A "Terry Oberle" responded: "Yes he did. As did the AP reporter." But to what extent? Collins emailed another PackPride member the following statement:
I will rely on my personal integrity to say that I did indeed hear the taunt "Chris Paul I killed your grandfather'' yelled loudly by someone from behind press row. Thanks for writing and I hope you keep reading.
"Yelled by someone" does not sound like a chant, nor does it suggest crowd involvement. Rather, it states one remark from a classless fan – basically what Buchan described hearing from everyone but Paul.
As for the AP reporter, the reporter present at the game was Aaron Beard, who could not be reached. But Beard's game story describes the Hodge/Paul event like this: "From there, Paul was booed loudly every time he touched the ball, and NC State fans began chanting ‘Dirty Deacons!'" That much of the State crowd chanted this is beyond dispute. But Beard makes no mention of taunts or chants directed to Paul, or even a single remark to Paul, in his story.
Nor did reporters from the News & Observer write that any remark about Paul's grandfather was made by the fans. While it's possible that these reporter(s) disregarded the matter, it's significant that Saunders, who doesn't write about sports and apparently was not present at the game, creates a version of events unsubstantiated by professional sportswriters present and covering the game for his own newspaper.
As for NC State fans, not one fan who attended the game told me that there was any kind of chant, or remark, made to Paul at all. Many fans stated exactly the opposite, that they heard nothing of the kind. This was in response to very specific questions about the issue posed on PackPride.com to those in attendance – including people sitting close to the floor. As for the Wake Forest message board, only one fan claimed (again in response to posted questions) to have heard a remark that had "grandfather" in its terms.
The same is true with local radio personality Adam Gold of AM 850 "The Buzz." Rumors flew on the Internet today that Gold reported hearing the taunts personally. In an email response to questions about the incident, Gold wrote that he had not personally heard such a remark directed at Paul.
What of Chris Paul himself? Paul's hometown columnist Lennox Rawlings takes Paul to task for his "defense" of the Hodge situation: "A basketball player, even America's best college point guard, shouldn't punch someone in the groin or lie about it." Unlike Saunders, Rawlings confines his comments to what's shown by the videotape. That tape, as well as Paul's backing away from the "unintentional" remarks and his subsequent one-game suspension, suggests he initially told less than the full truth about the incident.
This doesn't mean that Paul lied about hearing the "grandfather" taunt. However, his initial handling of the Hodge incident, coupled with the total lack of evidence that Paul was subject to protracted taunting from the State crowd, makes his version of events questionable.
Why, one asks, would Paul exaggerate the issue? A good guess is that Paul indeed heard one or a few fans making this tasteless remark, and then exaggerated the incident into a game-long taunting episode. It would not be the first time this happened, as anyone recalling the flexible truth standards of North Carolina's Makhtar Ndiaye can attest.
One or two questionable stories don't make Chris Paul (who has some sterling qualities on and off the court) a Makhtar Ndiaye, who excused poor play by telling lies. They don't even make him a Rashad McCants, whose "throat-slashing" gesture during North Carolina's first game with NC State went uncommented upon by Saunders.
By the same token, thoughtless remarks by one or two fans don't indict, as Saunders would, much of the NC State crowd present at last Sunday's game, and one yelled remark does not make an organized chant. Moreover, based upon the evidence available, two persons other than Paul (at most) claim to have heard the taunt in question, and the one person (Collins) on record in the matter claims to have heard it yelled from behind press row, on one occasion.
That one or two misguided fans may have made such a remark is embarrassing to NC State alumni and fans. At the same time, Saunders's false characterization of the event is, or should be, embarrassing to the News & Observer.
What does Saunders say about all this? He was emailed a detailed set of questions about his column before the opening of business March 8, and hasn't responded. But that's really not surprising. It's so much easier, you see, to make up facts than to answer to them.