Coaches, via CBSSports.com, label Calipari guilty until proven innocent
The legion of Kentucky fans appalled and outraged by the story posted Friday morning on CBSSports.com is no doubt growing by the second.
You need to brace yourselves, members of the Big Blue Nation, because it’s only going to get worse.
As part of the “Critical Coaches” feature, an anonymous survey of nearly 100 college basketball coaches revealed that 34 percent believe John Calipari to be the biggest cheater in college basketball.
This is where we are now in sports “journalism,” although that term seems to be dissolving in a stew of internet-driven blogs and web sites. Anyone and everyone now can be a publisher, and some bloggers have managed to ingratiate themselves into “mainstream” media, snagging press credentials and demanding rights and privileges, but all the while maintaining that they’re NOT what the credential says they are.
CBS – that’s a different story.
Those call letters used to represent the highest standards of credibility, back when Walter Cronkite manned the anchor desk. To be sure, those were simpler times, compared to our ceaseless, 24/7/365 news cycle. And that, of course, includes the internet. In fact, it’s driven by cyberspace, where information pops up almost instantly, much faster than it does on TV or radio.
The compulsion to compete, especially with the likes of Yahoo and ESPN, is why CBS Sports looks for ways to drives readers to its web site. Heck, we all do. We’re constantly reminded by management that eyeballs drive the bus, whether they’re watching us on the tube or reading us on line.
So you can’t blame the college basketball guys at CBSSports.com for coming up with a way to take advantage of their hoop contacts. All week they’ve been sharing anonymous opinions from coaches, including who they think is the most overrated coach, the most underrated, and the player they covet the most. Relatively harmless, although the “overrated” piece smacked of some deeply-rooted jealousy.
And so does the current column on line, in which dozens of coaches, hiding behind that veil of anonymity, leveled their salvos at some of their colleagues, including Calipari (“…he’s still the standard. He’s the best”), Baylor’s Scott Drew (“He’s despised by a lot of people because he comes off holier than God. Meanwhile, everyone knows he’s had to cheat big-time to get the program to where it’s at”) and Jim Calhoun of Connecticut (“You ever been to Storrs? It’s miserable. But Calhoun, somehow, has recruited pros there for decades”).
In the “takeaway” section that follows the poll results, Gary Parrish, a guy whose work I’ve respected through the years, and who has been a guest on my radio show, writes the following:
“Let me start by making one thing clear — that we at CBSSports.com are not calling anybody a cheater. We worded the question carefully and specifically for a reason, because it’s unfair to call anybody a cheater without proof. So please don’t tell your friends that ‘CBSSports.com called John Calipari and Scott Drew cheaters,’ because we’ve actually done nothing of the sort.”
Technically, he’s right. But he’s also wrong.
By offering coaches that protective cloak, CBSSports.com has allowed and, in some ways, encouraged, those coaches to level their charges, however broad-based. Of UNLV’s Dave Rice, one actually said, “They’ve gotta be doing something at UNLV.”
Really? This is where we are in sports right now? Sadly, the answer is, “Yes.”
My friend Brett Dawson of Rivals/Cats’ Illustrated, sitting in with me on The Big Blue Insider one night, reminded our listeners that because of the internet, the mission of writers and reporters has done an absolute reversal. It used to be, Brett said, we would get our facts and then we’d write. Now, with the bottomless pit that is the internet in constant need of a full belly, we write – and then we TRY to get our facts.
CBSsports.com wasn’t interested in facts. It only wanted votes, and quotes. And visits to its web site. It got all three.
And it got criticism, if course – not just from UK fans. Gregg Doyel, a CBS guy himself, tweeted this to Parrish: “It’s bold to walk up to (famous coach) and say, ‘I think you cheat.’ It’s gutless to do it this way.”
Big Blue backers cry out for “objectivity,” but like any rabid fans, they usually mean, “Good news only. If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” And now, there are countless web sites fitting that description.
The CBS site does not, obviously. Nor should it. Its missions, like any respectable media outlet, is not only to honestly inform, but to entertain by prompting discussion and debate. After all, we talk more about the sports we love to watch, than actually watch them.
Reporters should present the facts, and let you make up your own mind. You have to trust that they’ll provide you with a balanced account, including both sides of a story (although some clearly are agenda-driven and purposely leave out information, which is the same as lying). Columnists and commentators have the responsibility of sharing their opinions, in an effort to spark a reaction.
But on this, CBS crossed the line – one that constantly seems to be moving. “We’re allowing coaches to discuss ‘perceptions’ of the sport anonymously,” Parrish said via Twitter. “I’m OK if you disagree with the premise. But it’s the same premise we used for the overrated/underrated questions. This is just taking it up a degree, I guess.”
I have no problem with the premise, or how CBS went about gathering its opinions. Allowing coaches to rate their peers as “overrated” in today’s internet/ESPN-driven world of lists, rankings and awards may not have been the classiest thing to do, but it’s almost benign by comparison.
Anonymously calling a man a cheater, saying he’s guilty of the worst crime of which one can be accused within your sport – that’s cowardly. And no news organization should be complicit in the process.