The Clowney story: What's wrong with sports journalism
Posted October 8, 2013
Updated October 9, 2013
It is rare that I get as fired up about a sports story as I did Tuesday about Jadeveon Clowney.
Here's the story in case you missed it over the weekend: South Carolina's superstar defensive end didn't play against Kentucky due to a strained muscle near his ribcage. Head coach Steve Spurrier made some comments after the game that got people talking. In short, he said if Clowney didn't want to play he didn't have to.
On Sunday, a much more mellow Spurrier said he was just frustrated that the "proper protocol" wasn't followed and he didn't find out until right before the game that Clowney couldn't play.
By Tuesday, he all but apologized for what he said about Clowney saying they (the staff, everyone involved) handled it "poorly." He praised the kid, saying he's working hard trying to get ready for this week's game with Arkansas and said South Carolina owed a lot to Clowney for what he's done for the program over the last few years.
This all seems like a very simple story to understand. Clowney was hurt. Spurrier wasn't informed by the doctors. He was angry. He said some things he shouldn't have. Somehow, this story turned into a variation of "Clowney is sitting out to save himself for the NFL" and "Clowney is lazy and hates football."
Over the last few days I have heard and read things that are absolutely ridiculous.
Let's start with ESPN's Paul Finebaum. He called Clowney "the biggest joke in college football" and called his behavior "disgraceful." I'm pretty sure Finebaum didn't talk to Clowney about this. He simply heard what Spurrier said Saturday, didn't need any more facts and jumped to the conclusion that Clowney is probably "lazy" and waiting for his NFL money.
Speaking of disgraceful ...
On Tuesday, less than two hours after Spurrier spoke and defended Clowney, ESPN went on air with a segment airing Saturday's comments. It was another opportunity to bash the kid. The network could have updated the story with the fresh comments, but what kind of story would that make? Instead, they rehashed old news, asking analysts to talk about something the coach had already resolved.
To add to this, Clowney spoke for himself after Tuesday's practice, saying the entire thing was a "misunderstanding" and he didn't mind what Spurrier said Saturday because "he's just competitive." He assured everyone he planned on playing college football again. I'm not too sure where the idea started that he wouldn't.
This is a kid who has had his name drug through the mud for four days, and he takes the high road. Good for him. Shame on everyone else.
If you first became aware of Clowney when he made his now-famous hit against Michigan, realize he was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He had 23 tackles for loss last year. Does it occur to anyone that he may not be putting up those stats this year because he's the main focus of every coach's game-plan? If you watch the kid play, you will see effort.
What has happened this week is the best illustration of what is wrong with sports journalism right now. Everyone who heard Spurrier's comments read into them and went with whatever story they wanted. Why base things on actual facts? What if the kid REALLY was hurt? That didn't seem to be an option at all.
Keith Olbermann mentioned something during his first broadcast of his new show that I've been thinking about a lot. He said "it's your story (the journalist); it's his life (the person)."
I think it's good advice we should all follow. There are plenty of real stories that should be told. Why make stories up?