Dakota State University football coach Josh Anderson is unhappy with Oregon freelancer Nigel Duara's portrayal of his program and his community. Actually, nobody should be happy with how they appear in Duara's SBNation.com exposé on NAIA football. Duara makes Anderson sound like he tricked Robert Johnson and other out-state transplants with unkept promises. He makes Johnson sound like a liar. He makes Johnson and other ineligibles sound like lazy bums who arrogantly presume to know more than their coaches. He makes the DSU athletic department sound like a welfare queen counting on Medicaid to pay for health care for the young men it breaks in the pursuit of fleeting sports glory. He makes Madison sound like a Hicksville that doesn't support college football. And he makes NAIA football sound like a pay-for-play racket filled with deluded underachievers on the field and in the classroom.
Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
Coach Anderson appears to have reason to feel betrayed by Duara. He tells Madison sports beater Larry Leeds that Duara misrepresented his intent in writing about DSU football:
What Anderson thought would be a positive piece for Madison became an online rant about a small Midwestern town and the allegedly unmet expectations of a California athlete.
"It is my fault because I took a man for his word when I was told there was a desire to do a 'feel good' story about a young man (Robert Johnson) from California who went to junior college and then came to DSU to do good for himself [Larry Leeds, "Website Story Criticizes DSU; Anderson Sets It Straight About Football Recruit, Program," Madison Daily Leader, 2014.12.26].
Anderson says Duara misrepresents Johnson and his situation. Anderson says Johnson simply didn't meet the staggeringly low eligibility requirements to play NAIA ball:
Students coming out of high school need to meet two of three qualifications to play at the NAIA level. They need an 18 or better score on their ACT or an equivalent score on their SAT; a 2.0 or higher GPA; and must graduate in the top 50 percent of their class.
The only thing Johnson was offered by DSU was a scholarship upon becoming eligible.
"Our football staff and academic administration did all we could do to help Robert pass some tests to help him gain credits which would make him gain eligibility last fall," Anderson said. "Unfortunately, things didn't work out the way we all had hoped, but it was not for a lack of effort on anybody's part, especially Robert's" [Leeds, 2014.12.26].
Um, Coach Anderson? I appreciate your generous words as a coach in defense of your player, even an ineligible player whose comments gave a reporter fodder for some bad press. But let me speak as a teacher: not being able to meet two of the three academic criteria listed above is almost always a result of someone's lack of effort.
Coach Anderson challenges the picture Duara paints of a town not supporting college football. Anderson highlights the meals churches and businesses provide his players, the reinstated Trojan Parent program, and the service projects through which his team repays the community. "The entire town of Madison is nothing but supportive to DSU and Trojan football," Anderson tells Leeds.
Anderson's "entire" perhaps overstates things. Duara does find one local entrepreneur, Beth Klingbile, owner of Gary's Bakery, whom he gets to almost talk smack about DSU athletics:
But not everyone is receptive, like main street cafe co-owner Beth Klingbile. She should fit the profile of a school booster: A cheery local business owner who graduated from Dakota State and stayed in town. But when the topic of Dakota State athletics comes up, Klingbile's smile is a little less certain.
"Yes, they come and ask for donations," said Klingbile. "But that's the only time I see them."
Have you ever given them money?
She shakes her head [Nigel Duara, "An Honest Game," SBNation.com, 2014.12.17].
Duara imputes to baker Klingbile a "less certain" smile and a lack of financial support. Take Duara at his word (and as Anderson says, we should do so with caution), and we have one person to undercut Anderson's claim to entirety. But Duara doesn't balance the brief slice of his Klingbile conversation with an interview discussing the substance of support—the team meals, the Trojan Parent adoptions—with any of DSU boosters. He squirts ink mocking booster and Dairy Queen owner DeLon Mork's name and alleged accent, but he doesn't ask Mork about the specific actions through which he supports the football team of his alma mater.
Anderson may exaggerate just a touch when he says the "entire" town supports DSU football, but Anderson isn't a journalist. He's the leader and principal advocate for his program. He's doing his job. Journalist Duara is not.
(Speaking of balance, Leeds speaks to no one but Anderson for his response to Duara. He does not interview Johnson. He does not get comment from Duara. Maybe Leeds is offering a sort of blogospheric balance: Duara peddles his bias, Leeds gives the local retort, we read both and make our own call.)
That said, Coach Anderson doesn't entirely understand the job of a journalist:
Since time has passed since he first read Duara's posting, Anderson has realized that he is not mad at the author, just really disappointed with himself.
"What I learned, and what I would like others to learn from my mistake, is that I should have had the author sign a disclaimer allowing me to approve the article before anything was allowed to be published or posted," he said. "What is done is done, but I will not make that mistake again" [Leeds, 2014.12.26].
Again, Anderson gets carried away in absolutes. I'm just a blogger (darn right you are! I can hear Duara and Anderson growling at their screens), but I have never had an interviewee hand me any sort of written contract and demand my signature before we proceed with an interview. I've certainly had conversations with sources about what's on the record and what's off. I've checked back with sources to make sure I've gotten what they told me right. But I've never given—and I doubt other journalists give—anyone I've talked to prior restraint over entire articles.
Coach Anderson, did you require Larry Leeds to sign a disclaimer before publishing his interview with you?
Anderson will likely have a hard time sticking with his disclaimer/prior restraint vow. The PR side of his job requires that he share his thoughts pretty freely with the local press. Maybe he can maintain the traditional neighborly agreement with the Daily Leader's sports reporter, but I suspect he's going to have a hard time getting a written contract from every reporter who happens to ask him for a comment on the prospects for next season.
Perhaps Larry Leeds has already reminded Coach Anderson of the proper role of journalists, over coffee at Dairy Queen. Don't overstate your case, Coach—you don't need to resort to your own exaggerations and absolutes to properly point out that Duara dinged your program and your town with sloppy, axe-grinding journalism.