Calling all Coaches: We Need Some Integrity
Having had a few weeks to digest the recent events of Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy’s press conference, I have found myself contemplating what exactly it takes to make a successful coach. Truth be told, wins are the bottom line in most instances. From winning percentages to points per game, the football fans of today care about one thing above all else: the scoreboard.
Yes, wins are great, even euphoric, depending on the opponent and the frenzy of that particular college football town. They are a source of pride, of bragging rights in the office on Monday mornings, of spur of the moment phone calls to fellow alumni that you haven’t spoken to in years to discuss the events of Saturday’s play by play recalls. But there is more, isn’t there? Isn’t there something beyond the final tally of touchdowns, field goals, safeties and extra points? Something beyond the win-lose statistics of the top 25 teams? There is and it is something that is often overlooked, something sometimes mistaken as weakness, as frivolous, as unnecessary. That something is integrity.
I am a huge college football fan, almost obsessive. I pour over scores, stats, and profiles of the top players and teams. I wear my jersey every game day, even when we are having a losing season. I read a ridiculous amount of blog posts on games and I watch highlight reels for hours on end. I love talking about these facts and figures with colleagues, friends, and my husband. I scream at the field when the quarterback fumbles the snap or when the wide receiver drops the pass that hit him right in the hands. I cheer when the up and coming running back finds a hole midfield and runs like the wind, when the new defensive lineman gets his first sack, when the ref finally calls the pass interference that puts us at first and goal. It’s bloody fantastic. But there is still more.
I love college football, but I hate “hot dog” players. You know the type: trash talking, whining every time they get called for something they were obviously doing wrong, the ones who will push and shove and start a scrum because they think their way is law. The ones who flick off the crowd, who slouch during press conferences, who flash gang signs in photographs. Give me a break. Play the game.
The antitheses of these hot shots are the gentlemen of the game. The ones who make the big plays, pick themselves up, and jump to the line ready to carry out business as usual. The ones who celebrate the touchdowns without getting ridiculous. The ones who thank the reporters after an interview following a particularly tough game where they lost. Those are the players I love to watch. Not the ones who are getting nailed off the field for breaking the law, thinking they can get away with it just because they know how to play football. The ones with integrity are the ones I stay up late to watch during the fourth quarter even though the outcome may be crystal clear and the ones whose names grace the headlines in the articles that I will read.
The integrity of the game is getting lost more and more as we continue to see stories on players in trouble with the law, coaches who bend the rules to get a win, schools looking the other way to play favorites to those who can put points on the board rather than showing them they can’t get away with less than admirable behavior. I’m reminiscent of coaches like Lou Holtz who reprimanded his players for dancing in the end zone, insisting that they act “like we’ve been there before.” Coaches like Joe Paterno who made his team clean up after football games following an off the field scuffle involving some of his players. Coaches that believe that standing up for the right thing is more important than a winning record all the time. And coaches who inspire their players to rise above the muck. Coaches like Mike Gundy.
Gundy feverishly defended one of his quarterbacks following a rather scalding article in The Oklahoman, saying that attacking one of his players was a low blow to the young man who “has done everything right.” The author in question ripped into Bobby Reid’s character asking questions like “Does he have the fire in his belly? Or does he want to be coddled, babied, perhaps even fed chicken?” Give me a break.
Is the news really that slow that you have to attack an 18-22 year old kid with mindless observations during a particularly tough time? That you have to kick him while he’s down? Is it not enough that he lost his place on the roster because he couldn’t get the job done? You show up on the line and try to pull out a victory every Saturday with screaming fans who are foaming at the mouth for a winning record and let me know how it feels. I know I can’t do it, so I respect those that can do it, or at least make the effort to do so.
As a mother and an avid sports fan, I respect and commend coaches like Mike Gundy who have enough courage to stand up to the status quo of today’s media frenzies to refute ridiculous allegations and bring the focus to what it should be: performance on the field. Hiding behind “anonymous sources” to sling mud at a young kid is merely a way to sell more papers and increase distribution. The news is meant to be controversial, thought-provoking, and incendiary. If it bleeds, it leads, right? But Mike Gundy took on the multi-headed monster and used the media to promote his own voice. Yes, he has opened up himself to yet another onslaught of attacks calling him “crazy,” “a lunatic,” and his speech has been coined as a “rant.” Seriously? If Reid were my kid, Gundy had better be in front of the mic defending him. If he had, say, robbed a bank or solicited a prostitute, okay. No defending needed. But this crosses a line.
Having said this, I grew up in a media family. My father is a news man to the core and he always taught me the fair way to approach a news story: from both sides and with all the facts. Slinging mud doesn’t get the job done. Yes, it was an editorial. Yes, the author has every right to say whatever they want. But as I learned in junior high social studies, the right to swing your first stops at the other person’s nose. Translation? You don’t need to hurt others to make your point. Have some class, some character. Start the conversations, make people talk about your story. But take some points from Gundy and have some integrity. Making ridiculous assertions is below the belt.
I realize it may sound as I am doing the one thing that I have been standing against in this article. But I am not attacking the author’s personal life. I’m not even mentioning their name. There’s no need to sink that low. I am, however, proud of Mike Gundy. When my kids play sports, I want coaches like that for them. When I coach their teams, that’s the kind of coach I want to be. Hats off to Mike Gundy. Keep speaking up. It’s never crowded along the high road.
by Angela Moore