When Sports Illustrated announced its self-proclaimed investigative blockbuster report on Oklahoma State football, it teased it in five parts with the final, yet to be published, installment labeled “The Fallout.” After the first four parts, the folks at SI may want to practice a little duck and cover as the “fallout” is likely coming down right upon them.
The crew at SI did everything it could to promote its hit piece titled “The Dirty Game,” even going to OSU in advance and giving them a heads up before announcing to everyone they were about to unleash a fury of hellfire that would rock the sports world. Folks in Stillwater were understandably sweating it out while putting on the best face they could on the matter, promising they would fully investigate any wrongdoing.
The first part of the reported titled “The Money” laid out several allegations of players receiving lump sum payments of cash, identifying former assistant Joe DeForest as the primary bag man. DeForest is now an assistant at West Virginia and was at OSU through 2011. Most of the allegations took place during the tenure of Les Miles, who was head coach from 2001 to 2004 before taking his act to the bayou at LSU. The report used several players as sources that left the program under less than ideal circumstances. It gave critics, and OSU backers, instant ammunition to question the credibility of the sources. It also didn’t help that sources were pointing the finger at two deceased athletes and one deceased booster who could not defend themselves.
Most of those named by the sources denied seeing large sums of cash change hands, with most notably former OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden saying he “laughed out loud” at the allegations. Others questioned the background of one of the primary writers, Thayer Evans, who himself has a bit of checkered past and it didn’t help, at least in the eyes of the Poke faithful, that he was a longstanding boomer Sooner.
Most pundits and observers, however, were withholding judgment. After all, surely a publication that was as respected as Sports Illustrated wouldn’t put its credibility on the line without thoroughly vetting its sources and doing its due diligence. Most also felt that the next part of the report, regarding academic fraud, would be the most damaging.
However, when the alleged academic fraud portion of their report failed to quote or identify a single professor, and only a couple of assistant professors, and pointed the finger at some tutors who may have done some of the work for some of the athletes, an uneasy feeling started to develop that SI had either been duped or was duplicitous in rushing something into publication that was slowly starting to fail a few basic tests of its own when it came to basic journalism.
The next two parts of the report were supposed to be the most salacious, dealing with drugs and sex. Except what we learned essentially was that several players were smoking marijuana and one described a cocaine party that had nothing to do with the team. Imagine that, students at college smoking dope and trying drugs. The report tried to paint a picture of an OSU program that looked the other way, but there hardly was the appearance of anything intrinsically deceptive being carried out at OSU. Granted, it did reveal OSU strength and conditioning coach Joel Tudman clearly lied about having a “double masters” in health and counseling when he had a single master’s degree in Health, Kinesiology and Sports Studies from Texas A&M- Commerce. Tudman, OSU’s “Life Issue/Social Development Counselor “ for its football program also embellished his athletic accomplishments, stating he was a three-time All-American Sprinter, when was All-American only once in 2004. OSU has since pulled down Tudman’s bio from its website.
Much was made by the report of OSU’s “Weed Circle,” so-called by players who had tested dirty and were put into a program that strangely seemed aimed more at reducing their marijuana use than eliminating it.
Finally, the report’s final segment, titled “The Sex” was little more than a tease. The fact SI delayed its release showed it was already feeling the heat from a report that was falling apart. The last part of the report tried to paint the female student-based “Orange Pride” as a veritable den of iniquity. But, as it turns out, there may have been a few instances of sex being offered by some women to incoming recruits, there was nothing at all that pointed to anything intentionally untoward within the OSU football program in that regard.
So, in the end, we can thank SI for informing us that young people at college may cheat on their homework, smoke marijuana and have sex.
The SI folks promised a bombshell and there is still smoke that came out of it that will require further investigation, if for nothing else than to refute the allegations. But the report went from a potential inferno to a brush fire to a smoldering ashtray with a few blunts.
Time to get back to football and say goodbye to SI’s credibility in anything other than its annual swimsuit issue. You know, “The Sex,” right, SI?
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.