Thursday, March 25, 2010

Context Matters: Deonte Thompson Edition

Its funny how a story can turn.

On Monday evening Orlando Sentinel reporter Jeremy Fowler posted a blog post entitled "Florida Gators WR Deonte Thompson sounds happy to usher in post-Tebow era" the premise of which came from this quote:

“You never know with Tim,” Thompson said. “You can bolt, you think he’s running but he’ll come up and pass it to you. You just have to be ready at all times. With Brantley, everything’s with rhythm, time. You know what I mean, a real quarterback.

Almost immediately the national media picked up on the quote and it became fodder for sports talk radio. Then yesterday Urban Meyer confronted Fowler at the Gators' spring practice and had this to say.

“You’re a bad guy, man. You’re a bad guy,” Meyer told Sentinel reporter Jeremy Fowler. “If that was my son we’d be going at it right now.”


“I told you this five years ago – don’t mess with our players. Don’t do it – you did it,” Meyer said. “You do it one more time and the Orlando Sentinel’s not welcome here ever again. Is that clear? It’s yes or no.”

And now Urban Meyer has become fodder for the national media and sports talk radio as well. So what gives? Whose right and whose wrong here and why is it such a big story?

Well in my opinion everybody was somewhat wrong and everybody was somewhat right but the problem really is nobody is focusing on the real issue here and that's context.

When I read Thompson's quotes on Monday I didn't really think it was a big deal because I understood immediately what he meant. When he said "real" quarterback he of course meant a traditional drop back quarterback and we all know that Tim Tebow was anything but that. I did however have a feeling that the media and sports radio wouldn't see it that way and low and behold I was right.

All week I have read article after article and heard sports radio host after sports radio host using Deonte Thompson's quote to either "confirm" the notion that Tim Tebow is not going to be a viable quarterback in the NFL, a hot topic these days leading into the draft, or alternately to bash Thompson as an underachiever who hasn't produced and seems to be blaming Tebow for his lack of production. Neither use of the quote was fair in my opinion but sports media isn't always about fairness these days.

Make no mistake about it, that initial blog post by Fowler definitely colored the comments as a knock or a shot against Tebow and this is where it starts to get dicey. On twitter last night another journalist, Benjamin Volin, who was there when Thompson gave the quote confirmed Urban Meyer's assertion that in the same interview referred to Tim Tebow as a "living legend". If that quote is included in the blog post by Foley then it would be hard to make the case that Thompson was "happy to usher in post Tebow era" as the title of the blog post asserted, no? Volin further had this to say:

All I will say about this is that 8 people were in on that Deonte Thompson interview and only one person ran right home to post that quote

And in another tweet he used the word "innocuous" to describe Thompson's quote about Tebow. That gives me the distinct impression that Fowler did in fact make a mountain after a molehill and that but for Fowler this wouldn't be a story. But I have to say this in Fowler's defense. I follow him on twitter and have been following him since the college football season started last year. If anything I've found his coverage of the Gators to almost be TOO glowing at times so its hard for me to imagine that he was trying to stir the pot with his blog post. This is a situation where in my mind maybe he thought he really did have a story even if it was based on shaky grounds at best.

Which brings us to Urban Meyer. Now make no mistake about it, Meyer was wrong in the way he confronted Fowler on the practice field. There is no doubt that he meant to embarrass Fowler in front of his peers and threatening to block the Orlando Sentinel from covering the Gators because of what he perceived as being bad press was way out of bounds.

But let me tell you something as an ex player. Urban Meyer probably couldn't have done anything better from a recruiting standpoint than to stand up for Thompson like he did. I can tell you from experience that if there is a star football player in high school following this story right now he has to come away feeling good about the fact that Meyer was willing to go nose to nose with a journalist in defense of one of his guys. That's the kind of trait you admire in a coach as a player even if it seems to be over the top to the average observer. So while Meyer was wrong, it probably will help him rather than hurt him when it comes to recruiting.

But the problem I have is this, people have already turned this story into one about Urban Meyer and his support for Tim Tebow rather than a story about his support for Deonte Thompson. I won't assume the motives behind that leap in logic and its true that sticking up for Thompson may in some small way help Tebow, but it overlooks what this young man has probably been going through the last few days.

