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Jenni Carlson, a columnist for The Oklahoman

Good for the goose

Media | Sports columnists love to dish it out but feign moral outrage when a coach fires back

Issue: "Preach it," Oct. 6, 2007

A thick gaggle of sports media crowded into a post-game press conference at Boone Pickens Stadium Sept. 22 ready to record verbal euphoria on the heels of Oklahoma State's 49-45 victory over Texas Tech in its Big 12 conference opener. But Cowboys coach Mike Gundy wasn't interested in talking football-nor could his mood be labeled euphoric.

The second-year head man held up a copy of the Daily Oklahoman and pronounced with seething rage that columnist Jenni Carlson had overstepped the bounds of decency: "It's garbage, and the editor who let it come out is garbage," Gundy fumed, directing his tirade at Carlson as she stood silently amid the crowd.

At issue was an article in which Carlson impugned the toughness, composure, and attitude of OSU quarterback Bobby Reid. She recounted witnessing Reid's mother feed the 21-year-old athlete chicken outside team buses after a recent game, and used the incident to support unsubstantiated conjecture about why OSU coaches might have benched Reid a week earlier.

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The article also cited "rumors and rumblings" and "stories told on the sly" to charge Reid with failing to play through minor nicks, threatening to leave the program when faced with competition for his starting spot, and not caring whether the team won or lost.

Gundy denounced those unsupported claims as "fiction" and tore into Carlson for downgrading an athlete "who does everything right and may not play as well on Saturday." The enraged coach defended Reid's character and said his player did not deserve getting kicked when he's down: "If you want to go after an athlete, one of my athletes, you go after one that doesn't do the right things."

That impassioned response won Gundy respect among players and endeared him to media critics fed up with overzealous scrutiny of college athletes. But the greater sports media closed ranks around one of its own and chastised Gundy for daring to disparage a journalist.

CBS Sportsline senior writer Dennis Dodd wrote that "Gundy needs to be reprimanded, definitely suspended, probably fined and maybe fired." Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Slezak opined that Gundy would never have reacted the same way had a male reporter written the story. She presumed to know the coach's true motivation for the rant, suggesting that he was really thinking, "How dare that bitch criticize one of my players. She shouldn't be writing about football. She should be home making babies."

The Football Writers Association of America and The Association for Women in Sports Media also piled on, calling the outburst "unprofessional" and "completely inappropriate." FWAA president Mike Griffith scolded Gundy for displaying "a lack of respect for the media"-never mind whether Carlson disrespected Reid.

In the days following the incident, Gundy ignored such vicious media reaction, standing by his initial remarks and declining to comment further. But some of his fellow college coaches stood up for their embattled colleague. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops told reporters, "Everybody has a remark on everything we do, and that's OK. As soon as a coach has an opinion on what any of you do, then you can't do that. I don't know why that would be. We're entitled to our opinions as well."

Thanks to the video-sharing website YouTube, much of America can form an opinion, too. Hundreds of thousands of internet users have viewed Gundy's blowup, many applauding the coach in their online comments.

In response, Carlson and her editors have created their own YouTube video, showing no remorse and challenging Gundy to prove that the article contains inaccuracies. Carlson likewise appeared on Good Morning America to defend the truth of her story-apparently unaware that Gundy's main beef was with her opinions, not her facts.

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