Jeff Pearlman

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On Oklahoma State

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 11.34.53 AMI have waited to write about the whole Sports Illustrated-Oklahoma State-Thayer Evans thing because—frankly—I wanted to think about it. To really think about it. Too often these days, we’re asked to have a take ASAP. We need to respond immediately; to opine decisively; to declare something big and bold and shocking on the spot; in the spur of the moment.

Too often, however, this results in buffoonery.

Wait. Before I go there, a bit about Thayer Evans and reporting …

I don’t know Thayer Evans. We’ve never met, never spoken. In fact, before a couple of days ago I’m not sure I’d ever heard of the man. Is he a good reporter? A shady reporter? Does he love Oklahoma and hate Oklahoma State? Could he care less? I just don’t know—and, I’m quite certain, most other don’t know, either.

Here’s what I do know: Much of the criticism of his reporting methodology has been—on the surface—bunk. There’s this idea out there that, in order to properly and rightly report a story, one needs to interview a select group of people—generally the stars and head coach. If you don’t speak with them, the logic goes, you’re interviewing the wrong folk.

This is crap.

Without fail, stars and head coaches are almost always the worst interviews/sources. Why? Multiple reasons: A. They’re the ones who benefited most from the team/program. The head coach of Oklahoma State was paid big money to guide a high-exposure program. He had endorsement deals, contractual perks, etc … etc. Unless he was ultimately screwed, there is, literally, zero reason for him to speak. Stars can be grouped in the same category. You’re Brandon Weeden. You were the starting quarterback at Oklahoma State; that ultimately led you to the NFL. What, exactly, are you going to complain about? Who are you going to rat out?

Along those lines, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—wrong with interviewing, quoting and relying upon former players who have reasons to be unhappy with Oklahoma State. Why? Because everyone has a motivation. Just as Weeden is surely going to be thrilled by his time with the Cowboys, the frustrated transfer is going to be, well, frustrated. That does not mean his story doesn’t count; or that his information isn’t legitimate; or that he’s going to go out of his way to lie. Earlier this year I wrote about my time at Manhattanville College, and being booted as the student newspaper’s adviser. Does this therefore mean I’m going to slam everyone at the college? That I’m a disgruntled ex-employee who wants to burn the place down? Absolutely not.

The job of a reporter (and it ain’t easy) is figuring out whose information is correct, and whose is not. It’s about feeling comfortable with sources; about having other people vouch for a source’s words and/or character. Ultimately, it’s a judgement call. Not knowing Thayer Evans, I can’t speak for his judgement in this area. However, bashing him for speaking with Oklahoma State exiles is, well, naive. Find me a strong reporter who hasn’t tracked down a disgruntled ex-employee/player/whatever, and I’ll find you someone who’s not, actually, a strong reporter. Ultimately, the goal is to interview everyone—happy, unhappy, successful, failure—and piece together your final project.

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 11.32.56 AMThe thing that puzzles me—that has always puzzled me—is the brainless craziness that is college football. Whether Thayer Evans’ reporting was flawed or perfect, clearly Oklahoma State did some very bad things. This is obvious, and a fact no one seems to be denying. And yet … why don’t school loyalists care? We’re talking about 19-, 20-, 21-, 22-year-old (so-called) student-athletes once again being treated as pieces of meat. They’re models for uniforms, dollar signs for endorsement deals, images to place on the cover of university literature … and, rarely, actually people.

I hear college football die-hards speak of their teams as “we”—we need to run the ball better; we need to come out strong against Oregon. This, of course, is ludicrous. These are often kids with flimsy academic credentials, being asked to carry a full course load while also practicing X hours per day, flying X miles across the country, missing X class and X class and X class. They would struggle to maintain a 2.0 average if they were solely enrolled in school (minus sports)—and yet, we pretend all is OK and groovy and grand. We dress them up in our school colors, roll out the balls and cheer away. Then, seven or eight years later, when we see X player living in his mother’s house, barely able to read, 44 credits shy of a college diploma, we shrug. Shit happens.

If you love Oklahoma State, shouldn’t you be furious? Not at the reporter or the magazine, but the school and the athletic department and the football program? Shouldn’t you be demanding a clean system; a desire for all-around excellence; a chance for your guys to wind up as successes in business, not just a meaningless game against Baylor? Shouldn’t you demand to hear the truth from your university? Aren’t there better questions to ask than, “Why does Thayer Evans hate us so much?”

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 11.32.56 AMI’m a Jason Whitlock fan. I truly am. I thought his commentary on the Don Imus-Rutgers stuff was outstanding. His gun stuff was equally top shelf. He’s written some wonderful stuff through the years; some columns that I’ve read more than once.

That said, this has not been a good week for the man.

Whitlock clearly sees himself as some sort of media sheriff; a guy charged with keeping the rest of us in line. He likes calling out individual writers, pointing out their flaws, explaining (in not these exact words) why they suck and he’s awesome.

In regard to Thayer Evans, Whitlock told an Oklahoma radio station, “Having worked with Thayer Evans at Fox Sports …”

OK, to start here. I’m pretty sure Whitlock did not work with Evans. Back in the day, when people shared offices, they worked together. I’m in this cubicle, you’re in that cubicle—we work together. Whitlock never shared an office with Evans, never spent great time (if any time) with Evans. Literally, they were located in two different cities. By Whitlock’s definition, I worked at Sports Illustrated with Gary Smith. Sure, he was in North Carolina and I was in New York. And sure, we literally were never in the same room at the same moment. But we worked together because our paychecks were signed by the same person. No.

Furthermore, Whitlock talks about Evans’ loyalties, calling him a “huge, enormous, gigantic Oklahoma homer.” However, Whitlock’s past desperation to work for Sports Illustrated was no great secret. His dream of being handed the back-page column. He, of course, was never offered a job by the magazine—and was, we can assume, angry about it. Does this not (by Whitlock-think) make him the wrong guy to go off on the magazine? Is he not as biased as Evans is presumed to be?

