The dismissal of Scott Frost after his loss to Georgia Southern was far from a surprise. Indeed, it seemed like a relief, with interim head coach Mickey Joseph now getting a nine-game audition for the job.
Even with such a monumental change at the heart of the Nebraska program, it was hard to come up with anything new to say about it. A smart and particularly handsome analyst talked about the potential for Frost’s failure before his tenure started, and how the commitment of the fanbase would be part of Nebraska recovering.
Ironically, it’s the dark side of that fanbase’s passion that has created a new controversy after Frost’s firing. Mike’l Severe, a fixture in the local sports media, was featured on a video from Hurrdat Sports talking about how the firing was about more than wins and losses.
“[Athletic Director Trev Alberts] can’t talk about his head coach being late for practice every day. He can’t talk about his head coach not making recruiting phone calls.”
Damon Benning, on 1620 The Zone’s “Sharp and Benning” show, had more to say on Severe’s comments, and more broadly on whether local sports media should be really be covering the bad things that are happening behind the scenes at the beloved football program.
To summarize, Benning quotes the famous “you can’t handle the truth” line from “A Few Good Men” in saying that Nebraska fans were neither interested in nor able to handle negative reporting about their team or the coaching staff. Benning’s perspective, echoed by co-host Gary Sharp, was that reporting about problems within the program would just be met with criticism and anger. The deluge of calls, e-mails, and tweets to “quit being negative” and “just support the program” would be, in their words, exhausting.
And I get that! There’s a portion of the fanbase – a vocal one, to be sure – that just wants the sunshine pumped for Dear Old Nebraska U. Any member of the media who is perceived as being critical of or challenging the current coach gets labeled as “disloyal” or “negative” or (what might be my least favorite word in the English language) a “hater.”
Just as Dirk Chatelain, or Sam McKewon, or Mitch Sherman, or anyone who has pushed back on the company line or asked tough questions what their inbox and Twitter mentions have looked like.
But that really raises a bigger question as to what the point of having an independent media is in the first place. Let’s presume for a moment that Severe’s allegations are true. If that was actually happening, wouldn’t it have been better for the program for it to come into the light, so the problem could have been addressed – one way or the other – before the program unraveled as spectacularly as it has?
Now let’s be clear. I’m not talking about rumor-mongering. The internet is full of salacious stories and rumors of all the goings-on within the Nebraska football program. Repeating rumors and amplifying them with a large platform would be incredibly irresponsible and inappropriate for the local media.
If that’s what Benning was talking about – hearing rumors but not spreading them – I’m with him all the way. But that wasn’t the impression I got. What it sounded to me is like there were knowable, reportable things happening, and a choice was being made to not report them because the Nebraska fanbase “can’t handle the truth.”
Remember, though, that famous line in the movie was from Colonel Nathan Jessup – the villain of the movie. And trying to suppress the “truth” that Jessup was so sure we couldn’t handle was going to result in an innocent man going to jail.
I get not wanting to deal with that vocal portion of the fanbase that gets upset at anyone being a “hater.” But if that vocal portion of the fanbase is given a heckler’s veto to stop truthful, factual reporting on problems within the program, then any problems hidden behind closed doors will just continue to fester.
The purpose of journalism is to speak truth to power. Sports journalists who require ongoing access to the team they cover – and thus staying in the good graces of that team’s administration – are presented with all kinds of challenges and ethical quandaries.
But that doesn’t change the fact that no one ultimately benefits if the heckler’s veto stops us all from finding out if there are problems within the walls of the program we love. If Severe’s story is to be believed – that off-the-field problems were at least at part to blame for Nebraska’s mystifying inability to win close games – then failing to report on those did nothing but prolong the agony of Nebraska fans everywhere.