State of the Hogs: Quitting?

Tyler Wilson

The reporter went sensational in the Sporting News. But he would have been better served to use a little judgment and provide some balance.

It's the magic word in sports -- quitting. It raises eyebrows, turns heads and raises the blood pressure of everyone. There's not another word that can evoke the same kind of passion.

The post-game interviews are sometimes spiced with comments about the other team quitting, or their own team quitting. When it happens, it jumps to the headlines or leads.

I passed on that chance in the aftermath of the LSU-Arkansas game that ended a dysfunctional 4-8 Razorback season. I'd seen enough and heard enough weird stuff from the previous eight months.

But I did hear something from Paul Petrino outside the interview room in the Broyles Center to raise eyebrows. I used a bit of it in my column on the game that night, I just didn't sensationalize it the way Steve Greenberg of Sporting News did this week after talking to Petrino, then calling both John L. Smith and Paul Haynes. Those are the key figures in his story that suggested Arkansas players quit last season.

Well, in an interview with Bo Mattingly's Sports Talk radio show Thursday, I got a chance to question Greenberg. He admitted that Petrino and the other coaches also admitted they were to blame for what happened last season. And he chose not to write those thoughts or comments.

No, he went right for the "quit" angle and acted surprised that the headline writer for the website went so heavy with that point in the headline. Really? Then why didn't he write the rest of it, give the story the kind of balance that he added in the interview with Bo and myself?

That's not what those guys do. I think balance is required in sports reporting. It's what I was taught. Balance is the key for Bret Bielema's offense and it should be required from today's journalist. It's hardly there, kind of like SEC offenses.

I got some interesting thoughts from Petrino after the LSU game. The central part of my story was that Tyler Wilson and Cobi Hamilton both played that Friday with injuries. Wilson played hurt all year. So did Hamilton. Wilson had a hip bruise that plagued him for the second half of the season. It was so painful after practice Wednesday night that he had to have over one quart of blood drained Thursday morning.

Petrino said there was no doubt in his mind that Wilson would play. He said others played through injuries during the season and some fought back. Knile Davis is a case in point here, after coming back after a hamstring pull.

But Petrino suggested that maybe some didn't fight back when they could have. But he admitted he wasn't absolutely sure. Perhaps he was talking about only one or two players. That was the idea that I got from the conversation. That bothered him some. He didn't use the "quit" word, but he did hint that NFL futures might have played a role in their decision to give in to injuries.

I didn't go heavy on it because I didn't believe it to be the main story of the game. That was my judgment call, based on the rest of the conversation and the thought that players did fight and that the 99 percent should dictate tone of the story, not the 1 percent.

The sad part of Greenberg's headline and story is that it convicts almost all of the Arkansas players. It isn't that a couple might have decided to give in to injuries and not come back, but that the team quit. The emphasis is just wrong and there is no balance in the commentary. It's typical of 2013 journalism and it's a sad commentary on where our business has gone.

Greenberg said he wished the headline had been different. How could it have been? It matched the story. He said he wished he would have had more from Petrino that he blamed himself for some of the problems. Well, that isn't what Greenberg set out to do. He wanted a sensational story and he got it. He wasn't going after it, he said. He was just calling first-year head coaches to introduce them on the website and their programs. He set off a different direction when Petrino gave him the first quotes in that story.

But I don't just blame the reporter. I think Petrino, Haynes and Smith also made clear errors in judgment in the way they conducted the interviews. They pointed the finger, just what they told players not to do starting with the loss to Louisiana-Monroe and again after Alabama and Texas A&M.

They showed a lack of leadership and smarts. I wonder what their new athletic directors think about their judgment now? I'm guessing they are shaking their heads in disgust.

I have a 32-year-old daughter who understands sports. She played college soccer in a scholarship program that produced strong teams in the Lone Star Conference. They competed at a high level, fighting intensely to the last game of the conference tournament in her senior year. She gave me this last night:

"The only time I ever thought my teammates ever quit was when the coaches quit."

She said you'd know it quickly when the coaches quit, too. You'd know it in meetings, in the locker room and on the playing field. It would rock the team, she said. Players figured it out in a heart beat.

I'm sure that if any of these Arkansas players quit, it started at the top. And, when those at the top point to the players, they are masking something else. I'm not suggesting that. I don't have to go there. I think everyone can get there without any help from me or Steve Greenberg.

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