I never realized how much I was going to miss the sound of silence.
I’ll fully admit that I had grown tired with the journalists in this state after they played a major hand in cementing the fate of our football team’s bowl hopes by over-dramatizing the fight that occurred after the Clemson/South Carolina football game in 2005.
That journalistic debacle, while ridiculous, was certainly not the first time our local typing-heads threw darts squarely into our eyes. That over-dramatization was on the heels of a stretch run of sarcastic ambivalence by our local journalists who found more opportunities to pick apart Clemson’s athletic programs than they could find words of praise.
It created a backlash by Clemson fans in this state (a combination of anger, cancelled subscriptions, scathing posts on Internet boards, calls to editors, and several full public rebuttals to the silliness that was trying to be sold) and has seemingly had some type of effect.
Surely there is something more to this story?
Let’s narrow down this huge topic and focus on football for just a moment. Tommy Bowden spent most of his first six years or so having to deal with a media that did not particularly like him, his attitude, or his ambivalence to their profession. The media rode that wave and even savored the cat and mouse game as a way to easily find ways to land their jabs.
And to be perfectly honest, many Clemson fans bought in to that “perceived” arrogance from our head coach. Bowden’s lack of “media-friendly” jabber came across as a lack of care or concern for the fan base that was paying his salary. Perception is reality, and the perception was that Bowden did not care about the fans and he was aloof.
The more Bowden cringed and held out to the media, the more the writers in this state enjoyed throwing their darts to spite him. One week an article would be written that made perfect sense and was fair and logical; the next was out in left field. There was never a prolonged period of time without a scathing article or editorial, often timed by the writer at the most inopportune of times.
And Coach Bowden was left to hold the change left over from a group of folks that were obviously trying to make a name for themselves by taking on the Clemson program confrontationally. Better yet, Bowden had to take the punches from a group of writers that were looking to promote their careers by trashing his.
And the darts were thrown. And they stuck. And we complained softly. And they threw some more. And Coach Bowden tried to please. And then a blowout loss would undo all good that was written previous. And we were back in our vicious cycle with writers who were cautiously optimistic during the wins and downright blood-thirsty during the losses.
To make matters worse, these writers said they were speaking for the fans of this state, which was laughable considering that all the major columnists had only been in this state a handful of years.
All of this culminated after the fight in 2005 where a twinge of Yellow Journalism from the late 1800’s drove the media’s howling for action because of the scuffle that took place on Frank Howard Field in the 4th quarter. And their articles got a response, or lack thereof, from an athletic department not willing (or able) to put up a resistance in this age of political over-correctness.
A victory for the media, you could say. But could the backlash from this tumultuous time been far more than any of these typing-heads were ready to take on?
Many Clemson fans reached their boiling point in late 2005 with the media. The frustrations stemmed from the way our program was being portrayed in such a cynical and demeaning light. Clemson fans had grown tired of defending the program to people who could care less. The snowball had grown too large. Heads sitting behind keyboards were growing too large. The ship was being steered by folks in the media who had no emotional or physical interest in Clemson University. Complaints grew louder, calls to editors were made, subscriptions were cancelled, and those boiling points were reached.
And then there was silence.
We have spent the better part of 20 months in a muckraker-free environment for the most part. The sarcastic articles, belittling our program and our fans, have faded away.
The “café chat articles” with invisible people that don’t exist have steered clear of topics of how bad our athletic programs and how radical the fan base is. Editorials in upstate newspapers now seem to babble on quietly about minor league baseball.
The exposé articles where dirt was found through microscopes with innuendos of wrong doing and turmoil have quietly faded away.
And as far as I know, nobody now is peeking through windows at Jervey Athletic Center late at night to see who the next coaching hire will be or what new story can be broke.
So what gives? An 8-4 football season coupled with a less than stellar basketball season are, by themselves, nothing to keep the wolves away. Why have we not heard the sermons from the mount?
Why was no outcry given for sitting on the ball against Boston College, playing for overtime in a game that eventually would end in a loss? Why was there no “café chat article” questioning the starting of Charlie Whitehurst with a bum shoulder over a healthy Will Proctor? Why is nobody writing about how improbable it must be to lose to Wake Forest in Winston Salem in football two years in a row? Why are there no articles on how expectations are way too high for this football team? Why is there nobody peeking in the window of Jervey wondering why Oliver Purnell is not reworking his game philosophy to foul instead of allowing game-tying three pointers at the end of the game?
There is some room for somebody, somewhere, to throw a few darts. Never mind if the targets are legitimate, because that never stopped the dart throwers before. They have opportunities similar to years gone by to wield their madness.
But it is not happening. So why is it not happening?
I have a sneaky suspicion that the silence is a direct result of you, the Internet sports fan. You reached your breaking point in late 2005 after being perpetually punched in the stomach for the better part of seven years. You took action by voicing your opinion and your displeasure. You pointed out that newspapers are growing more and more irrelevant. You justified those that posted on message boards, stating some were equally, maybe even more, qualified to speak on behalf of the Clemson Nation than some guy with a journalism degree from some far off place. You decided that you had a voice and were going to use it, something that journalists ten or twenty years ago did not have to worry about from their readers.
And maybe, just maybe, you had an effect. One writer took a lateral job in another state instead of peeking through windows. There is a new editor in one of the big three newspapers. The other guys, while still around, have kept themselves in line or moved on to minor league baseball diatribes.
People like that don’t just give up unless they are beat down. They normally thrive on controversy. But when the controversy makes them look silly and cost their employers money, their tune changes. Controversy for the sake of controversy makes for bad journalism. We can take our medicine when sick, but getting it every day is beyond tolerance.
So the tune has changed as proven by the lack of negative articles and editorials being thrown onto our driveway. Maybe these changes were because of you or maybe they were not. But it has changed. Coach Bowden almost felt as ease with the media this spring, no coincidence since he now seems to know he has an upper hand in the relationship.
Newspapers, and newspaper journalist, are becoming increasing irrelevant. There are few people in this state that NEED a newspaper to stay up to snuff on their knowledge. Hundreds of television stations and an Internet that is in almost every single home in America have given some much-needed competition to the monopoly that was newspaper news. Newspapers are even less relevant in a sports world where fanatics want their information immediately, not the next morning.
You know it and you have known it for a while. Our journalist friends are beginning to painfully realize it. And because of that, they can’t walk the road less traveled anymore without serious financial risks. They can’t be quite so arrogant. They can’t expect that what they write will be taken as gospel. And they can’t promote their careers at the expense of harming our program.
You deserve, in my opinion, a pat on the back. The power of the people has overcome the power of the outsider who does not care at all about our athletic programs.
I suppose it is possible that the writers in this state grew smarter, wiser, and gained a bit of common sense. I can also see how they were told by their bosses to keep their writings from dredging the riverbed too.
Either way, the silence is deafening. And I almost…but only almost…miss the silence.