After slaying Evans, Whitlock noted, “I think the story is a cliché and bogus and suspect and just the wrong angle.” He also admitted, and I’ll place this in capital letters, that HE NEVER READ THE ARTICLE. Never. Not once. Not a word. DID. NOT. READ. IT. Even if you think the writer is a fraud, how in God’s name can you rip a piece you never read … then have other credible news sources give those words weight.

Again, I think Whitlock is a good writer, and I have no personal beef. But he pulled this same crap when I appeared on his podcast several years ago to promote Sweetness. Whitlock welcomed me on, wanted to talk Walter Payton … but admitted never having read the book, because he doesn’t read sports books.

Uh …

My favorite piece of the Whitlock diatribe comes here: “There are a brand of sports writers who love doing these investigative pieces. They are not hard to do these days in terms of so-and-so got this money under the table. We’re into this area where unnamed sources can say anything, any of these he-said, she-said stories. I don’t respect the entire brand of investigative journalism that is being done here.”

Jason Whitlock has the absolute easiest job in sports media—and he knows it. He opines. That’s it. He doesn’t report. He doesn’t dig. He doesn’t make calls or seek out information. He takes the reporting done by others, sits in front of his laptop and comes up with a take. That’s it. He’s a good writer. Is he one of the, oh, 200 most-talented sportswriters in America? Probably not. (For the record, I’m by no means placing myself on that list either) But—and this is the big part—he’s loud. And obnoxious. He presents himself as a tough guy unafraid to take a tough stand, and people buy it. They absorb his self-righteous diatribes, because—on the surface—it seems to be driven by a desire to seek out truth and justice.

But, with men and women like Whitlock, truth and justice are often smokescreens for the parallel drugs plaguing the American media: Attention and fame. Whitlock seems all about attention and fame. Or, put differently, what sort of person states his own case for the Pulitzer Prize? What size ego must a man have to A. Think to himself, “I deserve the Pulitzer” and B. Write about it? I mean, between all the craziness of life and the highs and the lows and the ups and the downs, who even has time to ponder such a thing?

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 11.32.56 AMFor all I know, the Oklahoma State report is filled with holes, and Sports Illustrated will have to apologize and Thayer Evans will soon be selling insurance door to door in Ada. I just don’t know.

As a journalist, however, I am deeply troubled by the blame-the-messenger mentality that has zoomed to the forefront.

There is more here than just a reporter with a vendetta, and or a reporter who can’t report, or a magazine story.

It’s time we all try and see it.

  • Andy Reddrick

    All I’m saying is you need to read all of Thayer Evan’s past articles involving OSU over the past 5 years. Clear pattern of hate and the twisting of staff and players’ words.

    • Sam Floret

      Mr. Pearlman:

      I have no ties of any kind to Oklahoma State. None. I have never been to Stillwater or been to an Oklahoma State athletic event of any kind. I am appalled at much of what SI has done.

      Why? Let’s say this happened. Someone at the school you left tells a reporter that your were fired for,whatever you want to come up with. It’s not true, but a reporter quotes this guy anyway on a national forum with no documentation and without even asking you what happened. That’s what SI did. It’s sad how, these days, journalists rally to the defense of one another. Thayer Evans and Pete Thamel are the worst kinds of journalists. Why don’t they get documentation like Charles Robinson does? Too much work, I imagine. For one with your good reputation to defend this very shoddy work is truly disappointing.

      • delguy

        THe parochialism of fans is pathetic. College sports have been a cesspool for years.There are 2 obvious truths here.1) The article is true. 2)The fans don’t care as long as the team wins.It’s disgusting but, is just another example of people living in fantasyland.

  • Tod Bryant

    I’m not shooting the messenger, or turning a blind eye to alleged wrongdoing at OSU. I am questioning the objectivity and the competence of the reporting. If you looked into it further, you would too.

  • Jay McCay

    Clearly, you need to think about the subject a little more. Evans has a long, sordid history of cheap shot journalism towards OSU. Not to mention the great number of “sources” indicate that Evans distorted and misrepresented what they actually said in the interviews. Shoddy journalism.

  • sanford sklansky

    Be interesting to see how Whitlock responds to this.

  • http://www.joboosoccer.com JobooSoccer

    “The job of a reporter (and it ain’t easy) is figuring out whose information is correct, and whose is not. It’s about feeling comfortable with sources; about having other people vouch for a source’s words and/or character. Ultimately, it’s a judgement call.”

    And, I think, certainly, that people are allowed to have an opinion on the judgment calls that Thayer Evans makes.

    Here’s the main problem that I had with the series…it started with an overview piece that laid things out, and then the actual articles that followed have not exactly been hard hitting.

    The section on drug use has been the part I was particularly interested or connected with, simply because I am a criminal defense attorney. Here’s how SI hyped that piece:

    “Tolerating and at times enabling recreational drug use, primarily through a specious counseling program that allowed some players to continue to use drugs while avoiding penalties. The school’s drug policy was selectively enforced, with some starters going unpunished despite repeated positive tests. ”

    The actual article doesn’t really support that.

    Look at the section on Les Miles:

    “A Stillwater law enforcement official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media, says that when officers called Miles to tell him about players with drug problems, his usual response was, “What do you want me to do?”

    That quote from Miles can be interpreted in many different ways. There’s no groundwork laid by the reporting that indicates that we should take this as Miles brushing off the officer, rather than Miles legitimately asking for the Officer to tell him what to do…or any other number of interpretations for that line.

    The problem is that the article is presented in a negative slant, doesn’t consider other possibilities and assumes that people will agree with the negative slant that they give, rather than laying the groundwork for it.

    I’m sorry, but, it’s poorly written stuff that was designed to hype, rather than produce.

    And, that avoids getting into all the statements that have come out this week about questionably interview tactics and other journalism type things. Which are a big deal, but, frankly, aren’t things I can prove, so, I’ll stick to what I can read. It’s just been poor investigative journalism.

