Knoxville's sports media seems to be going through a period of self-examination in the wake of the Lane Kiffin fiasco; maybe us fans can join them. One can sympathize with professional journalists who cover sports. They walk a fine line between wooing Vol fans to their shows or their stories while still being committed to the ethical demands of their trade.
Let me say first that I love these guys. I've worked with John Adams, Mike Strange, Jimmy Hyams, and Bob Hodge. I really like John Pennington, Dave Hooker, John Wilkerson and their colleagues. There is no other town with an SEC school that has more incisive, smart, and entertaining coverage of their college team than we get with the Vols. I have to believe that a lot of these guys, while doing honest day-to-day reporting on the program, had to also have been concerned about some of the things that were going on.
Those of us who cover politics and government have it easier. If I call out the county mayor and he doesn't speak to me for three years, I can still do my job. I have the Open Records Act, County Commission, and other elected officials. If a sports reporter hacks off the University of Tennessee athletics department, they may find themselves denied access. Or important stories may get leaked to competitors first. When Adams wrote a tough column about Phillip Fulmer and the off-the-field problems of the football team, he was never forgiven by the football administration. Hyams' hard-nosed coverage of Kiffin has resulted in hundreds of scathing e-mails accusing him of not being sufficiently in the tank for the Vols.
Vol fans have been surprised to discover that Kiffin assistant Ed Orgeron is the kind of snake who would tell Vol recruits not to go to class and thus be able to transfer to Southern California. But Orgeron was an unethical snake when he arrived in Knoxville last year and he has been praised to the skies by sports reporters and fans for his successful recruiting.
Vol fans are shocked to discover that Kiffin was a self-absorbed jerk out for No. 1, who had no qualms about leaving assistant coaches, recruits, and Vol fans in the lurch. Not exactly the image he has portrayed over the last year.
Mere "secondary" NCAA violations have been dismissed as no big deal. If you are going to make an SEC championship omelet, you have to break a few eggs. Now the NCAA investigation looms large as Kiffin has left town—and he hasn't taken the investigation with him.
I wrote a column a few weeks back suggesting the UT administration get control over the football program because the Kiffin team was in the process of besmirching the school's reputation and flirting with NCAA sanctions. The comments on the column were extensive and abusive. That's okay, cause, as the old cowboy says, "it warn't my first rodeo."
But some Vol fans have attacked any sports reporter or sports talk show host who dared suggest that all was not right in the Vol Nation. Thus their surprise and shock.
One can admire the passion of UT fans. Yes, it's also nice to have passionate fans all over the SEC, each supporting their school and engaging in good-natured competition. It adds something to the games. When the Vols play Alabama, the only question about my Tide-fanatic sister is whether she will call me at the half or wait until the end of the game. Or both. And she has enjoyed sticking it to big brother in recent years.
No one wants new Coach Derek Dooley to beat Alabama more than I do. But with this new regime, maybe we can agree to step back a little bit. Let's wish him well. Let's enjoy the games. But let's not make him superman and blast any sports reporter who dares question any decision he makes.
We need to know the truth about sports figures. Then maybe we won't be so surprised and angry if our football gods turn out to have feet of clay.