Monday, August 31, 2015

Finally, Someone Got It Right.

For all but a very few years of my life, my father has been the head football coach of some team, and for the last 35, for Carson-Newman University where he's been pretty successful. There have been quite literally thousands of articles written about him. While that may seem cool, it's sometimes just not. I want you to know, I've learned a lot about the media. Let me just name two things: 1. Many stories don't get it right,
even the basic facts. 2. Most reporters have an agenda and a preconceived narrative they want to press on the story. The two are usually related.

My dad when I played at CN,
circa 1988. 
It must be nice to be an average person who hasn't experienced being the subject of so much media attention. It must be nice to pick up a newspaper or magazine and read the stories without wondering what the reporter got wrong, or what the agenda is, or how the subjects of the story and their families feel about how they were made to look. But I can't. I'm forever scarred. I'm sure I share these thoughts with any child of any well-known coach, politician, celebrity, or successful person. I have NO desire to be the subject of media attention, and desire to spare my own family from it.
There have been so many times I have been angered when I read the way my dad was wrongly portrayed: the uneducated coach, the clich├ęd Christian, the hypocrite, the simpleton who can't do anything else in the world but coach, or (perhaps worst of all) the win-at-all-costs self-promoter.
A youthful Ken Sparks
circa 1973 on CN's staff
as Offensive Coordinator.
I want to be fair. Perhaps reporters write with these narratives in mind because they've known coaches which are one or more of the above. I've certainly known coaches that belong in each of those categories. Maybe they've become so jaded that they've lost their hope that good people with selfless motives actually exist. Perhaps they've never really met someone who has truly been impacted by Christ. Or maybe they're blinded by their own narcissism and assume everyone else is as they are.

My opinion of journalists in general is also shaped by the fact that I graduated with a Bachelor's in Communication, and classes in media and journalism were a part of my studies. Glenn Cragwall, my broadcasting professor set the bar high for what media professionals should be all about, yet so many fellow students who ended up in some form of journalism failed to practice these principles, and became activists or ideologues disguised as journalists. What's more, I am a sports fan! In my lifetime, I've watched as ESPN and other media power-players corrupt sports from what I perceived as the one of the last apolitical and relatively honest pastimes into a platform for egotistical hero worship, unlimited commercialism, and tool for politically-correct culture formation. The liberal bias and political activism of sports journalists and networks is just sad.

So I am admittedly calloused.

Occasionally I've been called and interviewed by reporters for my thoughts about my dad. I'm always guarded with my comments. I try not to give a reporter too much "peripheral fluff" from which he can cobble together some pithy sentence I didn't really say to support his narrative, but I stay focused and repetitive on what I know to be true and what is hardly ever conveyed in stories about my dad: He coaches for one reason: to bring glory to God and to bring people to Christ. This usually means my comments don't make it into the story. That's ok with me.

I am happy to say there's an exception to reporters/stories that have jaded my perspective.

My dad hardly ever tells me whenever he wins some award or when a big article or story comes out about him in the sports media. In fact, I can't remember a specific time when he has. It is usually someone at church or a friend or someone on Facebook who says, "That's a great article about your dad," or "Did you see that story about your dad on TV?" or "Congrats to your dad on winning the [Greatest Most Winningest Hall of Fame Coach on the Planet Bla Bla] award." This can be a weekly occurrence. It happened yesterday at church. A friend who played college football and a little professionally told me about yet another story. But this one, he said, is different. He sent me the link.

It is different.

I owe the writer, Reid Forgrave of Fox Sports, credit for getting it right. In fact, I feel I owe him an apology. Not just because I pressed on him my own narrative of sports journalists, but because I was probably a little curt with him over the phone, especially at first. You see, about a month ago, Reid called me to interview me about my father and his status of being the winningest living NCAA football coach. I reluctantly took the call. I asked about his agenda and what narrative he was pursuing, while doing what I usually do. He patiently told me he understood, and that he was different. I loosened up a little, but then after hanging up, couldn't help but thinking, "I wonder if he was for real, or if he was just saying that to get more out of me."

Reid, I'm sorry. Your article is accurate. And even more, it is well-written. There need to be more sports journalists like you. Thank you for giving me hope.

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