I was driving just a few days ago, scanning back and forth between a couple of my favorite sports talk stations. I stopped on one just long enough to hear the host say, "Twitter is gonna get us all killed," right before going to break. I have no idea of the context, but I have a guess.
A few weeks ago, I wrote up the story about Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy. He's taking a $1 million pay cut, losing a year on his contract, and seeing his guaranteed money dip from 75% to 50%. Why? Because he took a picture wearing a t-shirt from conservative news channel OANN, one of his players saw it, didn't like it, and instigated a Twitter mob against him.
And that, it seems, was just the beginning. Taking his cue from Oklahoma State, West Virginia University defensive safety Kerry Martin, Jr. decided to tweet his own grievances about his defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.
It appears from Martin's rant that he never took the time to press any of his concerns with Koenning personally. In fact, he admits to not telling anyone else besides his family for fear of "bringing negativity" to the program. Apparently going from no one to everyone on social media was the next logical step. So let's review the accusations:
- Koenning talked about his Christian faith in front of players.
- Martin's high school coach felt like Koenning had a "slave master" mentality (with no specificity of what that even means).
- Koenning called Martin "retarded" after a practice mistake.
- Koenning barked at players to "get in the house and upstairs to the meeting" and it made Martin feel like he was being treated as property.
- Koenning vocally supported President Trump's border wall, and at best expressed his desire to stop (illegal) immigration from Mexico in an un-PC manner.
- Koenning has proselytized and shared Bible verses with Martin.
- Koenning spoke out against the violent rioting, and suggested that people doing it should expect to be tear gassed.
Let's also review the admissions:
- Martin admits that when Koenning realized he had offended him regarding the violent rioting, the coach reached out personally wanting to clarify and apologize.
- Martin admits that Koenning is "not a bad person" and does "mean well."
- Martin admits that Koenning has done "good things."
- In a later testimony, Martin admits Koenning, "has done good by me and is not a bad person."
Any rational mind that thinks all of that collectively rises to the level of fire-able offense is kidding themselves. At most, what common sense would say this situation deserved was a face-to-face meeting with Koenning and Martin, perhaps along with a third-party like WVU head coach Neal Brown. Koenning could have been made to understand both the concerns of Martin, perhaps other players, as well as the expectations of Coach Brown and his program. If the problem persisted or even surfaced again in the future, punitive action could take place.
But common sense doesn't rule us today. The Twitter mob does. Sports journalist Jason Whitlock writes,
"Twitter has instituted a new standard on all coaches. You cannot make young people uncomfortable. You cannot speak to athletes using non-PC language. The standards coaches adopted from military training have been outlawed by social media… We're raising soft kids, kids who constantly have their victimhood affirmed."
He's right. And as a result, Koenning is out at West Virginia. Incidentally, let's not oversell the coach's victimhood here. His defense ranked 76th out of 130 teams in points allowed per game, and 117th in Red Zone scoring percentage, yet was handed nearly $600,000 as he walked out the door. But that's not really the point.
The point is what all this means for the future of coaching and sports. Whitlock explained,
"Any ‘uncomfortable' interaction between a white coach and black player is proof of racism. If I'm a coach, regardless of my race, I would not engage with my players on anything unrelated to Xs and Os."
Anybody that thinks that's all a coach should engage with a player over doesn't have a clue the vital role in character-shaping and mentorship that coaches provide, particularly to young men that have never experienced anything like that from a male figure.
Latest figures indicate that Twitter dialogue is driven by about 2% of the American population. Call me crazy, but I'm not sure that's a solid basis to redefine the way we do sports.