I owe Ole Miss junior Quarterback Randall Mackey an apology. I owe you one too.
I didn't do my job the way I know I'm supposed to do it and consequently some bad info on the mercurial Mackey got widely circulated that is not true.
I have no excuses. I shoulder the blame. I know better.
It went down like this.
There has been some murmuring under the surface since Randall came on campus that he has a communication problem on the field, one you wouldn't know from carrying on casual conversation with him.
Since he took a redshirt, there was really no need to address the subject at that time, especially since we, the media, had been told he was getting help and was showing some improvement. It was a topic that could wait until Mackey was in the picture for playing time, or, if he solved it by then, not addressing at all.
Anyway, I rocked along with all that info somewhat common knowledge, but a little below the surface, never writing about it.
Until this week. Tailback Brandon Bolden was asked if Mackey's communication skills had improved and Bolden, trying to accommodate the media, gave an honest, but sympathetic, answer.
Coincidentally, we had Mackey scheduled to interview later in the day and Bolden's response opened up the floodgates for beat writers looking for a story with some meat on its bones this time of year.
We weren't malicious or trying to embarrass Randall with our line of questions about his issue, but we were persistent. After all, it is pretty important that a QB be able to communicate in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage.
But here's where I should have known better. As the line of questioning continued, it became an embarrassment to the young man and he put the blame of his affliction on concussions, three to be exact.
And instead of checking further into the details with his family or his trainers at Ole Miss, I thought, "OK, that explains it," and ran with the story.
Dumb. Real dumb. Big mistake.
Later that night, after the story came out, my gut kicked in. I knew something about this wasn't right. I know the doctors and trainers at Ole Miss very well and knew they would not let a kid who had three previous concussions – that were said to have affected his speech – play football.
So I called Football Trainer Tim Mullins. To say the least, he was upset about the story and upset at me. After hearing the real story, I can't say I blame him.
"We evaluated Randall thoroughly when he got here. Dr. Jeff Dennis did all the tests. In this climate, it's not like the old days, concussions are taken very, very seriously," said Mullins. "Randall showed no signs of any lingering effects of multiple concussions.
"We re-evaluated him yesterday and came up with the same conclusion. We talked with his Mother. She reaffirmed what we thought – Randall had one concussion in the eighth grade and has had speech issues since he first started talking."
Bam. Upside my head. Of course he hadn't had three concussions.
Randall Mackey's communication issues did not start after his one and only concussion. He's had speech issues since he started talking. He's just – as you or I would be – self-conscious about the ordeal he has lived with for so long and was reaching for an explanation to appease the battery of questions being thrown at him.
"I want to apologize for misleading the media on Monday," said Mackey in an SID release. "My communication issues are something I have dealt with throughout my life and do not stem from a head injuries. It is a topic that is uncomfortable for me to discuss and pointing to an injury was a convenient way to avoid talking about the problem. I also want to clarify that my concussion in the eighth grade is the only one I have experienced in my life. I am sorry for creating this confusion and I appreciate everyone's support as I work to improve my communication skills and compete to be the Rebels' starting quarterback."
Bottom line, a good reporter, which I try to be but sometimes fail, would have dug deeper and gotten the whole story before reporting Mackey had suffered three concussions. A good reporter would not have dismissed his instincts. A good reporter would have reported Mackey has made good strides in correcting his situation – which was confirmed by Coach Houston Nutt and Mackey - and left it at that, not heaping further anguish on a young man who doesn't deserve it and was boxed into a corner of making up a story to cover his embarrassment.
I'll do better in the future and will not rush to report something until I get all the facts when a red flag pops up, which it did, but I foolishly ignored at the time.
To Randall, I'm sorry. To you, ditto.
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