The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Truth and verification are central to journalism; journalists are expected to check their facts, and to report only what they know to be the truth.

Unless of course one writes stories to further some Liberal Cause, in which case making shit up is tolerated or even encouraged. For instance, someone called up the BBC and claimed that he was an executive of Dow Chemical who was taking responsibility for the Bhopal disaster. The BBC took his statement at face value, only to be embarrassed later when the incident was revealed to be a hoax. (One wonders if the BBC would have been fooled if the caller had been Howard Stern stooge Stuttering John. Probably.)

Last week Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham was fired. In his three years on the job, Notre Dame averaged a 7-5 record, was crushed several times, and appeared to be getting worse (the Irish started Willingham's first year with a 8-0 run). Furthermore Notre Dame appeared to have a ready replacement in the form of Utah coach Urban Meyer, who had coached at South Bend and even had a clause in his contract allowing him to return there. (Unfortunately for the Irish, Meyer accepted a job at Florida.)

What was San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy's reaction to this news? Why, Willingham was fired because he was black!

Race was certainly factor in stunning Irish firing


``Don't worry about me,'' he said. ``Coach Willingham will be all right.''

He uttered those words, I am certain, because Notre Dame had never been one to dump head coaches prematurely. Each one, even those with losing seasons, had been allowed to finish out his contract. Notre Dame's administrators didn't surrender to the cranks. Academics and honor and perspective were the rule.

Tuesday, the rule changed. Shame on Notre Dame. Willingham, with a 21-15 record, was dismissed three years into his six-year deal. It wasn't exactly the day college football died. That happened long ago, in terms of the game's pure paradigm. But when a school claims to be something special -- meaning that its players know what the word ``paradigm'' means -- then the school needs to act special. Tuesday, Notre Dame acted like Florida and Ohio State and Nebraska. Or worse.


"Certainly" is a strong word. One might even think it indicates certitude. And yet one can read the rest of the article without any evidence at all that Notre Dame's actions were motivated by race. Purdy can't find one quote, even an anonymous quote, where someone said that Willingham had to go because of the color of his skin. All he can do is complain that earlier coaches were given more opportunities to post mediocre seasons:

Well, you can look it up. Three previous football coaches at Notre Dame had worse records than Willingham in their first three seasons. And all three -- Joe Kuharich, Gerry Faust and Bob Davie -- survived to coach a fourth season.

Some people would take this as evidence that Notre Dame can learn from its hiring mistakes, not as evidence there is a South Bend chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

Purdy even makes points that undermine his case, and neither he nor his editor seem to notice:

Willingham doesn't have a warm and fuzzy personality, that's true. His players and assistants seem to love him. But he can be chippy with reporters and isn't much for back-slapping alums, as Faust and Davie were. I don't think Willingham ever bought into the whole Notre-Dame-as-a-football-cult thing, either.

Well, I haven't bought into the cult of celebrity as applied to movie and television stars. If I were a reporter on Entertainment Tonight, and were fired because I sneered at Tom Cruise, would I have a right to complain?

And wasn't there a coach just before Willingham? A white man who served for about four days:

White is the same athletic director who, before offering the job to Willingham, hired George O'Leary to coach the Irish. O'Leary lasted less than a week, sunk by revelations that he lied on his résumé. White confessed he had been charmed by O'Leary's rah-rah style and Irish-American heritage.

But not too charmed to dump the white guy overboard when it was discovered that he had told a lie.

And whatever problems Willingham has had, at least no Fighting Irish fan has shot his dog.



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