Whelan and Dealin

Ben Whelan

As some of you may have noticed, there is now a Mike Gundy sized crater in Stillwater Oklahoma after the Oklahoma State head football exploded at a press conference earlier this week. Gundy was responding to a piece by written a local columnist, Jenni Carlson, in which she pulled no punches in criticizing recently benched starting quarterback Bobby Reid. In the article Carlson accused Reid of, to paraphrase, being a sissy. Carlson painted a picture of Reid as soft, weak and unable to handle the spotlight of big time college football, exemplified by an incident while boarding the team plane in which Reid’s mother was seen feeding the former starter from a box dinner provided by the team for the flight. The Coach’s response to reading the piece was to go off on a Denny Green-like rant about the piece, calling it “garbage” and saying that three-quarters of the information were “fictional” (a quick YouTube search for “Mike Gundy” will reveal the rant in it’s entirety).

In most cases, when someone blows a fuse at a press conference in the way that Gundy did, the incident becomes put in the same file as the Jim Moras and Bobby Knights of the world, held up as an example of a coach gone too far. This case, however, is different. Coach Gundy wasn’t pissed because his team underperformed, or because someone criticized him in the media, or even just to make a big scene and get his team fired up. No, the reason the Coach made a spectacle of himself was in order to defend a player, a student-athlete who he believes was unfairly slandered.

The coach did what he had to do to defend his player, because if he didn’t, no one would. Bobby Reid is a college student, he doesn’t have a PR firm working for him or an agent drafting press releases, he’s just a kid who plays football. Coach Gundy was simply following his instinct to protect his player, an instinct that in this day and age is deeply ingrained into all coaches of the major sports at the D-1 level. With so much money awaiting many players at the next level and a horde of predators and hangers-on relentlessly hovering around college campuses across the country, coaches have to be constantly vigilant in order to protect their teams, programs and players. These athletes are young men and women, no older than you or I, who have been thrust into the spotlight at a young age. Many bear the load of expectations of a family in need, much less the hopes and dreams of a fanatical local fanbase. Their coaches not only have to make sure that their players perform well on the field, but also have to help players navigate the minefield of life as a sudden celebrity all the while ensuring that they come out as good men on the other side.

Now to Jenni Carlson. Every journalist covering college sports has to realize that these are amateurs and not professionals, and must be handled with “kid gloves”. There are certain areas that you just don’t touch with the thinking that these are still developing kids with a lot of responsibilities and they will make mistakes. This does not extend to on the field; anything done on the field of play is fair game for criticism, even harsh criticism. If that receiver drops a pass, or that forward misses a key free throw, definitely feel free to rip them to shreds. However, it is unconscionable to me to make comments on a player’s mental toughness, as there is no possible way for anyone to know what is going on in that players head, regardless of what you hear from coaches. To bring in to question how tough a kid is based on seeing his mother feeding him chicken or based on his wanting to transfer (allegedly) is ridiculous enough, but to continue further and question his ability to return from injuries is really taking things a step too far. Even in professional sports journalism, it is always questionable to bring up how quickly a player recovers from an injury because unless you are a doctor and working with the player every day, you have absolutely no idea about when they should return.

It should also again be noted, once again, that Bobby Reid is an amateur athlete. The signing of a professional contract more or less waives the players right to privacy, because now they are getting paid and they are entering the public eye. They are no longer student-athletes, they are just athletes. They have a job, not an extra-curricular activity. In most cases, they also have the resources to defend themselves. In this case, Bobby Reid’s only resource was Mike Gundy. Granted Mike Gundy is a professional and should conduct himself as one, but he had good reason this time. As much right as Carlson had to attack Reid, Coach Gundy had an equal right to defend him.

So shame on you Jenni Carlson. Im sure for your next story we can all expect a blistering review of the local high school cafeteria or a hard hitting report on underperforming Pop Warner athletes. At least you’ll be picking on someone who acts your age.