    • JayPMac

      A law enforcement officer informs a head coach that one of his players has been busted for drug use. And the head coach responds: “What do you want me to do?”

      This is the response of a responsible adult? Please.

      The correct response is: “May I see the official report?” After verifying the facts, the player is dismissed from the team.

      Seems pretty straightforward to me.

      • thouse

        So the head coach.of the football team is to dismiss players for arrests, not convictions, of players.

        The better question is why are the police calling the football coach?

        • BP Martin

          It isn’t the job of a reporter to interpret – it is their job to report the unbiased facts of an issue. If you don’t have facts, you don’t report them. Hearsay and storytelling are not facts – period. When we hold the writer to a better minimum standard we will all win and get better and more accurate news. In today’s ultra-competitive 24-hour news cycle however – don’t hold your breath.

  • Brandon

    As a journalist, surely you see the problem with asking someone who has a clear track record of publishing anti-OSU articles, to be an independent, impartial author of an article attacking OSU? And clearly you would agree that it’s unethical to approach interview subjects under false pretenses and record them without their permission? Thayer makes all journalists look bad, and the inconsistencies already pointed out in this 5 part series lead me to believe that much of it is embellished and slanted to make OSU appear worse than it really is.

    • JayPMac

      Oh, I see. What if OSU is only “a little less worse” than the article makes them out to be. That’s okay with you?

      This article, whatever the degree of truth about its allegations, is about a single issue: Abuse of power by an institution entrusted with the well-being of its students.

      Oh, and it’s about the Money, too. College football programs generate millions in revenue from the efforts of these kids. Let’s treat the term “student athlete” for what it is: a complete sham.

  • Zebediah

    So basically, this isn’t a piece on Oklahoma State. This is a story about reporters. I just find it curious that the only part of these S.I. pieces on OSU that can be verified by actual documentation so far, “Academics”, has revealed a major indescrepency in the writing versus what ESPN has found from ONE day of research on player transcripts. Combine that with the ACTUAL sources coming out and apologizing and denying the claims about what they said to Mr. Evans. But, most of the media is running with the S.I. story because the name of a Pulitzer Prize winner is attached. Makes me question the merit of such a “prestigious” accolade.

    • Ryan

      OK but you do realize that things like transcripts aren’t just readily available to everyone, right? There’s this little thing called FERPA that prevents schools from disclosing this information, which means the only way a journalist could get it is if the individual player freely provided it. For all we know, the SI team asked to verify these transcripts but were denied (unlikely, because you would think that would be something added into the story, but I’m trying to play devil’s advocate here). This sort of goes back to everyone who wrote about Te’o last year. One simple LexisNexis search would show you (or at least raise serious red flags) there was no such person as Lennay Kekua, but it wasn’t until Deadspin was actually tipped off that they whole thing might be a sham that anyone bothered to look into it. Why? Because if you have enough people corroborating a story (real or fictitious), you don’t think to dig any deeper than you feel is necessary because your mind registers, “hey X amount of people all have the same story on this, so there’s no way it can’t be true.” If SI really did talk to 60 people who all, on the record, by the way, said the same stuff, wouldn’t you think that to be enough if you were authoring this piece? Without the benefit of hindsight, if you say anything other than ‘yes’ to that, you’re lying to yourself.

      Regarding the denials and apologies of these sources, if Dohrmann and Evans were smart, they would have taped these conversations. Simply put, the best defense to libel is the truth. You produce the unedited recordings of these instances in question to back up your story. If they don’t do that, then I think it is fair to question the legitimacy of these stories.

  • Tayvl

    How do you feel about pretentious writers who assume that Evans’ reporting is valid without having seen or heard any corroboration? Or who assume that such reporting automatically indicts the OSU program by saying that it “clearly did some very bad things”? Your piece is superficial and lazy.

    • Jeff Pearlman

      T, I never said his reporting is valid or invalid. Neither you nor I know for sure. What is clear is Oklahoma State has real questions to answer—as does the reporter. So why aren’t more Ok State loyalists asking?

      • Susan

        I think we ARE asking but if a journalist is going to write something this negative that is going to be “out there” forever (Let’s face it: google Oklahoma State football 3 years from now and the hit will be on a story with a headline about the “scandal”) then shouldn’t the journalist have to have actual proof. No, perhaps a star football player feels the best about the school and would say the least – but there are many football players that are “shades of gray”. They are the players who had some production but weren’t the ones going to the NFL. At the very least, they probably weren’t booted from the team because of academic ineligibility, drug abuse, run-ins with the local law enforcement, etc. All these articles have served to do is to drag O-State’s name through the mud. Very little is substantiated. It’s irresponsible journalism.

      • Matt Ackerman

        The university has already said they’ve begun investigating. We’ll have to wait and see what their response is. What exactly is your point?

      • Allen

        We’ve heard some of the people involved share their accounts of Thayer Evans’ reporting. Let me ask you this: after reading those accounts, what do you suspect is the quality of Thayer Evans’ reporting?

        Based on his spotty track record and those first-hand accounts, it’s reasonable for readers to dismiss the importance of the series. Dohrmann’s involvement doesn’t give Evans any more credibility.

        Why do you think the SI story has been roundly mocked and discredited, while the Yahoo! Sports story has been praised and mostly accepted? In my view, it’s because Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel have a strong history and the documentation that goes along with their stories bolsters their methodology.

      • FB

        Jeff,

        Thanks for taking the time to gather your thoughts and post an interesting piece.

        When the investigative report was first mentioned to the OSU Administration they asked George and BJ if Thayer was involved in the work. The OSU AD said they would perform an internal investigation using outside sources as well, and separate the fact from the fiction. In this specific case, reading Thayer’s past work(and probably looking at his personal twitter account) the OSU administration had cause for concern. These circumstances have led to the greater scrutiny of the report.

        From the fan perspective, of course everyone would like to have a clean program. The problem with this piece is abundant lack of facts. In my profession we perform “Professional Skepticism” and I think it would be wrong to blindy accept all the accusations that this report has brought forward. I am proud that OSU has said they will perform an investigation and I am sure they will find some things to implement, change in order to bring stronger oversight.

