After Florida's 24-6 win over Toledo on Saturday, Will Muschamp said a lot of the things he typically says after ho-hum wins. I heard "The best thing about being 1-0 is a chance to go 2-0" on his radio show; I'm pretty sure he called it a "great team win" in the locker room, because many Florida players' Instagram captions of game photos had that phrase. But Muschamp also took about two minutes to aerate the Florida media — specifically, Gator Country, The Gainesville Sun, and The Palm Beach Post — for "inaccurate" reporting and "irresponsible journalism" that included freshman Jay-nard Bostwick among six players suspended for Saturday's game.
The Orlando Sentinel has the video, which is lamentably set to auto-play. Here's a YouTube version of it.
Here's a transcript of Muschamp's remarks, edited from the one done by Only Gators:
I am gonna address something, uh, y'know, we had four players that were suspended for today. Uh, and we had one player, you know, very inaccurate information in The Gainesville Sun, the Palm Beach Post and Gators Country. That was very irresponsible journalism, okay?
You guys can write whatever you want to say about me. You can say I’m a bad football coach. You can say I’m a bad dad, I’m a bad husband, I’m a bad person. You really can say anything you want to say. That’s your opinion. You can talk about our offense, our defense, our special teams. You can talk about our coaching staff, you can talk about our administration. That’s your opinion. And you’re entitled to that, and that’s fair.
But when you take a shot at a kid and it’s inaccurate, and it’s written inaccurately? I got a problem. So I can be accused of a lot of things ... of being overprotective of our players for accurate information.
I am really pissed off, and it’s wrong.
And I dealt with it last night with a parent, and I had to deal with it this morning with another parent. All right? Because it was inaccurate, and it was wrong, and it was totally irresponsible. Again, your opinion is fine — take shots at me all day. Jeremy (Foley) pays me enough, I’ll take 'em all day. All right?
But to take a shot at a freshman that’s done everything we’ve asked him to do since he’s been here. He is a great young man. He is ... shoulda played today if we’d have gotten into some situations to play him. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s a great teammate. He’s great in that locker room. And to take that shot is wrong. It’s damn wrong.
And I can’t tell you — our trust is done. I can assure you that. And you know exactly who I’m talking to. I don’t know where the Gator Country guys are — I’m going to tell you right now, we’re done. And that was completely wrong. You need to apologize to his parents, and you need to apologize to that kid. Because you won’t put your name behind something ... why don’t you tell me who your source was? That’s what I'd like to know. Who was your source? (silence) Church mice in here.
You know, if you wanna write something, stand up and stand behind it. That’s what I’ma tell you. You took a shot at a kid and a family that’s done nothing wrong. And it's, it’s really bad. I’ma meet with Mr. Foley to see if y’all are gonna be allowed to come back in here again. I’ll be honest with you, it's a low blow, for me. To deal with our opening ball game at the University of Florida and I’m dealing with this. Bad journalism.
But you know, "sources said."
Gator Country was the first of those three outlets to report that Bostwick was among five additional players suspended for Saturday's game (in addition to the previously-suspended Antonio Morrison) on Friday, shortly after 247Sports reported that Darious Cummings, Latroy Pittman, and Loucheiz Purifoy would be suspended for Florida's season opener against Toledo.
The site's initial report, which came after hints from both GC and Scout's Bob Redman in forums that Florida had players who would be suspended for Saturday, was written by Nick de la Torre, published around 6 p.m. on Friday, and cited "multiple sources" saying that Bostwick, Cummings, Pittman, Purifoy, and Quinteze Williams would be suspended, and giving the reason for their suspension as "reportedly breaking team rules." That story now carries an italicized section above the text, explaining that Bostwick was not suspended and linking to a correction and apology.
The Gainesville Sun followed with Robbie Andreu's story, published at just before 8 p.m. Friday, which reported that the paper had "confirmed" the suspensions of Bostwick, Cummings, Pittman, Purifoy, and Williams. That story appears to have been edited since, with a mention of Bostwick stripped out, and no mention of the edit or a correction has been appended to that story. Update, 3:43 p.m. Sunday: The Sun ran a correction online with a notebook piece from Kevin Brockway, in which it notes that it was "erroneously reported" that Bostwick was suspended, and that the paper "regrets the error."
The Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser reported at around 10 p.m. on Friday night that Bostwick, Cummings, Pittman, Purifoy, and Williams had been suspended, citing "multiple sources." Lieser additionally reported that Pittman and Purifoy had failed drug tests. That story has also been edited, with an italicized line of text preceding the body of the post and explaining that it has been corrected.
Florida clarified on Saturday morning through the @GatorZoneFB Twitter account that Cummings, Pittman, Purifoy, and Williams would all miss the game "due to a violation of team rules."
What seems clear: The sources used and mentioned by Gator Country and the Post were wrong about Bostwick being suspended, thus making the outlets' reports wrong. (It's impossible to make the same conclusion about the Sun's reporting, given its "confirmed" verbiage and shady editing of its initial report.) And that produced inaccurate and regrettable reporting that Bostwick was suspended.
But it should also be noted that what Gator Country and the Post did is far from "irresponsible" reporting — it's basically standard operating procedure, and two trusted sources confirming something is generally enough to report on, even on subjects far more important than a college football player's suspension. (Again, the Sun's verbiage and editing makes this conclusion far more difficult to make for its reporting.) Because my read is that Gator Country and the Post both did their due diligence and produced reports based on solid sourcing, I have a hard time feeling like those outlets deserved the excoriation they got from Muschamp, rather than something less fierce.
