Thrill of Victory

James Franklin’s comments reveal more about the media than Franklin

In one of my other ventures, I run a website that covers Vanderbilt sports. Part of my job is to handle radio interviews and talk shows around the Southeast (and especially in Nashville) for the latest scoop on Vanderbilt. When my phone rings, I happily oblige.

My phone’s been ringing a lot lately: I did five different shows in four days between last Friday and Monday. No surprise: there’s been a lot to talk about. The VU baseball team may have been the hottest squad in the country for about six weeks until its elimination in the NCAA Tournament on Monday. Basketball stars Festus Ezeli, John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor should all be picked in the NBA draft at the end of the month. And being that we’re in the South, football is on people’s minds 12 months of the year.

Any of those topics alone could have been a reason for the sudden attention. In four of the five cases, none of those topics was the primary focus of the conversation. Mostly, people wanted to talk football coach James Franklin and his recent comments.

In case you were under a rock last week, Franklin appeared recently on 104.5 The Zone’s afternoon show with Blaine Bishop, Brent Dougherty and Clay Travis. The subject of recruiting came up, and Franklin made the following comment on how he judges assistants and their recruiting prowess:

“I’ve been saying it for a long time, I will not hire an assistant until I see his wife. If she looks the part and she’s a D1 recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. That’s part of the deal. There’s a very strong correlation between having the confidence, going up and talking to a woman, and being quick on your feet and having some personality and confidence and being articulate and confident, than it is walking into a high school and recruiting a kid and selling him.”

I was asked many times for my thoughts on the matter. If you didn’t hear me on the airwaves, let me sum them up in two words: who cares?

For argument’s sake, let’s climb into Franklin’s head and assume a worst-case scenario in which we take him literally. If so, Franklin is guilty of being… searching for the right word here… tacky, perhaps.

But only a little tacky. More tasteless things are said in the news every day. At the worst, it should be a footnote in the local newspaper – not national news, as it turned out to be.

Except that I don’t think that’s how Franklin meant it. The show’s trio has a great relationship with Franklin. It likes to keep things light-hearted in general. Franklin’s comment played off a remark from the hit movie Moneyball that was in theaters last year. In a scene from the movie, an Oakland As scout comments that he’s not interested in players with unattractive girlfriends. (“Ugly girlfriend means no confidence,” was the line.)

I find the whole ordeal to be incredibly boring discussion. But below the surface, there is something interesting there once you take a deeper look at how the media views “news.”

First, the media seems to have developed some sort of strange sense of morality whereby what you say, no matter what the context, is far more important than what you do. I first noticed this around the beginning of 2000 when there were two big off-the-field stories involving high-profile athletes that happened about a week apart.

The first involved Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker and some comments he made that went well-south of the line of good taste. The second matter was that of Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis and his obstruction of justice in a murder investigation.

I’m not going to go back and re-hash either incident or the politics behind them, nor do I endorse the behavior of either, but it always seemed curious the degree to which the media relentlessly pursued accountability for Rocker over his obnoxious (but mostly harmless) words, while targeting Lewis with much-less vigor.

A decade later, Jets quarterback Tim Tebow has become the poster child for this phenomenon. You’d be hard-pressed to find an athlete who does more nice things for people than Tebow, but there’s been a relentless obsession of picking apart Tebow’s every word or action.

Second, with regards to the Franklin incident, I think it’s reflective of a media that has changed its standards as to what is newsworthy. If you want to take the gloves off as the media did with Franklin and make turn-about fair play, perhaps the words “lazy” and “uncreative” are appropriate to describe those who make mountains out of molehills in this regard. (With the latter statement, I’m referring to the people who created the controversy and not the ones who asked for my reaction to it.)

There’s no shortage of stories involving things that really matter in sports. Somewhere is a lesser-profile Tebow doing good things for others in anonymity. In a darker corner, there’s a Jerry Sandusky doing things we’re rather not consider.

Those stories aside, it’s not hard to find news. The four major professional sports seasons seem to extend for eternity anyway, and drafts and free agency make for plenty of news even when there are no games. That’s not counting golf, tennis, racing, or whatever else suits your fancy. And thanks to satellite TV and the Internet, everything’s far more accessible than it’s ever been.

But for some reason, I can’t count the number of times I turn on sports talk radio to hear real news, only instead to hear about who did what on some reality TV show the night before, or how some athlete just broke up with some movie star. Was it always this way?

Looking back to my sports-obsessed adolescence two and three decades ago, I don’t think it was.

In today’s world, though, James Franklin’s comments are front-page news. But are we a better world for it?