Tuesday, August 17, 2010

For Once The World Needs One MORE Lawyer

On Saturday the Razorback nation was aflutter with the news that Arkansas head football coach, Bobby Petrino responded to a question from a local radio co-host saying, “…and that will be the last question I answer with that hat on.” The radio personality in question, Renee Gork, is a Florida graduate who claimed that she wore a hat brandishing her alma mater’s mascot to protect her hair from the Saturday morning rain. Fast forward to Monday morning and Gork is terminated by KAKS, a Northwest Arkansas radio station that bills itself as “Hog Sports Radio.” By Monday afternoon, The Associated Press had picked up the story prompting numerous national pundits, including AOL Fanhouse columnist Clay Travis, to weigh in.

Mr. Travis knows a thing or two about covering the South’s fall religion. In 2005 the Vanderbilt Law graduate and unapologetic Tennessee Volunteers fan burst on the southern football scene with his weekly mail bag column for CBS Sportsline. Mr. Travis parlayed his column into a fantastic book, Dixieland Delight, which chronicled his visits to each SEC venue during the 2006 football season. Travis’ biting wit and everyfan perspective made him a hit among his fellow twenty-something Southeastern Conference football fans, and eventually led to another book that followed Phil Fulmer and his Volunteers in Fulmer’s last season as head coach.

Now, I must confess, I am a fan of Travis’ work. I’ve been a regular reader of his material since the beginning. I own two of his books. I constantly recommend Dixieland Delight, right alongside The Blind Side, and Meat Market to friends looking for excellent football reading. I have written in to his mail bag column, and I have encouraged others to do so. I follow him on twitter. I even know that he made a huge impression on his first day as an editor at the popular sports blog www.deadspin.com when he talked about Vince Young’s use of the phrase “No homo,” in the Tennessee Titans locker room. But I think it might finally be time for me to take exception with Mr. Travis’ work.

I suppose I should not be surprised that Travis would stick up for Gork through this ordeal. Media famously sticks up for other members of the media, but Travis goes too far in his defense. As usual, instead of relying on his lawyer’s logic to make a point that could easily be made, especially in this case, Travis pulls out his quiver filled with arrows of stereotype and innuendo.

First, in attacking Petrino, Travis insists that Razorback fans should be ashamed of their coach, because he left his NFL team in mid season, and of course Travis cannot resist a chance to call Arkansas the 8th best football program in the SEC. Is it possible that Travis had a lapse in memory in regards to the dubious history of Tennessee’s own head football coaches? I wonder if Travis thought less of Phillip Fulmer for pushing out his legendary boss, Johnny Majors, to take the reins of the boys in orange? Did Travis shudder when Lane Kiffen took the position of head coach to new lows just a year ago? I think not. Travis should also be reminded that the so called 8th best football program in the SEC played for the conference title more recently than the Vols, and are expected to do so again.

But, of course, this is not a discussion of the Hogs and the Vols. It’s a question of professionalism in the media. Gork had long covered both college and professional football. By all accounts Gork was successful in covering the Florida Gators, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In other words, she should have known better. Even the most casual fan knows that reporters don’t cheer in the press box, and you sure don’t wear the apparel of a conference rival to question one of the most beloved men in Arkansas.

Even Gork’s choice of clothing might have been nothing more than an interesting post practice anecdote if she had managed to maintain a semblance of professionalism both at practice and away from it. Numerous reports identify Gork as a regular violator of a University of Arkansas policy that bans those attending Razorback football practices from transmitting information during the practice about its events. But even still with this violation Gork might have kept her job despite raising the ire of Coach Petrino and the U of A media relations staff if she could have convinced herself to be a little more professional with her use of popular social media tools. No, Gork insisted on complaining about her job duties, not once, but numerous times via facebook and twitter. Most adults who use these social media tools understand that what you say on the internet has consequences, but Gork clearly didn’t see anything wrong with doing any of these things. Frankly, she’s a poster child for any aspiring reporters who are looking for examples of what not to do if you hope to be a successful journalist.

Clay would do well to learn from this episode. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t try to interview Derek Dooley in his Vanderbilt Law t-shirt.

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