Imagine for a moment that you are Deonte Thompson and you are trying to get ready for a breakout season as it appears it is finally your chance to be the man. You give what you think is a regular interview and you use one word, the word "real" instead of "traditional", to describe your former teammate and all of a sudden you are at the center of a controversy. You google Thompson's name and you come up with articles bashing Tebow as not being an NFL quarterback and you come up with articles bashing Thompson for daring speak ill of Tebow in any way shape or form. And remember, this kid actually gave Tebow a huge compliment in the same interview by calling him a "living legend". You turn on ESPN and people were throwing around his quote as if it would be the deciding factor in whether a team picked Tebow in the first round. You look around at message boards and you see people viciously attacking this young man because they are such big Tebow fans that they won't tolerate ANY criticism or perceived criticism of him.

So today as you watch the story of Meyer's confrontation with Fowler, check to see if you hear anyone correct the story about what Thompson said. Check to see if anybody, in the midst of criticizing Meyer for getting after Fowler, admit that he actually had a point about Fowler taking Thompson out of context. Check to see if some of the same sports talk radio hosts who were either bashing Tebow or bashing Thompson the last few days will admit that they made more out of Thompson's quote than they should have.

Some how I doubt if you will hear or see anything of the sort. And that is THE problem in my opinion. Its funny because this morning I heard several local sports radio hosts who had in fact helped push this story actually have the stones to say that Meyer himself made it a story yesterday by confronting Fowler. Talk about a total lack of self awareness and a total lack of accountability.

In the end no matter whose side you are on in all of this, Urban Meyer's or Jeremy Fowler's, just remember that there is a college kid who has had his world turned upside down over the course of this week over a quote that was made up to mean something other than what he seemed to mean. And maybe, just maybe, some of these same folks owe that guy an apology.

Just saying.

Update: As if on cue here is what ESPN's Skip Bayless had to say about Deonte Thompson just a short while ago on First and 10:

Deonte Thompsom was a highly publicized recruit out of Belle Glade Florida who was making an excuse as to why in his first two years he didn't contribute very much. 'Its kinda Tim Tebow's fault that he didn't throw me enough balls. He wasn't on time. He wasn't a "real" quarterback'"

And from where does Skip glean this assertion? Hell even he probably doesn't know.

Let's look at the original blog post again.

I’ve received plenty of feedback Tuesday from Thompson supporters vouching for the guy. I’ve interviewed Thompson numerous times in the past and he never said anything inflammatory.

Either way, Thompson’s ready to be the top receiver for Florida.

“I’ve been ready,” Thompson said. “Somebody’s got to. Why not me, right?…It feels like a fresh start.”

The only way to capitalize on a fresh start is through grunt work, and new wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni likes what he sees of Thompson so far.

“He knows he hasn’t lived up to the billing,” Azzanni said. “That’s what’s great about him. He’s humbled. He’s let his guard down. Coach, coach me. I want to catch all the balls I might not have caught in the fall. I want to run better routes. What do I need to do?”

Does that sound like the guy Skip was describing?

Better yet here's Volin's write up of the incident before Urban Meyer had even confronted anyone.

Poor choice of words? Sure. But was his intent to rip Tebow? Not at all, and that’s coming from someone who has interviewed Thompson dozens of times since his days at Glades Central High.

Thompson, 21 years old, is guilty only of not being a polished public speaker. If Thompson had used the word “traditional” — what he was implying — instead of “real,” this would never have been a national news story.

But Tebow is such a lightning rod that any comment made against him is blown way out of proportion.

But do you think Skip Bayless will ever apologize to Deonte Thompson?

I wouldn't hold my breath...


  1. Here's a link to a video of the Thompson interview in question.

    I agree with your view. Fowler played games with words. Then played innocent. The Orlando Sentinel has had issues recently with quite a few people.

    Remember Mike Bianchi getting drilled by Bill Simmons from ESPN? Bianchi also had a running feud with the UCF head coach. Fowler's had run-ins with the press before.

    Love your response to Bayless. I agree, Bayless says what ever for ratings... kinda like what I believe Fowler did.