Sports journalism is quickly becoming a lost art.
Now I didn't go to school to study journalism, nor do I consider myself anything more than a basic blogger, but I do know that the tabloid trash that fills most sports publications and websites isn't worthy of being called journalism. From ESPN to the pages on Sports Illustrated, you are going to find a lot more stuff that deserves to be on E! or in the National Enquirer.
Most alarming is the increasing trend of investigative pieces that seem to be gracing the front pages of major sports websites. It appears you can slap on a controversial title with an article chalked full of "unnamed sources" defaming a person or program, and it will get heralded as true, hardworking journalism.
Unfortunately for those in Columbus, the Buckeyes have been the subject of a number of these pieces.
The latest example is Matt Hayes' piece for the Sporting News entitled, "From champs to chomped: How Urban Meyer broke Florida football." Don't let the title fool you though, it's about Ohio State too. In the video that precedes the piece, Hayes tries to claim that the inspiration for his "investigative piece" was the question of how the Florida football program came unglued so quickly. Yet, I have a hard time believing this piece would have been put together if Meyer was still in the booth on Saturdays for ESPN.
As for the piece itself, which is far from real investigative journalism, it reeks of bitterness and is a reflection of the state of sports journalism in our current climate. Hayes builds his entire piece on several unnamed sources, with his only named source being Bryan Thomas, a former player who had his time cut short in Gainesville thanks to a knee injury. Hayes uses these anonymous "Deep Throats" to show that Meyer destroyed the program thanks to preferential treatment of his superstar players and an inability to hold them accountable.
Sadly, I can guarantee that most of the public won't see through this piece for what it truly is. Like mindless idiots, most will use this as evidence that Ohio State is a dirty program and that Urban Meyer is a cheater (some journalist already are). It amazes me when I talk to rival fans (and some Buckeye fans for that matter) how uneducated they are about the sports world, and how they take these cover stories at face value. While I guess it shouldn't matter all that much, it still annoys me.
So since most won't do their homework on this article, let me take a few moments and point out some things everyone should really know.
1) Matt Hayes is a pro-Florida writer with an axe to grind. The funny thing is that if you look back at Hayes' archives you will find a man that was very pro-Meyer during his tenure at Florida. He even went to the trouble of naming him the best coach in college football just a few years back. That says enough right there. Yet isn't it ironic that Hayes, who lives in Orlando by the way, suddenly decides to write this piece when Meyer takes over the job at OSU. Again, where was this piece when Meyer was working at ESPN?
Just reading through the piece, you can feel the tone of embitterment from Hayes. In fact, this piece would have read about the same way if the Sporting News decided to allow one of the many betrayed Florida fans off a message board to compose it. Urban Meyer is a meanie, while Will Muschamp is a solid, honest guy that walked into a complete mess. He and Charlie Weis had nothing to do with the 7-6 season last year for the Gators. Yes, we got it Matt.
2) Nothing of real value was alleged in his piece. There are a few bothersome allegations in this piece, but so far all of those have been completely shot down by those involved. More on that in a minute. As to the rest of Hayes' issues with how Meyer ran his program, they sound like run-of-the-mill struggles that any big time college football program face. Dig into the day to day of any top 25 team and you will find some drug issues and coddling of the star players. I'm not excusing it, nor I'm trying to act like Meyer hasn't made some mistakes, I'm just saying it didn't deserve the attention Hayes and Sporting News gave it. Meyer communicated the same sentiment in the article.
“I am very proud of our guys that played at Florida,” Meyer said. “Are there issues? Yes there are with 18-22-year-olds. I have been criticized that I have been too lenient on players; that doesn’t concern me. We are going to go out of our way to mentor, educate and discipline guys the way we see fit to make sure they’re headed in the right direction. Are we perfect? I never said that. We do the best we can and I think our record has been really positive in the impact we’ve made on those people."
What also amazes me is that Hayes seems to mostly avoid the fact that most of the allegations that he brings to light happened while Meyer was in the midst of two National Championship runs for the Gators. His only explanation is a quote from a former player saying they just had more talent than everyone else, so it didn't matter how Meyer ran the program. An explanation that I just don't buy, as truly dysfunctional teams and systems don't win two titles in three years.
Also alarming is the absolute absence of Hayes even mentioning Meyer kicking a player like Cam Newton off the team, or him removing some key players at Ohio State that broke team rules upon arrival. If he refused to monitor his programs or his big time players, would he have made such moves? That would likely be the reason Hayes left them out of the piece. In fact, Hayes wasn't able to give more proof to some of his strong allegations when interviewed on 610 in Columbus. He instead got angry that someone would question his impeccable piece of journalism.
3) His key allegations have been negated. This is probably this biggest issue I have with Hayes "investigating." Not only has one former player already gone on record as saying that he didn't agree with Hayes' findings, but the two biggest allegations in my eyes have already been negated. The first is the fight between Percy Harvin and former Florida assistant Billy Gonzales. According to Hayes' sources Harvin grabbed Gonzales by the neck and threw him to the ground, and was never disciplined. Gonzales has come out in a statement saying the report is "inaccurate" and never happened.
The second allegation with some actual meat is the insinuation that Meyer committed NCAA violations in recruiting Kyle Dodson, having illegal contact with him and using NFL players as leverage. Dodson told our very own Michael Chung that the those reports are untrue, and that he was not in support of the piece. Even Bielema went on record as saying the NCAA addressed his complaints and as of right now the NCAA hasn't made any issues public.
Good investigating indeed.
So I apologize if I don't take more seriously the depths of depravity that Hayes attempts to act like Meyer has operated in. As aforementioned, I don't believe Meyer is perfect, nor do I believe such a thing is possible from a college football coach. I also don't believe Meyer left the Florida program on top of his game or with no issues. Instead, I think this piece was conveniently timed and showcases further evidence of a program and a group of fans that don't seem to appreciate what a coach did for them. Had he continued to remain retired and decided to fade into the sunset, he would be hailed as a hero whose health cut him short. Now Hayes' and Gator Nation want to use him as a scape goat for any disappointment moving forward. I'm sure it doesn't help that he'll inevitably have a ton more success up north, in a conference they don't really respect, then they'll have under Muschamp.
The more honest and realistic approach may just be what Alligator Army suggests.
"Ultimately, your opinion of Meyer comes down to what you value. I’m very clearly in the 'value the wins and to hell with everything else' camp. Football coaches aren’t here to play daycare with athletes, and that perception that athletes need a parent/role model at 18 years or older is very condescending. They may not be grown-ass men, but they’re men, and deserve as much responsibility in making their own choices as anyone else in that age range. Could Meyer have kept a closer eye on his players’ behavior? Yes, he could; he could’ve also screwed up whatever magic he had going for him in doing so, though.
"So when you’re wishing him nothing but the worst, try to keep in mind exactly what it is that you want out of a college football coach. I'll take the crystal balls, even if that means some subsequent five- or six-loss seasons."
Unfortunately, most people won't read this blog post or check out Alligator Army. Instead, your mailbox will be full with rival fans sending you Hayes' article or some moron at the water cooler saying, "Urban will fit right in there in Columbus."