        The article was overhyped in my mind and when you have inaccuracies scrolling across the bottom of ESPN or reported on national news than you should fight back.

        If it is found that Thayer misled George and SI then I hope the national media picks up a 5 part special on how this piece was wrong and the damage it can cause for a university.

      • Bob

        It is widely agreed upon that most of the “truths” to this story are things that go on in all other universities, so I don’t get your point. I guess all college football fans of all schools should constantly be in a state of worry and wonder about what “questions to answer” their school might have? What you see as “an apparent problem with questions to answer” I see as bad apples doing what bad apples do, like in all schools and walks of life for that matter

  • Seth F

    “Ultimately, the goal is to interview everyone—happy, unhappy, successful, failure—and piece together your final project.”

    The problem is, it doesn’t seem like SI did this. Based on the quoted sources, they talked almost exclusively to disgruntled and/or dismissed players. They certainly didn’t talk to Bo Bowling, who was a centerpiece of the Part 3 article. Based on this story, he seems like someone you might have wanted to interview.
    http://newsok.com/ex-oklahoma-state-receiver-bo-bowling-gets-chance-in-canadian-football-league/article/3577372/?page=1

  • Seth F

    And yes, I am an Ok State fan, and I am troubled by some of these allegations. If players were treated differently based on status concerning drug tests, that’s a problem. Having an uncertified counselor lead the program isn’t a very good idea, and not checking his resume is a horrible mistake. I do feel like there is some truth to some of SI’s claims, but it’s been lost in their more spectacular (and less supported) allegations.

  • A.S.

    The following passage could also describe Jeff Pearlman, ya bish: “Whitlock clearly sees himself as some sort of media sheriff; a guy charged with keeping the rest of us in line. He likes calling out individual writers, pointing out their flaws, explaining (in not these exact words) why they suck and he’s awesome.”

    • Jeff Pearlman

      bish?

      • A.S.

        Yeah, it’s a music reference. “You bitch,” if it needs to be spelled out. Figured you’d respond, with all the pub (good and bad) your piece is getting. Email me if you’re confused or need clarification. I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for a minute, but don’t frequent your site and don’t want a back-and-forth to take away from the attention the story’s getting. But I do have a bone to pick with you, especially how hypocritical your tone is, given past rip jobs on other writers. Not Whitlock either.

        • R.S.

          Considering that you have never been a journalist, you sure as hell got a lot of nerve to question an established journalist like Pearlman by saying you have a problem with him. So, what is your problem with Pearlman? Is it simply because he offered an observation and opinion that you don’t like? If so, that is too bad.

          • A.S.

            I am a journalist.

  • Ken

    Wolf! Wolf! The wolf is chasing the sheep!

  • John

    In my opinion, Whitlock is a Top 20 sportswriter.

  • Chris

    Jeff,

    Let me provide you a couple of examples of Thayer Evans’ work and you tell us, if after reading them, you honestly think he’s the right guy for SI to involve in any serious report on Oklahoma State.

    http://msn.foxsports.com/collegefootball/story/Oklahoma-State-Cowboys-beat-Texas-Longhorns-sloppy-play-bodes-poorly-for-Mike-Gundy-101511

    http://msn.foxsports.com/collegefootball/story/fiesta-bowl-oklahoma-state-cowboys-defeat-stanford-cardinal-overtime-narrow-victory-shows-this-is-where-team-belongs-010212

    As an Oklahoma State alum and fan, I’d like to know the truth behind these allegations and I’m sure that it eventually will come out as there will be an independent investigation and, I would imagine, a thorough NCAA investigation. There’s plenty of smoke in the article, but so far, very, very little fire.

    You say that the people they “interviewed” are better sources than current coaches and star players. I don’t think you’ve really done your homework on those sources. Perhaps you’ve still rushed your response somewhat. If you want to offer a strong opinion, dig in and do some thorough research and then let us know how you feel.

    Can you honestly say that you don’t feel the reporting in the article has been heavily slanted? It seems to me that the authors painted the picture they wanted to paint because of either their personal feelings or a desire to sell magazines and increase ad revenue. They’ve left out some very important facts that cast doubt on their allegations. It’s irresponsible journalism fit for tabloid magazines.

    As plenty of people have stated in response to this article, these sorts of things happen at every school. I won’t claim that we’re squeaky clean. There are bad seeds at every school, but I do believe that our coaches and administration do all that they can to play by the rules and to address those bad seeds as quickly as possible while still being caring people. Sometimes those bad seeds come back to haunt you.

    As an OSU alum and fan, all I ask is that if you want to judge us, first, consider the sources; second, consider whether any actual evidence has been presented; third, wait until an actual impartial investigation has taken place. I’m confident that once that’s done, SI will come out of it looking considerably worse than Oklahoma State will.

    • Ben Devine

      “I won’t claim that WE’re squeaky clean. There are bad seeds at every school, but I do believe that OUR coaches and administration do all that they can”

      LOL.Guess he got that part right!

    • David

      I would love to see a response to this comment, Jeff. I had heard that Thayer Evans hated Oklahoma State, but these Fox Sports columns are downright disgusting. Thoughts?

      • Jeff Pearlman

        First, RG—I almost always respond, and you know that. Stop being such a baby.

        B. David, how are they disgusting? Seriously? This is what columnists do, and I’ve seen hundreds of writers (columnists) do similar pieces on college/universities. Now, should SI have allowed him to be the guy writing on Ok State? If the perception is widely held that he’s unfair—probably not. Because perception often equals reality.

    • RG

      David: Highly doubtful you will hear from Jeff on this one. Even if he does he will just use some flimsy excuse how it doesn’t matter.

