Players are open to criticism in big-time college sports
Posted: Wednesday September 26, 2007 2:15PM; Updated: Wednesday September 26, 2007 11:22PM
Seems like it's safe to say Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy has secured a place in Meltdown History, with his embarrassing performance last Saturday after a win over Texas Tech. If you haven't seen it, it's here. There is Gundy, forever preserved on digital video alongside Denny Green and Lou Piniella, losing it for a solid three minutes and then getting the most disturbing applause you'll ever hear.
The ostensible trigger to Gundy's tantrum was a column written by Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman, a newspaper in Oklahoma City. The column was critical of benched Cowboys' quarterback Bobby Reid. Gundy spends the first part of his screed holding out the broadsheet paper in one hand for his captive audience.
(My favorite howler of the affair -- and this has been pointed out by many others -- came when Gundy said the paper had been given to him by "... a mother, of children...'' Thank you for that clarification on the species, coach, because, you know, we were thinking it might have been a mother of polar bears. You could almost imagine somebody in the press conference whispering to his or her neighbor, "Of children?'' only to be told, "Forget it, he's rolling,'' like Belushi in the Delta House living room.)
Gundy's blowup has been deconstructed sufficiently. On the plus side (and there's not a whole lot), Gundy stood up for his player. But his claim that Carlson can't understand Reid's pain because, in his words, "That article had to be written by a person that doesn't have a child,'' was a reprehensible low blow. By bringing the parent-card into play, Gundy attempts to elevate the discourse, inviting sympathy (Boo, hoo ... leave our little kids alone) and painting the childless as inherently cold-hearted. It's a nastier version of "You never played the game, so you can't understand any of it.''
But the entire sequence brought to light a larger issue: The treatment of college (read: non-professional) athletes by the media and, in the larger view, by fans and the public in general.
In the middle of his rant, Gundy says, "Here's all that kid [Reid] did: He goes to class. He's respectful to the media. He's respectful to the public. And he's a good kid. And he's not a professional athlete.''
There's more in that vein. "If you want to go after an athlete, one of my athletes, you go after one that doesn't do the right thing. You don't downgrade him because he does everything right and maybe doesn't play well on Saturdays. And you let us make that decision ... It's garbage. Attacking an amateur athlete for doing everything right.''
OK. Let all that sink in for a minute. Watch the video again.
In the big picture, here's what Gundy is trying to say: College athletes are not professionals, ergo they should be criticized only when they do things like Ohio State third-string quarterback Antonio Henton allegedly did Monday night, or like Florida State linebacker Geno Hayes allegedly did early last Saturday morning. But they should not be criticized for performing poorly on the field, even when the coaching staff has already publicly acknowledged that poor performance by benching them.
It's an absurd concept on the face of it, but let's not blame Gundy. He was a scholarship Division-I athlete who has spent his entire adult life coaching scholarship Division-I athletes. He's more a part of that system than democracy.
But this is where we are: The big-time college system in the U.S. is so screwed up that a major college football coach -- albeit one whose job hangs on the whims of a billionaire booster (T. Boone Pickens), and thus he's a little twitchy -- acknowledges the standard of success is not getting arrested or flunking out of school. Gundy doesn't use those words, but watch the video again.
That's what he's saying. If my players go to class, don't get in trouble or otherwise embarrass the university or themselves, then you have to leave them alone, because by the low standards for Division-I major sport athletes in the U.S., they are successful. Never mind if they play well. They go to class and they don't get arrested. How about that?!