COLUMN: Vol Twitter Versus The Media — The Sequel

Every time I think I have my book about Tennessee fans and the Rocky Top Revolution finished, something else happens that just HAS to be added. And yesterday, the wacky world of college football gave my book an ending no one could have foreseen.

Urban Meyer is apparently plummeting from his lofty perch atop perennial playoff contender Ohio State, for having knowledge of and not reporting the alleged longstanding and ongoing domestic violence one of his assistant coaches, Zach Smith, heaped upon his one-time wife, Courtney, since 2009.In this new era of awareness around domestic and sexual violence, that kind of behavior doesn’t fly…and cannot fly in big name (and money) collegiate athletics.

Especially since Urban Meyer’s newest contract apparently stipulates that Meyer can be terminated with cause for failure to report sexual misconduct, including domestic violence and stalking. That clause could cost Meyer in the neighborhood of $38 million.

Whoops.

But what fired up Vol Twitter to an all-time high was the fact that Ohio State, which “vetted Greg Schiano thoroughly” didn’t name the Associate Head Coach, Meyer’s #1 in Star Trek parlance, as the interim head coach in his absence. Evidently, his association with the past “scandals”, as Ohio State beat writer Ari Wasserman put it, wasn’t enough to prohibit him from the Tennessee head coach position but barred him from heading up the Buckeyes in what just yesterday looked to be a fantastic year for them on the field.

Funny how life works.

So that put a whole bunch of national sports media pundits into an odd position. How were they going to spin Schiano being passed over by Ohio State when they all assured the world last November that he was one of the best coaching prospects in America and Tennessee fans were ignorant, uneducated, lynch mobs with, as Ohio State beat writer Ari Wasserman put it, “no hope”, for rising up against the Schiano hire? In fact, the prospect was so daunting that ESPN, the holy city of sports omniscience, didn’t even report the Meyer situation for four hours after it was initially published.

Well, that might have had some to do with the fact that Brett McMurphy, who was laid off by ESPN, was the journalist who broke the story…on his Facebook page. Which, if you think about it, is hilarious. In fact, McMurphy’s Tweet regarding ESPN earlier was hysterical for that reason.

That being said, there was nothing funny about the bare bones of the story — the pictures displaying injuries to Courtney Smith allegedly inflicted by her ex-husband, the threatening text messages she received from him after they split up, and the heart-wrenching text conversations she had with other Ohio State coaches’ wives, including Shelley Meyer who is reportedly an instructor in nursing at OSU. The depth and number of those conversations seem to preclude any reasonable doubt that the coaches and support staff at Ohio State didn’t know of what Zach Smith was doing to his young wife.

It appears that Urban Meyer, along with others, flippantly looked the other way while the alleged abuse occurred, and it’s likely to cost Meyer his job.

But I have to wonder…what about the national media? What happens to them as a result of this outrageous development in the Schiano saga? What happens to Dan Wolken of USA Today, who (admittedly) has been (justifiably) tortured by Vol Twitter for months now? Or Pat Forde of Yahoo, who’s seen his fair share of Schiano-related punishment? What about the prophets of the religion known as the ESPN? What about Kirk Herbstreit or Stephen A. Smith? What do they have to say today?

Andrea Adelson is not a well-known ESPN college football pundit, but she’s got the quotes of the day in her column for the ESPN website:

Perhaps Meyer learned from those mistakes as it relates to player behavior. During his tenure at Ohio State, only a handful of players have gotten into legal trouble. The most notable was running back Carlos Hyde, who was suspended for three games in 2013 after police began investigating him for allegedly assaulting a woman.

But it was a different story among the staff. Meyer brought on Smith, a man Meyer knew had been alleged to abuse his pregnant wife. He brought on former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, who resigned after he was accused of mistreating his players. He stuck by Greg Schiano after a deposition came to light alleging that Schiano knew about Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse at Penn State, allegations Schiano denies.

Did Ohio State administrators even bother questioning those moves? Or Meyer’s past at Florida?

Bolding mine.

Well, Ms Adelson, Tennessee fans were assured that Ohio State vetted Schiano thoroughly when they hired him. And yet…

Funny, isn’t it? Greg Schiano’s name right in the middle of that quote?

The fact of the matter is that last November, Vol Nation was right to fight against a Greg Schiano hire. Local sports media was right. Former players and alumni were right. Vol Twitter, God love them in all their savage glory, was right.

Nothing demonstrates how right the SchiaNO protests and the Rocky Top ReVOLution actually were more than Greg Schiano not being named the interim Ohio State head coach. The national media, therefore, was wrong in how they portrayed the uprising in Knoxville and online. All of them were absolutely dead wrong. So is there a bias in the national media against the University of Tennessee?

You decide, but it sure feels that way sometimes. If you’re old enough to remember the Sugar Vols in their 1985 Sugar Bowl appearance against the Miami Hurricanes, then you know what I’m talking about. You know that not one single major media outlet gave the Volunteers a chance. You know that all the coverage leading up to that Sugar Bowl was about Miami winning the national championship after their predicted destruction of Tennessee. You know that the arrogance of the Canes going into that game was fueled my the media frenzy around them, which ultimately worked in the Vols’ favor.

Vinny Testaverde’s famous boast about how the Vols wouldn’t be able to sack him culminated in a very long, painful night for the Miami quarterback. He was sacked seven times, fumbled three times (losing one), and was intercepted three times and his backup quarterback once. Thanks, sports media, for helping the Sugar Vols out so much prior to the game.