  • Matt Ackerman

    Jeff, I realize you’re trying to stick up for an institution you are intimately associated with, but your entire premise is incorrect. The writers of the piece did not interview everyone. They specifically targeted ex-players who did not finish their eligibility at Ok State. When those interviews shed a positive light on the program, the player was not quoted. They did not even try to interview players they knew to be on good terms with the university.

    People are absolutely correct that the fact that an ex-player was kicked off the team does not mean they are lying. However, all we have is witness testimony with no documentary evidence. Half of the quotes are hearsay. When any of those 60+ interviewees said that they, e.g., did not see drugs being consumed, those refutations were not published. If I run an experiment 50 times and only get the desired result 5 times, I must disclose the failures along with the successes if I wish to publish the results.

    There is no documentary evidence related to the allegations of academic impropriety. You hear an ex-player say they were given a grade they didn’t deserve and you take it at face value. I bring up this section because it’s the one area where there should have been physical evidence available to the reporters. They couldn’t even get a professor (or a disgruntled former professor!) to admit to changing a grade. No tutors (or disgruntled former tutors!) either.

    Guys who got kicked off of the program for not going to class and failing classes claim that they didn’t have to go to class or do their work. If an ex-SI writer was fired for plagiarism and then claimed everyone there was plagiarizing, would you buy that story?

    My take, as an Ok State alum, is that I’m stunned by how clean the program is. Taking everything at face value, 95% of what’s in here goes on within the general student body at any given university. The other 5% is troubling, and I hope it is investigated, but there’s not much proof for it given there was a 10 month investigation already done by SI.

    One thought: many of the allegations were made against DeForrest and Miles, both of whom are with other schools. Wouldn’t this have been really tightened up if they had found similar allegations from players at those schools?

    Wow, I haven’t even mentioned Thayer Evans or that 90% of the sources have recanted their story (and are either misquoted in the article or are demonstrable liars).

    • http://thunderobsessed.com Chuck

      To say Thayer Evans misquoted players is really just an assumption. It’s one person saying that they didn’t say something, against the words of a few at Sports Illustrated. We don’t know that the quotes were misquoted until the tapes are ever released.

  • Sean G

    As a passionate fan, I tell you we want to see better from our program, not just athletically. But we need facts, not someone’s tunnel vision world where he accepts all as truth. Have you seen what Artell Woods has been putting out? He’s one of Thayer’s most promenent sources. The guy is wacked out and can’t accept fault for his own actions. We want to help the program, and we want to help Artrell, but we can’t yet cause we are still digging through all the crazy.

    I think OSU will be better because of this, Look for better drug counseling, and better transparency. We want to be a shining example, and we don’t want to be in this position again.

  • Guest

    I agree with Jeff’s criticisms of THESE PARTICULAR criticisms. But the petty squabbling over the reporting is obscuring the most important issue: whether reporters should be playing Gotcha! on behalf of the NCAA.

    It’s a crappy, immoral system and exposés like this just prop it up. There’s no context in the SI piece, no step back to say, “Hey, this is so common, maybe there’s a bigger problem here.”

    Jeff decries the “blame the messenger” mentality. But going after a specific school, reporters are basically blaming the messenger instead of the real evil that facilitates these victimless violations.

  • Bob

    Nobody is just “shooting” some random messenger. Take George Dohrmann for instance. The Evans criticism has come in groups of about 100 for every one thing said about Dohrmann. Do you know why that is? BECAUSE HE WAS ALREADY A HACK WAY BEFORE THIS AND A PROVEN BAD JOURNALIST AND BIASED OU HOMER AND OSU HATER!!! Even if every single word of this story is 100% true to the max, is is downright ignorant and just plain bad business of SI to let that person with that past have anything to do with it. Period. And while I agree with your take on “there is nothing wrong with asking bad apples” but let’s look at this specific case. SI started with 12 on the record confirmed “bad apples” and is now down to about 5 who still stand by their claims, one of which has already been factually proven to be lying by 5 minutes of simple research. On the other hand, there are the countless number of “good apples” who vehemently dispute the accusations including at least 2 people mentioned in the story WHO WERE NEVER EVEN APPROACHED OR GIVEN A CHANCE TO RESPOND. Again the whole thing could be true and its still horrendous journalism

  • Padraig Hansen

    Jeff,

    I’m not necessarily an O-State or OU fan; I currently reside in OKC, although I’m a cheesehead through and through.

    That being said – I have a few problems with this piece, and had similar issues with the UCLA Basketball piece penned by George Dohrmann a year or so ago. First, the premise of this was to examine why OSU rose to prominence so quickly. While I do not consider them prominent – Oregon maybe fits that bill best, in terms of rapid ascent – it feels that, to date with what has been published, that it has been nothing more than an airing of unsubstantiated, and in some cases fabricated, accusations from disgruntled former players. Has some of this happened, to varying degrees? I absolutely believe it has. College kids smoking dope? Kids having sex in college? The charges about financial & education improprieties, the NCAA needs to look into those. So far, however, holes have been poked in elements of both stories.

    Second, and this is the most important: Just like with UCLA, it seems as though the reporters have been searching for information to support a pre-determined conclusion. I’ve seen this mistake made before, both in reporting (full disclosure: was a reporter for 7 years), and also in analytics, where people are looking for data to support their pre-determined hypothesis, rather than letting the intelligence speak for itself.

    As a writer – and a damn good one at that – you should be more concerned about the latter, because that’s the sort of stereotype that can affect an entire profession.

    Anyone who thinks this is all false is naive, and anyone who believes all of it is equally as naive. But the problem is, when did we start accepting partial accuracy as an acceptable journalistic standard? Have we really fallen that far? I hope not. Because without investigative journalists, society is worse off.

    But remember, the only thing that is worse than no information at all: bad information. If they are going to do it, they need to get it right.

  • Greg

    Dude, You need a good editor. Rambling on doesn’t make somebody seem like a deep thinker.

  • Whitlock

    I’m #1 and it isn’t close.

  • PDT816

    “The job of a reporter (and it ain’t easy) is figuring out whose information is correct, and whose is not.”

