Tressel-gate and the Decline of Journalism

NEW ORLEANS LA - JANUARY 04: Head coach Jim Tressel of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks on before the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the Arkansas Razorbacks at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4 2011 in New Orleans Louisiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

(Beware, cursing contained herein. If you've got delicate sensibilities, go elsewhere.)

There is an old Arabic and Chinese proverb: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." If you are a sports fan it's hard to think of a saying that rings truer or, in practice, is more correct. We hate the same team? We must be friends. Think about the outpouring of support for Texas fans after their trip to Columbus from Michigan and other Big Ten fans. For one glorious week all of college football was joined in detest of Ohio State and their cooler filling fans. So, when the news broke that Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel was allegedto have know about Terrell Pryor and four other members of the Buckeyes' football team selling their merchandise, you'd probably think I'd be dancing a jig, helping to dig their grave, and drinking as much booze as possible with which to micturcate on their coffin before the dirt was refilled.

You'd be wrong.

The recent Yahoo! Sports "exclusive"is appalling and a shameless attempt by their writers try Tressel and Ohio State in the court of public opinion with the decency of allowing them to respond to the allegations contained within the story. How do I know this? Two things. The first is the text of article itself, wherein Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel state:

Tressel and athletic director Gene Smith were unavailable for comment.

The second is a twitter post by Charles Robinson stating:

Three_hours_medium

Three hours? Oh. Well then. Everything is okay. Wait. What!? Three hours? You're accusing a respected head coach of a top five program of NCAA rule violations serious that (if proven true) could not only vacate the 2010 season but get him fired, and you ONLY GAVE HIM 3 FUCKING HOURS TO RESPOND!? You couldn't wait a day, maybe (God forbid) two days to allow the Coach to respond in writing. You couldn't wait a day to ensure that your article was complete and had allowed both sides to comment on the allegations contained therein?

This is chickenshit journalism at it's worst. You'll excuse my profanity on this one, but Yahoo has a history of pulling this kind of crap and it's just as inexcusable now as it was when they ran the USC Basketball story. I'll say it now so that I'm not painted as some kind of Tressel apologist or weirdo defender of the College Football status quo: If the allegations that Tressel knew about this and hid it are true, yes, he should be punished and probably fired.

But let's be equally clear, that's a big "if".

 

The Yahoo! story is based on a single, anonymous source. The premise of this story is even weaker than the USC story I eviscerated back in '09, where Yahoo! relied on the constantly changing story of a convicted felon. At least they named their source. Here, we've got nothing. Nada. Zip. There is nothing else with which to base their allegations. There's no paper trail. There are no recordings. This is all they've got:

According to a source, a concerned party reached out to Tressel last April, alerting the coach that memorabilia transactions had taken place between Rife and a handful of Buckeyes players, including Pryor. The selling of items violates NCAA eligibility rules. The source said Tressel was troubled by the information, and the coach indicated that he would investigate the matter and take appropriate action.

There is no truth to the rumor that Brian Cook was the concerned source (I'm kidding. It could totally be him.).  

But that's it. That's the sum total of their evidence. The rest of this hack job is a rehashing of the original story that the United States Attorney’s office notified Ohio State of the sale of goods by the players had come up in their investigation of Edward Rife. The surprising call for temperance when reviewing these allegations comes from our friends at Eleven Warriors:

Secondly, it is highly unlikely that either Charles Robinson or Dan Wetzel would risk their reputations on a piece of investigative journalism that they didn't believe was accurate and authentic. Yahoo! Sports is a legitimate reporting organization, and whatever you think about either Wetzel or Robinson, no editor with a shred of sanity or professionalism would allow such a damning story to go live without at least something behind it. Some OSU fans have pointed out that the story cites only one anonymous source, which is fair criticism, and if that source continues to be unnamed and the only supplier of information to this story, then its credibility should be put in doubt. But keep in mind that Yahoo's track record with regard to investigative sports journalism is anything but shaky, and that it is probable that Wetzel and Robinson have not played every card in their hand. - (emphasis mine)

I appreciate that our friends are in a no win scenario here. They can't say what I'm saying here without being accused of being homers or something worse. But come on guys. There are no consequences for Wetzel or Robinson. There is no loss of license. There is no loss of a job. There is nothing. This loss of reputation stuff is nonsense. Exhibit One: Michael Rosenberg, Detroit Free Press. Second, Yahoo's reputation (in my eyes at least) is crap. They have no trouble publishing half stories and half truths in an effort to garner hits. Their editors are no better than the Free Press's and will okay whatever they think can be marginally supported in order to get people to read their page.

Over the past few hours I've seen all kinds of people and writers reading anything and everything into the few quotes or tweets that are out there. There's a constant refrain "Why haven't they just denied it?" You know as well as I do that Ohio State will announce they're investigating tonight and report anything to the NCAA and that the public will be informed as events warrant. An institution like Ohio State can't just respond from the hip when someone writes something stupid. They must take time to deliver a measured response. Otherwise they simply provide more fuel for the speculation fire.

I am not blind to the possibility that Wetzel and Robinson could be right. They very well may be correct that Tressel knew about this months in advance. If that is the case, then I owe them an apology. One that I will graciously make provided their story is confirmed. However, what will happen if and when their piece is confirmed as nonsense? Will we get a long apology to Coach Tressel? Somehow I doubt it.

My problem is this: If you are going to make these kinds of accusations you need more than a single, anonymous source. I'm sure you believe him or her, but to make accusations of this magnitude in court without proper evidence will get your case dismissed and in some jurisdictions get you censured or worse. "But we're not in court." So what? It's not okay for people to throw mud or make accusations about people without proper support simply because they're not under oath. If you're a "legitimate reporting organization" then you should be held to a higher standard than a 12-year-old kid.

If Tressel was that stupid (something I seriously doubt), he should be fired. But I'm not grabbing the firing gun until I see more evidence that something happened. Maybe they've got it. But until I see it in print, I'm going to assume it doesn't exist. For Yahoo! to make allegations like this without anything more than a single sentence and a single anonymous source is absolutely reprehensible.

Maybe next time they'll give their target more than three hours to respond to something. But you know what? I doubt it.

[Update: I'm aware of this:

11w_medium

While this does mean, if true, that I owe Wetzel and Robinson apology for saying they're full of shit, it doesn't change my overall outrage at their conduct in breaking this story. If they've got more in their quiver than what they indicated, fine. But I think it's incumbent upon the accuser to put forth more than the cursory allegation they included in their piece, and it remains ABSOLUTELY INEXCUSABLE that they only gave Tressel three hours to respond.]

Our buddies at Along the Olentangy have more on this story.

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