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3 Offseason Thoughts - Urban Meyer in Context

Staff Columnist
Posted Apr 1, 2010

Tired of Urban Meyer coverage? That's understandable. Just be sure to read a final big-picture assessment of what the past week's events really mean... for college football coaches, and for all of us as football junkies.

1) In any field of endeavor – not just college football – one should give credit when and where it’s due, especially when that person (or entity) had previously endured considerable criticism for inappropriate behavior or actions. Such is the case with Urban Meyer, who had an individual conversation with reporter Jeremy Fowler after the previous week’s blow-up on a practice field. Meyer is to be commended for stepping back, taking a deep breath, reconsidering what he did, and speaking to Fowler in private. Frailty is part of the human condition, and by any reasonable measure, Meyer owned up to his weaknesses by taking Fowler aside. That’s a welcome and very positive development.

2) In light of Meyer’s move, a little bit more needs to be said about the incident now that the college football community has had a week to reflect on it.

The big concern arising from L’Affaire Fowler (or L’Affaire Deonte Thompson) is that it might either inspire or be representative of a trend in which coaches unload on reporters to win buckets of bonus points from players and fans. Oklahoma State fans loved, loved, LOOOOOVED Mike Gundy for going ape at Jenni Carlson in 2007. Sure, Carlson’s story on Bobby Reid was not a study in journalistic perfection or literary elegance, but the columnist for The Oklahoman was doing her job and, moreover, displayed fundamentally sound instincts in trying to unearth the finer points of a very curious situation inside the Cowboys’ inner circle.

Carlson raised legitimate questions in her piece from September of 2007, even though a regrettable reference to fried chicken (all writers will encounter that kind of moment at some point in their careers, this one included) gave Gundy his chance to pounce. An adult would have criticized Carlson in measured tones while also displaying a reasonable amount of candor in explaining his handling of Oklahoma State’s quarterback situation. Gundy – being politically astute but classless as a human being – saw an opportunity to run down a writer and score points instead. Sure, he won a lot of support from his locker room and his fan base, but he did so at the expense of good behavior and all notions of human decency.

Urban Meyer did well to apologize to Jeremy Fowler, but it’s hard to deny the sneaking suspicion that other coaches noticed how Florida’s players reacted to the dust-up between a coach and a reporter. The Gators strongly backed their boss in the days following the practice field flare-up. The profession of journalism is held in low esteem, and sure, there are times when the Fourth Estate deserves the criticism it gets. This does not mean, though, that writers and reporters should be able to be used as verbal piñatas with impunity. Give Meyer – a truly stressed-out individual; the hospital visits prove it – for making amends, but if other coaches think they can stage the same emotionally-manufactured theater in the future, an apology two days after the fact won’t cut it.

3) So much of the Meyer-Fowler incident brings us back to the most fundamental point and purpose of our existence here on this planet: to better the lives of others while we’re here. As Jewish friends celebrate Passover and Christians celebrate Good Friday and Easter, we’re reminded of the deeper questions and more profound elements of our existence. And if you don’t believe in a higher power, you still surely accept the idea that we’re supposed to do right by our neighbors, display kindness, and act in ways that heal others instead of harming them. You don’t need to believe in a divine entity to live out the golden rule or exhibit basic fairness and decency in your life.

If the realm of collegiate athletics really is a teacher of life lessons and sound values, the coaches who sit in these seats of teaching authority need to be true to their profession and the moral creed that’s attached to it. There are plenty of wholesome and morally allowable ways to motivate a team or score political points with a fan base. Tearing into a reporter with excessive vitriol and verbal violence isn’t one of them.