    Everything surrounding the Sports Illustrated articles’ problems can be distilled into this one, simple statement.

    Deciding what information is correct is the reader’s job. Attempting to force those decisions upon the reader is why SI finds itself in this mess.

  • RB

    Jeff- Your article is dead on correct. The OSU faithful are indeed angry, embarrassed, and quite defensive about these allegations. However, everyone does want to “shoot the messenger” or say “everybody else does it” or some equally weak response. What they fail to notice is that these things–falsified resumes, Deforest not offering ANY explanations, and student athletes being paid to speak at functions when the university did not sanction them, are ENOUGH to be concerned about. I’m not stupid or naïve enough to know that other schools don’t have these problems, but why aren’t people demanding the firing of those working under false pretenses? You can blame Thayer Evans all you want, but he was not responsible for the hiring policies of OSU. Sometimes, you have to “own up”. When that happens, it makes the rest easier to deal with and understand. PS. no, I’m not an OU fan (another “card” so many people are trying to play).

  • John Kelley

    Jeff,

    Being an Oklahoma State almuni, I of course read your piece and I actually thought it was very good. But as others have said in their comments. Check the sources. Check the history of Thayer Evans. Do some research. It’s pretty bad when ESPN goes to print with a story shooting holes all in SI’s story. Not good at all. ESPN is the authority when it comes to sports journalism, we all know it. If they just said SI’s story is bogus, it means it’s bogus. And SI had to do a press release stating that Thayer Evans has not been fired… yet. This was a bias attack from one person who got his colleagues at SI to follow along. They are the ones who will look the worse in the end. SI writers are already backing away from this story. Whitlock was right about everything he said. He might obnoxious and loud, but he was right.

    • JayPMac

      Oh. So ESPN attempting to shoot holes in the SI story means the SI story was a total fabrication?

      I was a reporter in the early 70′s (UPI), so I have a pretty good take on how the journalism profession works. If the AP broke a meaningful story, our first response was to try to find a source who’d shoot the story down.

      The wire service mantra in those days was: F*ck the news, get the play. In other words, don’t let the facts get in the way of “winning” that day’s news cycle.

      Thanks to the Internet, that cycle is now 24×7. The pressure to be “first”, as soon as possible, is enormous. Working for UPI was terrific training in the craft of writing. I’m also grateful I don’t work in the media biz anymore.

  • http://thunderobsessed.com Chuck

    I feel like so many people missed the point of this article, and immediately got defensive about Oklahoma State.

  • Leslie

    I’m a fan of your writing, and I think you make several good points. You ask, “If you love Oklahoma State, shouldn’t you be furious? Not at the reporter or the magazine, but the school and the athletic department and the football program?”

    Well, I love OSU, being a life-long fan, and I’ll take a stab at answering that.

    I think there are many factors involved, but for me, it boils down to this: I don’t know if the article is trustworthy, and I think many of us are taking a “wait and see” approach.

    Stillwater is a fairly small town, and OSU a community. People know people. One might expect the gossip know-it-alls to come out with, “Oh, I knew this was going on, and it was only a matter of time before we got caught.” Given the funding rivalry within the university between the academic colleges and the athletic department, you’d expect someone with an ax to grind to jump onto the anti-football bandwagon and come out with their own negative stories.

    But I haven’t heard anything remotely like that. It’s crickets chirping. There is no corroborating gossip, hearsay, or evidence. There aren’t any “I know someone who knew someone who…” stories. I know professors, staff members, students, athletic department employees, even former athletes… and… nothing. (Maybe I’m just living in an isolated corner of the universe and missed the explosion.)

    Couple that with the perception that the article makes no attempt at balance and was researched by someone with a documented history of negativity towards our university. Former players, even the ones quoted in the article, are denying the allegations. Other journalists are questioning the veracity of some of the claims.

    There’s a much less sinister answer to the article’s central question of “How did a losing program become a winning program so quickly?” Boone Pickens would be the answer to that, with a huge investment in facilities and infrastructure. Money, but the kind put into fancy buildings and facilities, not the athlete’s hand. Oregon experience a similar turnaround once a billionaire started pumping money into their program. You don’t need an explanation of sex, drugs, and academic fraud to account for the success of our program when you see the construction of monster indoor practice fields going up on campus. We’re creating an athletic paradise, so it isn’t particularly surprising that quality athletes suddenly want to come here.

    Mind you, I don’t think many of us are so naïve as to believe something like this couldn’t happen at any big-time sports program, including OSU. We saw what happened at Penn State. Nobody is immune from scandal. There’s just too much money in college football for it not to create corruption and seediness.

    But, who do we fans believe, and how do we react? We’re getting opposing information. There’s a natural tendency to trust the sources close to home, and distrust the stranger with a potential grudge. I have heard many people say, “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” But I don’t think any of us (including our university administration) knows how big the fire really is, and we’re all waiting to find out.

  • Alex

    Out of curiosity, of the above commenters calling out Mr. Evans for his purported bias, how many are Oklahoma State alumni or supporters?

    • Scott Hamilton

      The links to 2011 articles written by Evans have been attached to previous posts. Take a few minutes to read them and make your own decision. You probably should have done that before you speculated about O-state fan’s bias,

  • Just Peachy

    Jeff,
    I am also very troubled by the blame the messenger mentality that virtually all of the media in my state seem to have toward this story. Nobody is trying to find out what really happened, they are all just trying to discredit the writers and the people who spoke out. It doesn’t bother me at all that fans are doing this, but I am baffled by the response from the media. The local media seems to be more concerned about shaping my opinion about the article than responsibly trying to find out what happened at OSU.

  • Just Peachy
  • chris

    great take on Whitlock.
    totally agree.

  • Ron

    “Ultimately, the goal is to interview everyone—happy, unhappy, successful, failure—and piece together your final project.” So he interviewed the unhappy failures, when did he interview the happy and successful? Anyone who researched Evans a little bit would see he is an obvious OU homer. Only a dumbass couldn’t recognize it.

