Tony Woods and the Unfortunate Power of the Media

I had a conversation the other day with a good friend of mine about the developing "Tony Woods visits UK situation." -- This friend is a UK fan and has been since the early 1960's.  In a lot of ways we think alike when the conversation turns to Kentucky sports, although he's a bit more cynical than I would like to think I am -- Anyway, at the end of our mostly agreeable discussion on whether Woods would be a good fit for Kentucky due to his past arrest and eventual conviction (Woods pled guilty to a misdemeanor) on charges he struck the mother of his child, this question was posed: (paraphrasing) Is the 6'11"  Woods worth the potential (some might say, eventual) bad publicity for the Kentucky basketball program?  A program many in the media choose to rip at every opportunity (and mostly due to "opportunities" created out of razor thin air by the miscreants who call themselves sports writers/broadcasters).   

As one might ascertain, the gist of the discussion centered on the fact that Kentucky, and particularly the devil himself, John Calipari, have endured enough ugly ink over the last many months ... well actually, the bad ink has been freely flowing since Cal arrived at UK in April of 2009, putting the period of media unrest regarding Big Blue at over two-years now, with no end in sight.  Based partly on this fact (OK, mostly on this fact), my initial response to the question asked of me by my friend was "No, Woods is not worth the trouble."  My friend concurred with my opinion, which not surprisingly seems to be the prevailing feeling of the Big Blue Nation regarding the possibility of Woods donning the blue and white of Kentucky.

Then I began to really think about how absurd that line of reasoning is.  Have we come to the point where the media is dictating personnel decisions for the 'Cats?  Are we so concerned with the image of the program that we allow them -- the media -- to determine who is worthy of a second chance and who isn't?

Well, sports fans, allow me to let you in on the righteous truth: UK's image outside the borders of the Commonwealth is that of a school/fan base so desperate to win that we hired a known rogue, cheating, win-at-all-costs coach in John Calipari (aka the devil himself), reinforcing the long-held thought that what UK fans are concerned with is winning, regardless of the price tag, or how many NCAA by-laws must be fractured in order to attain the victories we've become so accustomed to witnessing.  We are a sad collection of basketball hooligans, foaming at the mouth and shoe-less, while we impatiently await the school's eighth national title.

Why is that UK's image?  Because that's how UK fans and UK basketball are portrayed by much of the media.  By virtue of omission, flat-out lies, half-truths, and personal vendetta-driven hog wash, the media, on a vast scale, have painted Kentucky basketball and Kentucky basketball fans as the lowest common denominator.  Why then do we allow that same media, and the same group of non-UK fans who already hold us in the lowest of esteem, to enter into the equation when it comes to deciding who we support as a 'Cat, and who we would rather see play elsewhere.

It was the media, after all, who first reported Tony Woods as being a back-breaker, literally (something that may not be true).  It was the media who first painted Tony Woods as an all-around bad guy who beat-up his girlfriend in front of their one-year old son (something that more than likely isn't true).  It was the media who jumped to conclusions based on (probably) a police report (perhaps the most potentially error-filled official document in the history of man, for a myriad of reasons.  Reasons ranging from incompetence, to the intent to mislead -- my sincere apologies to those honest, hard working police officers who protect and serve us all everyday).

Whatever the reason, the initial reports regarding the Woods incident were very likely incorrect, a potentiality eloquently pointed out in this Jason King article for Yahoo.com on Thursday.  Not unlike the press erroneously reporting James Brady being killed during the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt; not unlike the press erroneously reporting that US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was dead after being shot in Arizona in January of this year; not unlike the press erroneously reporting that Al Gore had won Florida in the 2000 presidential election; not unlike Rick Bozich of the Courier-Journal erroneously calling for Rich Brooks' head midway through Brooks' third season at UK; and not unlike the press erroneously portraying John Calipari as an all-around bad dude.  The media is many times wrong, either by intent, by incompetence, by embellishment, or by accident.

So really, who cares what they -- the media -- think, or those fans of other schools who are predisposed to dislike UK, UK fans, and the seven banners hanging from Rupp's rafters (which is what UofL fans should have been thinking when it looked as if Woods was going to be a Card ... only they have only two banners, not seven).  The decision to offer Woods a basketball scholarship to Kentucky, and therefore a second chance, lies with the evaluation conducted by, and the conclusions made by John Calipari.

If Cal thinks Woods has been unfairly portrayed by the media and is deserving of a second chance, and, can help his ball club, then I see no reason why the young man should not be offered.  If Cal thinks otherwise, he should take a pass on offering the big man.  It's really that simple.  And it's not as if college basketball and football programs don't take chances on players.  It happens all the time.  At UK, Rick Pitino took a chance on Antoine Walker (that worked out pretty well for all involved), Tubby Smith took a chance on Rashaad Carruth (that didn't work out too well), and Gerald Fitch (that worked out pretty well for all involved), and John Calipari took a chance on DeMarcus Cousins (that worked out pretty well for all involved), and at Memphis, Cal took a chance on reinstating Jeremy Hunt who was arrested for domestic violence while at Memphis (that worked out pretty well for all involved).   Those players didn't have convictions on their records (save Hunt), but they all demonstrated less-than-solid decision-making during their high school careers (or in Hunt's case, as a college athlete). 

The lesson here, at least in my view, is to not be concerned with what those who have always despised Kentucky think about UK basketball, because it just doesn't matter.  And finally, believe and trust in the decision-making of your coach, until he gives us reason to do otherwise.  

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!

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