That’s really what we’re talking about here, you know. Individuals becoming the stories instead of the game. Zach Smith allegedly beat his wife. It looks like Urban Meyer knew and did nothing. Dan Wolken provided PR help to a desperate AD for a Schiano hire at UT because the AD knew the fan base wouldn’t like it. Pat Forde insults all of Tennessee with impunity, as does Tim Brando, who preemptively blocks any prominent Vol Twitter account — including mine, although I never Tweeted the man. Booger McFarland asks, “Who the hell does Tennessee think they are?”

I spent a little time cruising the Ohio State message boards this morning to see how the waters were, and they were agitated to say the least. Instead of understanding why Urban Meyer was suspended, a sizable portion of Buckeye fanatics were focused on Courtney Smith, who is “trying to destroy Ohio State football.” Hopefully Columbus police are monitoring her house because there were actually threats against her safety.

In fact, the difference between the Tennessee fan base and Ohio State’s couldn’t be more marked right now. Vol Nation came together to protect their university from a coaching hire where the coach didn’t adequately live up to the standards Tennessee fans demand from their coaches.

Much of Ohio State’s fan base has come together to whine about how unfair Urban Meyer’s suspension is, how wrong OSU was to take the word of an ex-wife over his, how the pictures are consistent with self-abuse, how the wife is looking for an easy payday from Ohio State, how Zach Smith’s wife must be working for Saban or Dabo to wreck OSU’s season before it starts, how Urban Meyer had no duty to protect or report the abuse to anyone…

And yet, Vol Nation was the ignorant lynch mob.

You’ll note that none of the aforementioned journalists have written stories about the threats or accusations being leveled against a victim of prolonged domestic violence and sexual abuse because she came forward with her story and appears to have brought down OSU’s house of cards.

No, indeed. Instead, you have John Currie’s PR guru, Dan Wolken, spewing forth a literary flight of fancy like this:

For Meyer, the trophies, the massive paychecks and the adulation are part of a larger mission. In Meyer’s world, he and he alone serves as the creator of leaders and virtuous citizens, the benevolent giver of second chances, the all-knowing arbiter of right and wrong. And anyone who has had the temerity to challenge the authenticity of his intentions when those decisions blew up in his face is typically cast aside not just as a critic, but a genuinely bad person.

While this might be a fair description of Meyer’s disgusting persona, tell me…does that not sound a little familiar? Does that sound like anyone else you know, Dan? Like, maybe yourself?

Wolken has attributed traits to Urban Meyer that the national sports media displayed in November and are still displaying now — the sanctimony of assigning second chances to failed football coaches with moral issues or scandals in their past, the inability to endure challenges to their know-it-all authority, the discarding of people with alternate points of view — all of these attributes were at the forefront of the media response to the uprising on Rocky Top and the fans who fueled it. The irony of this column from Wolken is the hypocrisy with which he condemns Urban Meyer for traits that he himself is guilty of.

And he hasn’t learned his lesson yet either.

Well…no, Dan. Tennessee fans aren’t embarrassing themselves in the slightest, just like they didn’t in November. The truth of the matter is that you were wrong. You were wrong to put your integrity as a journalist on the line just to get a scoop from John Currie. You were wrong to portray an entire fan base the way you did just because they disagreed with your point of view. And you were definitely wrong to regurgitate your own hypocrisy in a response yesterday to a Tennessee fan who was asking you a question and wasn’t being rude at all.

If you’re going to condemn Urban Meyer for his traits, perhaps a little more self-reflection will help you to understand that the only person embarrassing himself in this Vol Twitter vs Dan Wolken social media war is you.

So yeah, Tennessee fans have been strutting a bit over the past twenty-four hours because history has come down on their side. For all the blathering and posturing from national pundits, Vol Nation was vindicated at the moment Ohio State passed over Greg Schiano, who was the Associate Head Coach of the Buckeyes, in favor of Ryan Day as interim head coach.

And then, they turn on Urban Meyer like he’s the only villain in this story of horrors. So while the media focuses on destroying Urban Meyer’s career, I’ve been focusing on the media and how eagerly they’re all jumping forward to throw more logs on the fire as they burn Meyer at the stake.

You know, just last week sexual violence survivor advocate Brenda Tracy (who I interviewed for an upcoming column) was at Ohio State, invited by the university to address their football and men’s basketball teams. The Zach Smith story, in an odd coincidence, broke the same week. Brenda had this to say regarding Urban Meyer’s response to the Smith allegations at the time:

What I will say is that Urban Meyer’s comments and the rhetoric are really indicative of a huge misunderstanding of the dynamics of domestic violence. There’s some education that needs to happen there and I think that it would be good for people to educate themselves; reach out to people like me, reach out to advocates in your community. If anything, I think his comments really showed a lack of understanding and I think that’s really commonplace in this nation.

I agree. Coaches at major football programs are turned into celebrities by the media, national and local alike. The media jumps on board if the coach’s team starts to make a run. And when those feet of clay start to crumble, the media is right there to tear down the coaches that they initially built up.

Seems to me the media should be held accountable for that too, this outlet included if these mistakes are ever made. There’s no moral superiority involved in writing click bait articles or insulting fan bases or joining the feeding frenzy when someone’s misdeeds come to light. The holier than thou newspaper columnists of the world need to be held accountable for what they write, what they say on social media, and how they interact not only with the sports figures they write about but the people they interact with online.

Just because those clay feet are hidden under their computer desk doesn’t mean they aren’t as likely to crumble if they make mistakes.

Best thing to do, whether you’re Urban Meyer or Dan Wolken is to come out and say, “You know what? I made a mistake, and I regret it.”

Otherwise the torture will continue. The media will continue to dig into Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State and Vol Twitter will continue to torment journalists online and way back there…back in the shadows at the edge of the room, the real story is being ignored. Courtney Smith’s story isn’t as important today as Urban Meyer or the journalists covering him.

No matter how you look at it, that’s the real tragedy here. Talk about sanctimony.

Sad.