I'm not sure what has happened at Sports Illustrated. Incredibly sloppy and lazy investigative reporting has left us with a series of articles, and a massive response to those articles, that leaves us asking:
- Did SI really not know about the connection between Thayer Evans and OSU? If somebody was aware of this when Evans suggested targeting OSU, among several schools being considered, wouldn't someone in charge of anything have said "Fine, but don't use Evans. Won't look impartial."
- Did Evans set out with an agenda? It looks like he actually did SOME research, as he was obviously able to find plenty of players who might have an ax to grind with Oklahoma State. His "sources" read like a laundry list of athletes that exited the team and university for a number of reasons...grades, team rules, legal issues, etc...most of which involved being shown the door. Most of the players named were not major contributors to the team.
Not a single reputable source with no grudge against the university willing to come forward and confirm anything that SI claims was RAMPANT and OPEN in it's nature. No positive comments from mentioned parties. This is actually shocking to me.
- The number of "sources" who have now come out and "recanted" on what SI claims Evans was told in interviews is not all that surprising. Informants often claim issues with being quoted once their stuff hits the light of day. But there are people with a lot to lose from being shown as a liar. Aso Pogi is one, and he called out Evans directly, saying play the tape. Pogi is a youth minister at a Methodist Church in Oklahoma.
How about Tatum Bell? SI's George Dohrmann (Pulitzer Prize winner), who's name is on the article, says SI has Bell on tape. Bell says he did not speak with anyone from SI.
Others have come forward and taken issue with the way in which they were approached by Thayer, and that their words were manipulated. Seymour Shaw stated that he told Evans that he couldn't use Shaw's statements.
I understand that it might not be as easy as just releasing the unedited interviews because of unused info on those recordings, but if I'm SI I would sure as hell figure out how to refute Bell. I mean, come on. They claim to have spoken to him and he says he didn't speak to anyone from SI. Either SI has a problem, or they don't care.
- What was SI's agenda? Everything "exposed" up to this point has been based on interviews with players (see #2). Not one single piece of paper...no transcripts or receipts, no bank or phone records. No names for boosters who were supposedly running wild through the locker room and team plane openly handing out money.
Yahoo Sports just released an investigative report on improprieties at Alabama (of all places!), and they have the works. Paper/electronic trail galore. Done. No holes. Bama is already circling the wagons.
Given the complete lack of hard evidence, and a series that seems to be based on nothing but interviews, was SI really intent on uncovering misconduct, or were they willing to sacrifice a chosen program at the alter of page views and magazine sales? Maybe just a larger agenda against the NCAA? Sure stuff was vetted. That doesn't mean it's true.
I've done plenty of this kind of work with lawyers in my day job. It's not about saying what is true, but about what can you get away with saying. I can imagine Dohrmann & Evans laying out on the table what they want to say and the team of lawyers saying "That's ok, there's no exposure in that." SI's attorneys are worried about one thing...liability. This series hasn't done anything illegal, its only put forth a story that OSU takes issue with. If the magazine's lawyers are comfortable that SI is not exposed to defamation or slander issues, then that's vetting.
Wouldn't be the first time a publication has put forth sensationalized, if not sketchy, information for the sake of sales.
- The biggest red flag for me...the way it all began. OSU made it clear that SI told them that nothing in the report would involve any issues with current staff or players. The first two installments stated clearly that misconduct started under Miles and continued under Gundy, who is the current head coach. In an interview on CBS Radio's "The Doug Gottlieb Show," Dohrmann said he doesn't know where OSU got that idea, and that SI has info that continues through 2011.