Posted September 13, 2013

Steve Spurrier and The State, coaches and reporters, and a few words on foils

Coaches Doing Things, Steve Spurrier
Steve Spurrier

Steve Spurrier was involved in a conflict with a columnist from The State. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Coaches wouldn’t be as testy if reporters didn’t prod them. Reporters wouldn’t have stories without the coaches they follow. Since everything is cyclical (even college football), the battle between coaches and journalists is back in season. In fact, it’s seemingly everywhere: Florida’s Will Muschamp called out writers for using anonymous sources; South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier got The State columnist Ron Morris removed from the Gamecocks’ beat before the paper reconsidered; The Advocate has chosen not to cover a local team at all; and Nick Saban is still, well, Nick Saban.

It’s not as if the concept of foils is particularly new. Readers need only to look to the history of drama to find some of the greats. Without Othello, there’s no Iago. There would be no need for Antonio if there weren’t a Shylock. No Scully, no Mulder. (Okay, so that last one isn’t exactly Shakespearean, but don’t tell that to Grantland’s Brian Phillips.)

When coaches clash with the men hired to cover them, it’s entertaining, to be sure. Still, when that tension spills out into headlines and columns, does it serve any purpose? This is never going to be a completely happy marriage. Nobody wants to read a story titled, “Report: Head coach content with beat writer” or “Beat writer says coach guy is doing a great job.” But by publicizing coach and reporter conflicts — excluding cases in which someone’s job is threatened — is anybody really achieving anything?

Recently, Tomas Rios wrote about the history of hot takes, those columns filled with one-word paragraphs, hyperbolic language and full-on polarizing opinions. They’re not designed to posit questions and allow for rational dialogue; they’re in place to embrace debate and watch as people file into Camp 1 or Camp 2. These days, it’s the job many writers think they’re supposed to do.

Is Tim Tebow secretly a mole person? Does Yasiel Puig need bifocals? Should Bret Bielema be forced to coach on the moon? The hypotheses are laughable, but they generate clicks. Somewhere along the way, it was decided that traffic equals success. Otherwise, questions like “Is Johnny Manziel the next Rosa Parks?” would never fly.

This is the reason I often struggle to provide my opinion. I don’t see it as a right. There are always mitigating factors beyond our control, and things are never as simple as fact versus faith. Views shift. Sports are fluid. Coaches change. Players rise and fall just as all people do.

When we decided fables and legends were boring and laughable, we started to criticize everything and take a deconstructive lens. That leads to remarkable discovery at times; dismantling something piece by piece allows us to see what is truly inside. But the mindset has consequences.

Perhaps inevitably, it leads to people wanting to see things as either black and white, right or wrong. Which leads us back to the very nature of foils.

Postmodern protagonists aren’t easily digestible. It’s much simpler to craft a narrative with a clear anthesis, especially in sports, in which the clear-cut winner or loser label is seemingly ubiquitous. But take a step back: Magnetic repulsion is extremely powerful, especially when dealing with men at a podium.

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