The landscape of college football has been littered with interesting and powerful stories this past week. On the heavy side of things, Texas Monthly’s report on Baylor and Art Briles’ silence over Sam Okwuachu’s sexual assault was an in-depth examination of how the culture of football has become a greater priority than the health and safety of women on campus.
Over at the University of Idaho, Paul Petrino verbally assaulted two reporters and may or may not have needed to be restrained during said verbal assault. On the less heavy side of things, the AP Poll came out, several schools named their starting quarterbacks, the FWAA named the 75th Anniversary All-American Team, and Tate Martell picked Texas A&M as his future destination.
With all of those stories at journalist’s disposal and only one topic dominated the headlines this weekend: USC head coach Steve Sarkisian. For the uninitiated, Steve Sarkisian showed up at the Salute to Troy booster rally and upset the nation by saying “they all suck” about USC’s tough road schedule of Oregon, Arizona State, and Notre Dame and then followed that crime up with the unspeakable act of telling the crowd “get ready to fight the fuck on, baby. Let’s go!”
Can you believe the head coach of a major program would get a little saucy at a booster rally and placate the crowd? Can you believe anyone was drunk at a sports rally? The nation sure can’t. If you were to Google this story, the search results would turn up more fiery hot-takes than the time they cast Ben Affleck as Batman — for the record, that Batman movie is going to suck but that’s not really the purpose of this article.
The most intriguing component of these hot-takes would have to be the diversity among them. People need to be upset in a variety of different ways and this story was somehow able to satisfy a larger group of people than one might have initially expected. The internet is constantly looking for newer and more advanced methods of feigning their outrage, and this presented a golden opportunity for growth and development in this arena. This situation was tailor-made for outrage. Here you had a head coach checking all of the important boxes in the outrage column — he coached at a major university, alcohol was involved, it was a school event, and people posted video of the incident all over the internet to ensure it would go viral.
Sarkisian might have been able to get by with just an apology until that damning video evidence of the incident began to surface. After the video came to light and it wasn’t as bad as the mass-outrage crowd had been hoping, people had to shift their thinking and decide whether or not they were upset about the word “fuck” or the fact that Sarkisian added “they all suck” to the band’s chant of “sucks” following the mention of any other Pac-12 school. It was a tough decision for many people. After all, being upset over the word “fuck” is an easy stand to take; all you have to do is cite professionalism and people think they have you over a barrel.
Use of the famous “he needs to act like a professional” cop-out is apparently fair game for anybody working in any position at any company and at any time. This line is pretty standard for moral high-grounders and it certainly was a popular one this weekend. Haden needed to show more force, they say. He needed to demand more and set a standard, they said. How could such an action be allowed to take place at an event featuring boosters, families, and children?
This particular hot-take strikes all the right nerves in the reader, especially this powerful and gripping standalone sentence meant to emphasize that families and children were there as if parents don’t take their kids to Rated-R movies these days: “Shouldn’t the head coach be held to an even higher standard than any of his players or assistants? He is being paid millions of dollars and is the face of the program. If anyone’s public conduct should be above reproach, it is his.”
Yes, that’s the ticket. If anyone’s conduct should be above reproach, it’s a football coach. That’s a compelling argument from the same sport that allowed Art Briles to publicly support Sam Okwuachu while he stood trial for a sexual assault for which he was convicted. The additional commentary about the money he’s making is just the icing on the cake. It’s almost as if those millions of dollars paying his salary didn’t come from the hands of men who routinely dismiss other programs in conversation and drunkenly call coaches with their brilliant ideas. Should Sarkisian also not swear at open practices because and families and children might be present?
While it might not be a manifest function of a rally, getting drunk and socializing is most certainly a latent function of these types of events. Isn’t the purpose of a rally and a celebration to fire fans up? Is Sarkisian really the only major public figure to drink and swear at a rally? No. He’s not even the biggest name in Los Angeles to swear and drink at a sporting rally.
