The Old Media has officially jumped the shark, and not for the first time. Yesterday, the Chicago Sun-Times published a rumor sourced to Nation of Blue that Anthony Davis would commit to Kentucky, and an unsourced rumor that Anthony Davis had committed to the University of Kentucky in return for a payment of $200,000.
Yes, you read that right. A big-city newspaper actually reported on one of its sites an unsourced rumor that UK paid $200,000 to get the commitment of Anthony Davis. Naturally, the University sent the newspaper a letter informing them of their intention to take immediate legal action (Read: sue them into abject poverty) unless they promptly withdrew the article, which the Sun-Times immediately did, but without providing a notice of the change or an apology for the egregious failure of its editorial staff.
Rather than regurgitate the sordid details of what happened, it's both easier and more appropriate to send you to some sites where you can read about what happened for yourself. Check out these links before reading the rest:
- Nation of Blue
- Kentucky Sports Radio
- The Dagger (Yahoo!)
- Chicago Breaking Sports
As you might expect, I have a few comments on this story, and the coverage of it, after the jump.
The first question that comes to my mind in this whole scenario is this: Is this what we've come to?
It is shocking to see a major newspaper make an allegation like this, particularly in the 9th paragraph of the article. I don't want to be guilty of massive understatement here, but the University of Kentucky or any of its employees paying $200,000 for any recruit is not just big news, it is earth-shaking. It is the kind of scandal that every sports journalist and opinion writer lives for -- the stories and follow-ups literally write themselves. Combine that with John Calipari's bad reputation, as undeserved as I believe it is, and you have the equivalent of DEFCON-1 in college basketball.
But this writer was either so inept, or so determined to try to sneak an accusation out there, that he buried this passage all the way down near the bottom of the article:
The rumors/sources that have Davis choosing Kentucky are also alleging that the commitment cost $200,000. Davis Sr. has flat out denied everything.
While some blogs (certainly not this one) could write comments like this and receive a bunch of hits at the cost of rebukes dripping with scorn from their peers, when something like this appears on the Internet under the imprimatur of a newspaper, it carries the force of a thunderbolt. Despite being condemned by respectable sportswriters and immediately removed from the website, the Sun-Times has not formally retracted the story, nor, as far as I have been able to determine, apologized to the University of Kentucky or Anthony Davis, the two actors who were ostensibly defamed by the inexcusable publication of this rumor.
Here's a taste of sports media reaction from SI.com's Seth Davis, but the other major writers and outlets have reacted in a substantially similar way:
Chi Sun-Times posted, yes, idiotic rumor that John Calipari was trying to pay recruit 200k. Journalism isn't dying, it's committing suicide.
I am sure that UK will pursue this matter to its satisfaction. Some might say that the best course is to let it quietly die, but in my opinion, they need to aggressively pursue a remedy, not just an edit. By remedy, I mean a public apology and admission of failure or a court date. This is the kind of perception that Kentucky needs not just to reject, but to attack with prejudice. But that's just my opinion, and I don't sign the checks that pay the legal bills at UK. One might also reasonably ask if that were the best use of athletic department dollars, and a dispassionate, logical evaluation might well conclude it is not.
Unfortunately, it is now my duty to take my friend and colleague Andrew Sharp to task. Andrew has a piece up on this debacle at the SB Nation mothership, and makes some worthy comments which should be read. But then he brings us this:
But whether he took money or not is beside the point. Some kids definitely took money this summer, just like they do every summer in college sports, and just like they always will. Which brings me back to the point about journalistic ethics raised by Goodman and Decourcy.
It's fine for them to question the report's accuracy, but spare me the sanctimony.
With all due respect, this simply misses the point on many levels. The story here is not about corruption, it is about a failure of journalism and the damage to the reputation of the University of Kentucky and Anthony Davis. That is the story. Corruption in college basketball is certainly a story worthy of attention and strong opinions, but conflating the two has the effect of adding credence to this rumor, which in my judgment book is not the right thing to do.
Corruption has always been present in college sports. Nobody knows this better than fans of the University of Kentucky. It is, in the opinion of your humble correspondent, still present in college sports as evidenced by the Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo scandals, among others. Kentucky has contributed more than it's fair share to the detriment of college sports, a fact of which none of us are proud.
But the story here has nothing to do with that, and conflating the two related but distinct stories makes Andrew's article read like Dan Rather's infamous "Fake but accurate" comment. The rumor has no basis in reality or logic, and fails the smell test. I wish Andrew had simply written two articles here and spared me the necessity of this criticism.
Unfortunately, we are just going to have to deal with it the best way we can. I confess, when John Calipari came to Kentucky, I expected to be able to get better recruits. I did not expect this. What is happening now is unprecedented, and Calipari is getting almost anyone he wants, even if Davis does not wind up in Blue and White.
Just as Andrew is sure that corruption is going on in college basketball, I am sure that these competitive guys coaching teams vying for the top recruits are not going to stand idly by and allow John Calipari to have his pick of the litter every year. They will respond, some by hook and, in my opinion, some by crook. This isn't a rumor, it is a straight-line logical deduction. If coaches are "dirty" enough to pay players, as Andrew implies, engaging in character assassination and rumor-mongering is hardly a stretch.
UPDATE: Anthony Wireman has thoughts. I am in total agreement.