  • Wade

    I find it hilarious that you spend your entire story describing how Mr. Whitlock is unfairly painting Thayer Evans as a bad journalist because he has a grudge against Mr. Evans. Then you admit that you have had an experience with Mr. Whitlock that only proves you have an axe to grind as well. Please think before you post. You are guilty of the same thing you are accusing Mr. Whitlock of.

    Personally I think the story on OSU is garbage, and I’m actually an OU fan, so I have no axe to grind. In fact, I’d have more to gain if OSU were penalized.

    Make sure your own porch is clean before you start complaining about your neighbor’s.

    • JayPMac

      Not for a minute do I believe you’re an OU grad.

  • Steve Berg

    “…clearly Oklahoma State did some very bad things. This is obvious, and a fact no one seems to be denying.”
    What..?? Clearly..? This is obvious..? Based on WHAT..? The SI articles..? I sure hope not, because there’s SCANT evidence at BEST to back up the allegations in the articles.
    And you say no one seems to be denying it..?? Not only do they SEEM to be denying it, they ARE denying it..!! OSU players and coaches by the DOZENS..! Including some of EVANS’ OWN SOURCES, who say he misquoted them or took their quotes out of context or secretly recorded them without their knowledge.
    It MATTERS how reporters gather their information, and it reflects on the accuracy and legitimacy of that information.

  • R.H.

    I’m no journalist or even pretend to be one, but one thing is clear by reading the comments: everyone thinks that they know more about reporting and journalism than those who do report and are journalists.

    Pearlman offered an observation of how the story has been reported, dissected, etc in the media. And most of you are taking him to task(?) because his opinion and thoughts on the Oklahoma State story is different than yours? Amazing on how much we think we know, but we don’t know, as Jim Mora famously said.

    When was the last time Whitlock has reported on a story, outside of writing an opinion (column) on it? Whitlock, as talented as he is, is also a person who seeks attention to “affirm” his opinion, and garner support for it.

    Going on just his opinion on Evans doesn’t give us the entire picture of what we know. We, as readers, don’t know anything about Evans, outside of what we’ve read from him and what Whitlock has said about him.

    I would love to see any of you go into the journalism business and do a better job than Pearlman, Whitlock, and Evans combined. It’s not as easy as most of you think. Can you ask tough questions, put aside your “fan-dom”, give an informed and impartial opinion, and be fair?

    I’m betting most of us can’t.

    I respect Pearlman and his thoughts about this, because my initial thoughts have changed since the Okie State story has come out. You have to interview people, even if they are shady, shallow, or have a grudge. You have to interview people who are in denial, don’t think anyone can do no wrong, and think everything’s rosy.

    There is story in the middle and the job is to report it, regardless what anyone thinks of it. A reporter’s job is not to “speculate” and toss things on the wall. Guys like Whitlock “speculate”, for he is a columnist. His job is to give an opinion, and that opinion can be wrong.

    And in the case of this, Whitlock’s personal bias towards Evans clearly shows that he wasn’t interested in the story…he was interested on how Evans wrote the story.

  • John Taylor

    While we don’t expect anyone outside of the OSU fan base to like the school or even respect it (we wish that but can’t demand it), it is not unfair to ask that the school be treated fairly. There is tremendous clamor regarding the SI article because of its lead investigator Thayer Evans, because of its lack of objectivity and because of its lack of verifiable evidence . Asking Thayer Evans to head up the investigation into OSU is the equivalent of asking Anthony Weiner to talk to a bunch of grade schoolers about the awesome potential of text messaging. One only needs to examine Thayer’s professional history to understand what type of reporter he is. Examining his relationship with OSU further underscores his lack of credibility on this particular issue.
    The second point is SI’s statement that they were looking for a school on the rise and somehow, OSU just climbed to the top of the list. Consider this. OSU played and beat Alabama in the 2006 Independence Bowl. Such was the state of the Alabama football program at that time. Without incorporating circular logic or some form of rationalization, can you explain why Alabama, and not OSU, would not suddenly come to mind for this story? I am not picking on Alabama – I actually like them. I’m just pointing out that they seem to have come further than OSU since 2006. They are certainly a juicier target than OSU and the desire to have a winning program must be aces and spades above that at OSU given their history. This takes us back to Thayer Evans and his and SI’s claim that there was no other agenda in this article. Really? OSU? Thayer Evans? Nothing to see here?

  • Just Peachy

    Thayer has been interviewed and asked a lot of questions that OSU fans seem to be bringing up. He comes from an OSU family. Both of his parents went to OSU. He was an OSU fan growing up. He is not an OU homer, much less an OU fan.

    • John Taylor

      Right. Have you read his stuff? Softball interview by another SI reporter. No follow-up and really nothing other than shoe-leather comments. Another case of less than serious reporting.

  • Chris C.

    Jeff, normally a big fan of your work and totally agree with about Whitlock (in part because of his gun stuff, ironically). I have no ties to OSU (‘Horns fan). You accuse people of adopting a shoot the messenger mentality. I accuse you of a circle the wagons and defend journalists mentality. Do I believe Thayer’s Evans article is spurious and a purposeful attack on a program he dislikes? I do, 100%. Do I believe it contains elements of truth? 100%. Thing is, I believe what he details occurs at every single successful program in the country. Players getting tutors to do their work? No kidding? Players smoking weed? Of course they are. You say girls want to have sex with big time football players and the players like it? Duh.

    What’s more, is I DON’T CARE. I don’t care about the education of these players. I don’t care about their behavior off the field. I only care, like every fan when it comes down to it, about wins. So do you. If you really cared about student-athletes then you would spend your time highlighting schools with the highest graduation rates and GPAs. You don’t write about that in lieu of winning and losing because people universally don’t want to read about anything other than on the field performance. This student-athlete charade needs to stop. Make college football team semi-pro enterprises with paid players that are affiliated with universities and may attend classes if they wish. The fact is guys like Vince Young, Can Newton, or Reggie Bush should not be taking up a seat that a more academically deserving student should be getting anyway. Instead, that non-football playing bookworm has to go to junior college because a barely literate athlete is sitting in their seat.

