By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Sports Illustrated published the fifth final part of its exposé of the football program at Oklahoma State University earlier this week. With the entire story now available online, it can finally be analyzed for both its strengths and weaknesses.
Local sports radio personalities repeatedly criticized SI writers George Dohrmann and Thayer Evans as “OSU haters” simply out to get the program. So before looking at their work, a brief personal statement so as to hopefully avoid the same criticism:
Because I went to a Division III school, my college football team of choice is the Wisconsin Badgers, as both my parents are Wisconsin alumni. I don’t care for OSU head coach Mike Gundy because of how he sometimes treats female journalists — a 2008 press conference in which he called Oklahoman sports writer Jenni Carlson “garbage” and loudly criticized her; a 2012 press conference in which he yelled at Tulsa World reporter Kelly Hines for calling a player’s father — but that has never led me to actively root against OSU.
I consider myself neither an Oklahoma Sooners nor Oklahoma State Cowboys fan. Having said that, there are serious flaws in SI’s story, most notably its one-sided nature.
Dohrmann and Evans relied far too heavily on interviews from players. They not once got a current or former coach to admit to any of the accusations leveled against the school, which can be summarized as under-the-table payments, overly lenient and inconsistent drug and academic policies, and hostesses sleeping with potential recruits.
Yes, the “Money” section of the story contains one quote from a booster about questionable job opportunities offered to players. But considering how serious these allegations are, this story needed far more than just one-sided hearsay.
The article also doesn’t really discuss the players’ personal histories until the fifth section, called “The Fallout,” and even then it’s only five or six players out of the 64 interviewed. How and why former players left Oklahoma State could easily color their testimony, especially considering none of the players mentioned in the final section went on to live happily ever after.
Dohrmann and Evans seem to take these former Cowboys at face value. At the very least, they chose not to give any details before the final section that might make the interviewees less believable.
These journalistic practices are troubling, but they’re not damning. Because no matter what reasons an individual player might have for bashing his former school, there’s too much consistency between all of the interviews for these allegations to be made out of nothing.
SI has published a convincing article. Whatever OSU’s crimes may or may not have been, the school knows it can’t write off SI’s article as nonsense, so now an investigation must take place.
While SI’s report may have uncovered real problems in the OSU football program, it failed to address a much larger question: Is OSU alone in these practices?
In all likelihood: no.
If one school is doing stuff like this, chances are many other Division I schools are as well. They either provided an example for former OSU coach Les Miles to follow, or they followed his example.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was only cleared a couple weeks ago from allegations of taking payments for autograph sessions. The SI article itself mentions a late-90s sex scandal at the University of Colorado. And academic and drug issues have been part of college for decades.
Maybe the solution isn’t to make OSU the poster boy for irresponsible coaching, as the SI article in part tried to do. Maybe instead the NCAA should reform its policies.
A more lenient policy on payments would make it less necessary for players to go to boosters for under-the-table cash. A more lenient drug policy — especially when it comes to recreational marijuana use, which is rampant on many college campuses and even legal in some states — would help prevent double-standards like the one at OSU.
Academic policies can’t be changed, nor should they. Most college athletes won’t go on to the professional level, so teams should do everything they can to make sure their players graduate — something that would happen more often if players could earn money while still in school, instead of bolting as soon as possible for the NFL or NBA.
What can’t be forgiven, if true, are the allegations involving OSU’s Orange Pride program. Wanting “outgoing” hostesses, as the articles called them, is fine, and wanting pretty hostesses reflects a misogynistic phenomenon visible in every restaurant or bar that employs women.
But prostituting your own students to win football games is horrifying, not to mention unacceptable. SI suggests a couple hostesses slept with recruits, but even once is one too many.
If OSU coaches knew about this and didn’t stop it — or worse, ordered it to happen — they should be ashamed.
Sports Illustrated’s story contained flaws, but also enough consistency to raise real questions about OSU’s football program. But in keeping their indictment to OSU, Dohrmann and Evans failed to ask whether changes must come from OSU, or if they’re needed nationwide.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.