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The Oklahoma State situation

  • Lutz
  • Published Tuesday, Sep. 10, 2013, at 4:45 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Sep. 10, 2013, at 5:09 p.m.

“Sports Illustrated” is one of America’s most trusted news sources.

I think. Although, honestly, I’m not sure how many of America’s news sources are trusted in this social media age. My head spins just as fast as the heads of others from a bygone era of journalism.

Don’t get me wrong – there are still many outstanding and ethical journalists working in today’s media. They have been trained to get to the truth of a story and we should all value their steadfastness because it’s not as common as it once was.

And if that sounds like some old guy who doesn’t think it’s necessarily journalism that is the focus of some news organizations these days, then so be it.

Which gets us back to “SI” and this scathing five-part report on alleged improprieties at Oklahoma State that involve money, sex, drugs and fraud.

First and foremost, anything that involves money, sex, drugs and fraud is going to get our attention. And “SI” definitely has our attention. It’s 10-month investigation into the Oklahoma State football program under Les Miles and Mike Gundy produced some salacious stuff.

It’s going to be fun to read, but what about the credibility. Already, people from near and far are attacking this work for its lack of depth and exposing one of its reporters, Thayer Evans, as an OSU hater who, as a huge fan of Oklahoma, would love nothing more than to take a whack at the Cowboys.

ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock, who says he worked with Evans at FoxSports.com, had this to say about his former colleague on an Oklahoma City radio station today:

“ . . . having worked with Thayer Evans at Fox Sports, having followed his work for some time, I am completely and utterly flabbergasted that a legitimate new outlet would allow Thayer Evans to be involved in some type of investigative piece on college football that tears down a program, and particularly one that tears down Oklahoma State when it is no secret what a huge, enormous, gigantic Oklahoma homer Thayer Evans is.”

Many former Oklahoma State players have taken to Twitter to attack the “SI” piece, the money part of a five-part series. Fraud, sex and drugs are yet to come.

Stories like this always elicit a lot of he-said, she-said responses. The journalism, though, is expected to go beyond that, to nail down the facts of a situation. It’s one thing to have multiple sources for a story like this, but it’s also important to determine that the sources are credible.

That requires tiresome and tireless work from the reporters.

The lead reporter of this “SI” series is George Dohrmann, who has been with the magazine since 2000. Just before joining the magazine, Dohrmann won a Pulitzer Price while working for the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer-Press in 2000 for a series of stories uncovering academic fraud within the University of Minnesota men’s basketball program.

Dohrmann has done exemplary work for “SI,” and was the lead reporter on the unraveling of the UCLA men’s basketball program under Ben Howland and his extensive work on the Barry Bonds trial in 2011.

While Dohrmann and others were making the rounds in support of the investigative piece and to convince a skeptical public that their work was accurate, many others took to the airwaves and Twitter and all of the other media outlets to claim the “SI” work is bogus. I heard several former Oklahoma State football players, some of whom were named in the magazine as having accepted money from coaches and boosters, deny having done so.

It will be impossible, really, for either side to prove their case. So the public is left to wonder about the truth. Do we trust journalism and these reporters? Of do we buy into the claims that “SI” must have a vendetta against Oklahoma State and that the reporting process it used over 10 months was sloppy and inconclusive.

With more to come on this story over the next week, I’m not sure what to think. I do believe that there are stories like this at almost every big-time college football school. That’s the cynic in me. It has to be impossible to control everything that goes on inside a football program no matter how hard you try. And when you don’t really even try, as I suspect is the case in some places, then what?

The underlying problem is that we’re still trying to pretend college athletics is what college athletics used to be. It’s not. Those days are gone forever. There is too much money floating around and too much pressure to keep jobs. And the only way to do that is to win.

There’s only so much coaches can do to “coach up” their players. But there’s a wide gamut of possibilities when it comes to recruiting and then rewarding those players.

The NCAA seems to have thrown up its hands in response to a lot of this stuff. Why? Because college athletics at the highest levels cannot be controlled. It can be given lip service. And exposes about the wrong-doing can be published in the most-respected magazines in the country.

In the end, though, does anything change? Will it ever?

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