Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fans, coaches also challenge player attitudes

Sports Illustrated columnist Stewart Mandel writes that coaches challenge their players' attitudes all the time. Urban Meyer called his tailbacks 'trash' before their title run, but nobody called to chastise him. Yet, a reporter offers some criticism and fans rush to the defense of the poor student-athlete.

Mandel writes:
"As I wrote on Sunday, Gundy's general point about treating college athletes differently than pros -- one which might have been taken seriously if not for all the SCREAMING, STARE DOWNS and FINGER POINTING -- is a valid one. But let's not kid ourselves about the real reason much of the public is siding with Gundy. It's certainly not lost on me, a columnist, that there's a wide-spread resentment amongst most college football fans toward the media. I'm sure for many people it was a treat to watch a football coach put one of us "know-it-all" writers in his/her place. Because that's the only possible explanation why Gundy -- not Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden, mind you, but career 13-15 coach Mike Gundy -- could perform such a bizarre act and somehow come out of it the hero."

You'll have to excuse me if I don't buy that most of the people empathizing with Gundy are doing so out of genuine concern for the treatment of college athletes. If fans are really so sensitive to personal "attacks" on players, then how come I can go on any message board of any disgruntled fan base right now and find criticisms of certain players that are 100 times more scathing than anything Jenni Carlson wrote about Bobby Reid? Some of the most vicious posts are often directed at recruits -- high school kids! -- who spurn someone's school. These people are doing the same exact thing Gundy says he's so peeved about (and even worse, anonymously), and they're doing it in a public forum. How is that any less hurtful or embarrassing to the player and/or his family?

And what about those stories we always hear about some kicker who misses the game-winning kick or a tight end who drops a wide-open touchdown and gets flooded with nasty phone calls and e-mails. That doesn't sound to me like a case of people acknowledging that the guy's "just a kid." As to Gundy's insinuation that a writer shouldn't dare question a player's attitude -- coaches themselves do so publicly all the time as motivation. Was there any outrage when Urban Meyer called his tailbacks "trash" in the spring of 2006? Of course not -- Gators fans ate it up. However, if a local columnist had suggested the same thing ... oh man, would there have been hell to pay.


Check out the rest of Mandel's commentary by clicking here.

Brad Schultz, editor for the Journal of Sports Media, says coaching blowouts are nothing new, just more easily accessible (as Gundy's was through YouTube.) We've all seen Bill Parcells or Bobby Knight explode, but that may be just a small percentage of coaches who lash out, says Schultz."

"Coaches love to use the new media," writes Schultz. "especially the Internet, because they can control the message (see how much of OSU's web page is devoted to Gundy's blowup). Most "official" school websites are nothing more than propaganda outlets and recruiting tools. But when coaches can't control the message they often get into trouble, no matter how hard they try to sweep it under the rug.

It used to be that if coaches won enough people didn't care what they said or how they acted. But Knight and Woody Hayes showed us that people do care and coaches need to control themselves. A warning to all coaches and players out there--someone is watching.
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