Face WHOSE Music?

Disclosure: Auburn journalism faculty member and season ticket holder here. You can judge from this and other writing if I live up to my claim of promoting responsible journalism over fandom.

Coach Gus Malzahn’s decision to remove quarterback Nick Marshall from Auburn’s SEC Media Days roster for today met with much disappointment.

The decision came after Marshall was cited on Friday in Georgia for marijuana possession. (“Cited, not arrested” became something of a mantra.)

Those who criticized claimed that it would be more appropriate for Marshall to “face the music” from the media in attendance today and that his appearance would “clear the air.”  Now, they say, the story will not go away.

This concept of the media as some kind of required ordeal for a college athlete to endure troubles me.  No doubt it derives from the media’s traditional role as a watchdog.

A public official might need to “face the music” of a press conference after investigative reporting or government inquiry reveals misdeeds that demand response.  A watchdog press is representing the citizenry in asking tough questions that need to be asked.

In other cases, however, the demand for someone to “face the music” also presumes a lot.  Here, most of that presumption comes from the media members who demand it who are demanding a go at Marshall.

With this story, there is no dogged investigative reporting.  The information might be entertaining to the audience, and First Amendment-protected.  But for many (but not all, I stress) of those who will be in attendance, this is an easy story that dropped in their laps and will give them the opportunity to hound a young athlete.  A textbook Media Days circus.

That circus dominates at a situation like this.  The serious questions of a young man who allowed what could be a storybook season to devolve into preseason drama?

Too weighty for an unethical credentialed amateur wishing to make a name for himself/herself with a condescending question sure to get meme’d, GIF’ed, and Vined.

The preseason drama beast demands fresh meat, and if Auburn will not feed Marshall to the beast, it’s more convenient to blame the school than to turn and address that annoying beast.

Some have compared this to the Jameis Winston story (the sexual assault accusations, NOT the crab legs caper).  The two don’t match up.

First, the Winston story has grown beyond FSU, though crucial questions still remain, to address a nationwide culture in which colleges mishandle sexual assault allegations, particularly where athletes are involved.

Second, Winston has not been charged in the incident, so any questions of his own involvement would be futile, given the competent legal advice he and anyone in a similar situation would receive.  If the story had broken three days of head of ACC’s media days, a similar decision would have been wise.

(Though I would add here that I supported Heather Cox’s questioning of Winston on ESPN after the ACC championship game.  Her questions were relevant, and he was handling them well until whisked away.)

Would an appearance by Marshall have defused the story?  Will the story continue from here, as many claim?  That question will be answered by the sports media members from here.

In the absence of new information, the story survives only if the media continue to serve it up under the pretense of new angles.

Nick Marshall will speak to these accusations, and he certainly should.  But at a venue like Media Days (too much) a mere three days after (too soon), not a wise decision.

And if it deprives some in the media of an easy target for a quick take — that’s not a problem worth solving.

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