    In short (too late, I know), this Evans article smacks of ax grinding but even if every word is true no one cares about the ethics of their favorite school as long as they win.

  • Guilty Bystander

    I haven’t read Evans’ series yet (but will), so I don’t have an informed take on what is or isn’t going on at OK State. I do find it interesting that most bones of contention on this thread are about Evans himself. That IS a kill-the-messenger mentality.

    As for Jeff’s take on Jason Whitlock, I couldn’t agree more. Whitlock is the Al Sharpton of sportswriters.

  • Bobby

    First, I’m an OSU alum, so I’m going into this biased. Second, I’m not a journalist, so I don’t know what their professional standards are, or if they even have any. That being said, I’d like to weigh in on this article, and the SI articles.

    1) “Ultimately, the goal is to interview everyone—happy, unhappy, successful, failure—and piece together your final project.”

    Mr. Pearlman, these are your words, yet you defend the work of Thayer Evans. Can you please explain how you say that the ultimate goal is to interview everyone, and then defend a piece where the only sources used were the ones who had negative things to say? I’m sorry but you seem to be speaking out of both sides of your mouth.

    2) “I hear college football die-hards speak of their teams as “we”—we need to run the ball better; we need to come out strong against Oregon. This, of course, is ludicrous. These are often kids with flimsy academic credentials, being asked to carry a full course load while also practicing X hours per day, flying X miles across the country, missing X class and X class and X class. They would struggle to maintain a 2.0 average if they were solely enrolled in school (minus sports)—and yet, we pretend all is OK and groovy and grand. We dress them up in our school colors, roll out the balls and cheer away. Then, seven or eight years later, when we see X player living in his mother’s house, barely able to read, 44 credits shy of a college diploma, we shrug. Shit happens.”

    This paragraph really struck me as ignorant. I went back to school at 26 to get my engineering degree. I live an hour away from Stillwater. When I was going to OSU, I had to commute everyday, I had a job in Tulsa that I worked at everyday, and at the time a newborn. Do you think that athletes are the only students who have circumstances that make school more difficult? I’m sorry but there are plenty of students at schools all over the country who have it way harder than these football players, yet they get it done. If these athletes who got scholarships to come play football couldn’t finish their degree, then that’s nobody’s fault but their own. It’s called personal accountability.

    3) “Aren’t there better questions to ask than, “Why does Thayer Evans hate us so much?””

    We aren’t asking why Thayer Evans hates OSU, honestly we couldn’t care less why he does. We are asking that people consider the fact that he does hate OSU. I know you try and act like you don’t know him and you don’t know if he doesn’t like OSU or not, but honestly it doesn’t take a genius to read his past articles about OSU to see that he doesn’t like them. I mean really, you are a journalist, I assume that means you have to be able to comprehend what you are reading, so to me that means you have chosen not to look into his past before defending his work.

    4) You’re attempt to discredit Jason Whitlock is amusing because you are attempting to do to him exactly what he attempted to do to Thayer Evans. Pot meet kettle.

    5) I understand that the burden of proof is less for writing a hit piece than it is to prosecute in a court of law, but these articles seem to be extremely light on actual proof. I mean compare this with the Yahoo! story that broke last week. They actually had evidence; text messages, receipts, invoices. I mean SI couldn’t even check with the registrar’s office to confirm if the dates given to them on some of the claims were accurate. It took ESPN all of one day to show that transcripts didn’t match with some of the source’s stories. I understand that doesn’t necessarily mean what they said was a lie, maybe they got dates confused. But doesn’t the fact that SI didn’t fact check these simple details before printing the story call into question how well they fact checked any of the claims? I could easily write a blog and accuse you of doing things that would be frowned upon and have no proof other than a quote from somebody who doesn’t like you, but is that really alright? Is this really how low the bar has been set for journalism? I would think you would be more proud of you profession, maybe not.

    Look, SI stepped in it with this piece, they are getting tons of blowback from OSU (and even OU fans) and nationally the story just seems to have fizzled after the first couple of articles came out with no actual evidence of what they claim took place. This was a desperate attempt to generate clicks on the website and sell magazines, and it probably worked, but I think this will hurt them in the long run. If they wanted to try and take OSU down, they should not have had Thayer Evans particpate on the project, he brings the credibility of the entire piece down with just his involvement. Or they could have written this article about college football as a whole and not tried to single out one school. Either way would have been better than what they came out with. I don’t defend rule breaking, and if OSU has been breaking rules then they need to fix it and accept any penalties that might bring.

    You said journalism is hard, and I’m sure it is, maybe that’s why Thayer Evans just isn’t any damn good at it.

    • Agent_X

      Did you really compare your hour long commute to school to the plight of some of the more disadvantaged kids (broken homes, gangs, drugs) that OSU exploited just for the physical ability around a football?

      • Bobby

        Yea, an hour commute both ways, working a full-time job and dealing with a newborn. 2 hours driving, 8 hours working, multiple classes into the evening, waking up with a crying baby in the middle of the night…how dare I compare that to 2-3 hours of practice and then study hour with dedicated tutors.

  • Tom

    Hey Jeff, what I’m finding interesting in all of this is that very few are refuting the factual content of the SI stories — the compromised academics, player payments, drug usage, etc. There’s no denying that these things didn’t happen. If anything, SI is overplaying the story — five parts is dragging this on a little too much. I mean, the “sex” part, I think, was overplayed — in a tightly edited piece, this could have been a paragraph or two at most in a 6,000-word single story, which is probably should have been in the first place.

  • Dave

    If you have to attack the messenger(s), you are essentially conceding the content of the message.

    College football can be incredibly entertaining, but the way it entices, uses and then discards young men cheapens the sport. Reform isn’t going to happen without a spotlight like the one under discussion here. Short of someone videotaping the events under discussion, this is as close as you are going to get.

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