But that was a hockey game and Garcetti knew his audience, some will claim. What is the difference between a hockey crowd and a football crowd, exactly? Nothing. Both of these events featured drunk and non-drunk fans alike. Both of these events had coverage by the Daily News, but only one of them was looked down upon with disgust. You’ve gotta love the consistency in sports journalism.
As with the previously examined article, this piece uses of several very powerful emotional ploys. The highlight of the article is where the author draws upon former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s outburst. Context is important and the author does their very best to avoid any of it when driving their thesis home. Winston’s outburst did result in a suspension, as the author said. However, as the author only glossed over, Winston’s suspension was the result of several high profile incidents on and off the campus of Florida State. Had Winston’s lone offense been yelling vulgarities in a quad, it’s nearly impossible to imagine him being suspended for the game against Clemson.
The mention of Darryl Sydor and alcoholism in sports is a completely unneeded appeal to emotion. There is no room in responsible journalism for comparing a coach giving a brief drunken speech to a man driving under the influence with a child in the car. The leap in logic required to draw this parallel screams that the story had an agenda from the word go and that the author was going to use as many fallacious appeals to emotion as they could to drive their point home.
Does the nation have a blind spot to alcohol and sports? The evidence keeps piling up every, single day that it does, but the significant majority of those cases have several key elements that were completely missing from this story. Nobody was endangered like they were in the Sydor case. A sexual or physical assault on a female did not occur and wasn’t even close to occurring. A stream of racial epithets did not flow from Sarkisian’s mouth and he certainly didn’t issue homophobic or intolerant statements. The man dropped an F-bomb and said other schools suck at a rally designed to pump people up and get them going. One of these things is not like the other.
Rounding out the holy triumvirate of reasons to be pissy is the notion that Sarkisian is a stereotypical brat in Los Angeles. The author of this piece, Jim Weber, uses the rich idea of reinforcing negative stereotypes in an effort to show their moral superiority. It’s a well thought out plan of attack.
By using sweeping generalizations and citing one sentence from a fan-written blog, the author was able to showcase their journalistic talents and penchant for deep analysis. Thank god Weber was willing to let a little back and forth between coaches slide until Sarkisian took a job in a manner that didn’t jibe with him.
Then there’s the Josh Shaw claim made by Weber. It was nice of Weber to say it wasn’t Sark’s fault and then turn right around and claim that Sark deserves some of the blame for attempting to turn the whole thing into a publicity stunt. The only problem with that assertion is that USC media relations was responsible for approaching Shaw about getting ahead of the story.
This is a simple fact that the author could have researched in the LA Times, but why bother adding facts to a hot-take?
The phrases “whined like a baby” and “asked his daddy” further illustrate the author’s determination to maintain the professional integrity they’re so richly claiming is needed at USC. Much ado was also made about Sarkisian’s comments from Pac-12 Media Days, but these were also lacking important context. Since it would seem that sick burns and stats are the order of the day, here’s an important stat: the original source claiming that Sarkisian was taking a shot at Oregon took a 208-word, 1,107-character response and reduced it to an 18-word, 91-character long tweet with bonus information.
Perhaps there is substance to the idea that Sarkisian isn’t the right fit for USC. Perhaps Sarkisian will do something down the road that crosses a very clear line. Sarkisian has definitely shown immaturity as a head coach, but he’s far from the only USC coach to drink and talk to a crowd of people. That doesn’t mean what Sarkisian did on Saturday night was an award-winning idea. If it is generally a bad idea to drunk dial or drunk text, one would think that drunkenly grabbing a microphone is an even worse idea. This was one of those times where Sarkisian should have told those in charge that he was a little saucy and it may not be wise for him to speak.
Having said all of that, society needs to be intellectually honest about the problems facing college football. Concussion protocol and head trauma are a very real concern. Sexual assaults and domestic violence are part of a disturbing and growing trend of programs placing athletics before the safety of students. Academic scandals, fake classes, and the changing of grades is a growing and glaring problem for a sport claiming to be about academics first, athletics second. The list could go on and on, but those are but a few of the very real issues facing the sport and here we are still discussing Steve Sarkisian placating a drunken crowd at a rally for a football team.
Does anybody see a problem with this?