By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
The Oklahoma State athletic department knew this week was going to be a stomach-churner. And after Sports Illustrated ran the first of its planned five-part expose into Oklahoma State football, the Tums and Maalox at Stillwater-area stores are likely in short supply.
And it’s not surprising many OSU faithful have chosen shooting the messenger as its response, preferring to put up a wall of denial rather than contemplate there is some validity to the report.
Sports Illustrated met last week with OSU officials to give them a heads up about their series, “The Dirty Game,” that alleges a myriad of wrongdoings at OSU, ranging from illegal payments to academic improprieties, mixed in with a little sex and drugs.
The first installment, focusing on alleged improper payments to athletes, painted a very dicey picture of shady goings-on at OSU, primarily during the Les Miles era, starting in 2001, but may have continued through 2011 with former assistant coach Joe DeForest named as the primary bag man passing out the cash. DeForest is now an assistant at West Virginia and has denied any wrongdoing. Miles, of course, has moved on to LSU. Mike Gundy has been head coach since 2005. DeForest was on his staff until 2011.
Sports Illustrated’s story quoted several players who allege they were paid, or saw others being paid, for on-field performances or for work that was never performed. Some said they were getting stacks of cash with some players getting up to $25,000.
OSU fans and faithful have been quick to point out that the players quoted, including Calvin Mickens, Brad Girtman and William Bell, were disgruntled players. SI said it interviewed more than 60 players for its series.
While the players being quoted may have less-than-stellar backgrounds, that does not automatically discredit them. After all, whistleblowers aren’t typically those who don’t have an ax to grind.
The report describes an out-of-control department where boosters were given easy access to players under Miles.
While some of the allegations may seem hard to prove —with some of the fingers pointing at two dead players and a deceased booster who cannot defend themselves — there also are some admitted improprieties that even the most orange-visioned supporter can’t deny.
For example, OSU booster John Talley admits to paying players for “speaking engagements” that OSU denies ever approving, and he claims to have paid players “fair market” wage for work on his property, but can’t provide records.
In the immediate aftermath, two former OSU players, Rodrick Johnson and Aso Pogi have said they were either misquoted or lied to by the story’s authors. However, judging by Johnson’s grammatically challenged Facebook post, he may wish to withhold comments until SI releases its report on academic improprieties.
No matter what side of the aisle one may fall on, nobody should take joy or glee in these allegations. OSU building its program up to challenge Oklahoma has turned the OU-OSU rivalry into one of the top rivalries in the nation. It would be a shame to see it sullied.
But there is too much smoke for one to simply dismiss it out of hand as merely disgruntled ex-athletes or OSU-hating journalists out to get the Pokes.
Sports Illustrated has a solid history with good credentials, and it is not likely this story didn’t receive the needed due diligence before going to press or online.
How OSU responds will be important.Vice President of Athletics Mike Holder has been out front and indicated there will be a full investigation. But, the OSU football program is going the Gundy way of duck and cover.
Much as OSU football did during the Chelf-Walsh preseason quarterback controversy by simply refusing to address it, the school released a statement late Tuesday saying “Oklahoma State football will not have any media availability today or at any point this week until after Saturday’s game.”
Way to address it head-on.
They’re probably lucky though OSU is playing FCS Lamar in a low-profile game anyway.
With several more installments due from SI, the potential quagmire may only worsen and more allegations are likely to emerge.
In the meantime, OSU faithful may want to holster those verbal pistols, or at least be sure they are aiming at the right targets.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.