In recent days Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist for the Daily Oaklahoman, received a verbal tirade from Oklahoma State University football coach Mike Gundy, who claimed a column she wrote was three-fourths inaccurate. The assault, viewed widely across the nation on YouTube, reminded me of the challenges facing journalists covering college sports.
The last time I saw Carlson we were both working at the Kansas City Star - Carlson was a high school columnist, and I was an intern. She was kind enough to let me live with her that summer in 1999, and while I was out for a run one day, the old, eight-unit building went up in flames. Carlson jumped from the second-story balcony. We both lost everything.
We haven't talked much since then, but will always have that history, and share the common experience of being lambasted by a college coach.
The difference was that Maryland coach Gary Williams had the discretion to call me on my cell phone two summers ago when he was irate over a recruiting article I wrote, while Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy embarrassed himself, his program and Carlson in a matter of three minutes and 20 seconds in his post-game press condemnation this past weekend.
Let's get something clear. This has nothing to do with Carlson being a female and everything to do with Gundy being unprofessional. But both of them erred on this one, and somehow Gundy wound up raising the more important issue.
"He's not a professional athlete," Gundy said of Bobby Reid, who lost his starting job and was the subject of Carlson's column in the Oklahoman. "He doesn't deserve to be kicked when he's down."
As scholarship athletes who are often elevated above average students, though, and who make headlines for winning games and scoring touchdowns, the scrutiny that comes along with it when they underperform is fair. This week, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has said his own quarterback needs to get rid of the ball quicker and make better reads. He said his offensive line needs to give better protection.
None of that is personal, but Carlson questioned the "fire in [Reid's] belly," and poked fun at him for being fed chicken by his mother in public, an example of Reid needing to be "coddled." She suggested the coaching staff chose guts over talent, but she did so without attribution or confirmation.
Whether or not a 21-year-old quarterback is fed chicken by his mother is irrelevant. Whether or not he throws more interceptions than touchdowns is.
"You better have a thick skin if you're going to play," Friedgen said. "People are entitled to their opinion, and they're going to have it."
Just ask Maryland quarterback Jordan Steffy, who has received the brunt of it after the Terps' 31-24 overtime meltdown at Wake Forest.
"Jordan is not the answer at QB," one fan posted on the Sun's Tracking the Terps blog. "He's too small, too scared, holds on the ball way too long, can't look downfield, he plays like a deer in headlights"
When college games are aired on prime time television (Florida State versus Clemson), the only difference between those athletes and the pros are their paychecks. When revenue is generated from their bowl games and ticket sales, these teenagers are suddenly entertainers. When they are on the cover of Sports Illustrated, they become public figures.
And when a coach makes a sudden change at quarterback, reporters like Carlson have every right and responsibility to question why. While I don't agree with how she wrote the column, Gundy's lack of answers didn't leave much alternative.
And while I don't agree with how Gundy responded to it, he had every right and responsibility to stick up for his quarterback.
In the age of YouTube, though, no coach (especially one with a 13-15 record at a program nobody outside that state cares much about) can afford to become unhinged like that in public.
"Come after me," Gundy said. "I'm a man. I'm 40."
Then stop throwing temper tantrums like a child.