There’s always plenty of good journalistic fodder in sports.
Today, I have three things I want to call to your attention.
1) Last night, we saw a great example of a college athletic director — Jeff Long of Arkansas — putting principle above expediency.
Long announced at a press conference in Fayetteville that football Coach Bobby Petrino would not be returning next season, after Petrino witheld key details of a motorcycle accident he was involved in last week.
At the news conference, Long said that Petrino had “knowingly misled” the Razorback athletic department and the residents of Arkansas.
The 51-year-old Petrino had been on paid leave after failing to tell Long that a 25-year-old female football program employee — a beautiful blonde — was riding with him when his motorcycle went into a ditch outside of Fayetteville. Petrino, who is married with four children, also admitted to “an inappropriate relationship” with the football program employee, Jessica Dorrell.
Petrino didn’t tell Long that Dorrell was on the bike with him until minutes before a police report was released last week. The police report disclosed Dorrell’s presence at the accident. Petrino suffered head and neck injuries, while Dorrell was uninjured.
Petrino recently completed his fourth season at Arkansas, and he had compiled a 34-17 record. He had a long-term contract paying him an average of $3.53 million a year. His contract contained a clause, however, that allowed the university to fire Petrino for “engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the university, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of head football coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university’s) athletics programs in any way.”
He certainly did adversely affect the school’s reputation. Because he violated that clause, the university will not have to buy out his contract.
In a story posted on ESPN.com last night, reporter Tim Keown noted that character questions about Petrino had begun long before Arkansas hired him in 2007.
Keown wrote: “Long had to ask himself some simple questions leading up to Tuesday evening’s decision: How many different ways did this guy embarrass the university and play his bosses for fools, and how many wins would it take to forgive them? Apparently, the answers were equally simple: There aren’t enough wins on anybody’s schedule to keep Petrino on board and wonder what might come next.”
Hiring Petrino was Long’s first major move after he became athletic director in January 2008. Firing him on Tuesday was an even bigger move. Congratulations to Jeff Long. He’s taken a big step toward undoing the damage that Petrino did to the university’s reputation.
2) On the morning of the KU-UK championship basketball game in New Orleans, The Star had a picture of a KU player (at least I think it was a player) on the newspaper’s front page. Well, actually, it wasn’t on the front page; it was the front page. Took up the entire cover.
Subsequently, two or three authors of letters to the editor took the paper to task for dedicating the entire front page to a sporting event, even a very big one. I had been mulling over the wisdom of that editorial decision, but, then, another letter writer came along and said something to the effect of, “Hey, folks, it’s only one front page.”
So, I thought, “OK, I can buy that.”
But yesterday, however, a photo of KU star Thomas Robinson and his little sister took up about half the front page. The photo linked to an article on the front of the sports section about Robinson announcing his decision to turn pro, even though he has another year of collegiate eligibility.
I’m sure that the editors rationalized their decision to put the photo on the front page by the fact that Robinson and his sister Jayla endured tremendous personal losses when their mother and maternal grandparents died within several weeks of each other in late 2010 and early 2011.
That accounted for the headline above the photo: “Brighter Days Ahead.” That story was fleshed out all season long, however, and didn’t need to be highlighted again. I think that photo was inappropriate for the front page, especially coming on the heels of the all-KU front page a week earlier.
Why should The Star glamorize the fact that a basketball player, as good as he is, has decided to forgo his opportunity to graduate with his class and in favor of a mammoth contract with an NBA team? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not quarreling with Robinson’s decision — just with the editors’ decision to feature the story on the front page.
3) Unbelievable. That’s all I can say about New York Times’ golf writer Karen Crouse’s description on Monday of the shot by Bubba Watson that won the Masters golf tournament Sunday.
If you watched the two-hole playoff between Bubba and Louis Oosthuizen, you know that Bubba made an unbelievable shot from way off the 10th fairway. He hooked an iron shot around a tree line and onto the green. It was a spectacular shot that curved an estimated 40 yards.
In Monday’s paper, however, Crouse wrote: “After driving into the woods, he sliced a shot onto the green.” For Bubba, a left-handed player, a slice would have been cutting the ball from right to left, not drawing it from left to right.
There’s a huge, huge difference between hooking a ball and slicing a ball; they go in totally different directions.
I wrote to the Times’ sports desk, saying, “What in the world was Karen thinking about? Certainly she knows the difference between a hook and a slice?!?!?”
So far, no reply. And no correction in today’s paper.
What a disappointment from my favorite newspaper.
Air ball! Oops, make that out of bounds. Go back to the tee and hit again, Karen.
Note: The Times ran a correction in today’s edition.