And I get the reasons behind Muschamp's fire-breathing. These were inaccurate reports about Bostwick, a player who did nothing wrong, and that player (and his family) deserved a defense; it was also a poorly-timed distraction for him and his team on Friday night and Saturday morning, and probably left Muschamp with fire in his belly. This plays well to players, their families, fans, and boosters, who heard something very similar to Muschamp's legendary rant over the NCAA's suspension of Sharrif Floyd in his comments from Saturday.
Despite my respect for Muschamp's noble intentions, though, I think he went over the top with his comments, especially given his comment to reporters on Wednesday that Morrison was the only player out Saturday for disciplinary reasons:
Muschamp says LB Antonio Morrison is only player out Saturday due to disciplinary reasons.— Scott Carter (@GatorZoneScott) August 28, 2013
Either that statement was a lie, and Muschamp knew of the four other suspensions — which, whether they were for reported violations of team rules or failed drug tests, would seem to be thanks to "disciplinary reasons" — on Wednesday, or all of these suspensions occurred between his Wednesday media availabilty and Saturday, when Florida announced them, something that strains credulity in my mind, especially if Pittman and Purifoy were suspended for failed drug tests.
Update, 3:03 p.m. Sunday: Elsewhere in Muschamp's post-game remarks, he told reporters that he announced suspensions to the team "last Thursday," presumably meaning August 22:
"I announced to our football team last Thursday we were going to be down some guys. They knew who I was talking about because they were on special teams. I told them exactly who they were and they made a mistake."
If Muschamp told reporters on Wednesday that Morrison would be Florida's only player out for Toledo, he was lying.
And if Muschamp wants to make himself fair game, it's certainly fair to criticize him for being tight-lipped with these suspensions, and lying to the media about them.
It's also a stretch for Muschamp to blast "irresponsible journalism" in one breath and ask journalists to reveal their sources in the next. Those sources Gator Country and the Post trusted were mostly right, after all, providing correct information on four players and incorrect information on a fifth; the Post's source suggesting failed drug tests were the reason for Pittman and Purifoy's suspension may also be right, especially given that Muschamp said Pittman was actually suspended for three games after Saturday's game, a suspension which would be consistent with the mandatory suspension for 10 percent of a season for a second failed drug test for marijuana plus a mandatory suspension for 20 percent of a season for a third failed drug test. (If that suspension is not related to failed drug tests, surely it's related to "disciplinary reasons"?)
Journalists don't reveal or name sources because those sources often comment on the condition of anonymity, and would not be able to comment without that condition. Muschamp would obviously like to know which sources were leaking things like these suspensions to the press so as to prevent those sources from doing so again, whether by talking to them or cutting off their access to information, but demanding names of sources in a public forum is not the way to actually get them from journalists who don't have to give their sources up, and shots like the "church mice" crack are low blows designed to score points and humiliate.
If Muschamp and/or Bostwick and his family really want something beyond an apology for this, there are lawyers who will happily file lawsuits for libel, though Bostwick's status as a public figure would probably necessitate proof of actual malice from the outfits that published these reports to get a verdict.
With that option likely off the table, Muschamp did what he could and then some on Saturday, coming out swinging to protect his player and redirect the criticism to him. And he was successful in his defense of Bostwick, certainly, getting an apology from Gator Country that is sincere and strong, to my eye, apologizing for the inaccurate report about Bostwick and explaining how it came to be.
But Muschamp was also successful in redirecting the criticism, by making statements that make him the center of attention in this circumstance. And while that's admittedly noble, it's also going to prompt more scrutiny from reporters on the Florida beat who will be interested in and capable of bringing up inconsistencies like Muschamp saying one player would be out for disciplinary reasons on Wednesday only for five to be out on Saturday, and Florida's evasiveness in announcing these suspensions hours before kickoff, likely intended to give opposing teams as little time as possible to plan for them, will embolden more investigation into pre-Saturday tips about them.
The Florida beat is now governed by a house organ, GatorZone, that mostly exists to shape Florida's story as the administration sees fit. It's hard to draw a line between the journalism and public relations GatorZone does, but GatorZone gets access every other site would kill for and does only what it is asked to do with it, which is understandably a frustrating thing for journalists on and observers of the beat. There is no mention of the four suspensions confirmed on Saturday morning anywhere on GatorZone, and GatorZone's video of Muschamp's post-game press conference edits out his rant.
But that relationship also gives Muschamp the apparatus to define a timetable for announcing suspensions and stick to it. Announcing a full list of suspensions on Wednesdays would fully quench the thirst for news on them; heck, announcing them at noon on Friday, when teams are traveling and largely done with preparations for games, would probably accomplish the same thing and not give opposing teams whatever dubious advantage a few more days of knowledge would. Had Florida done that yesterday, with a terse GatorZone statement like...
In addition to Antonio Morrison, Darious Cummings, Latroy Pittman, Loucheiz Purifoy, and Quinteze Williams will be suspended for Florida's game against Toledo. No other players will be suspended.
...it would have averted this situation, and protected every other player. Instead, Florida's and/or Muschamp's insistence on being as mum as possible left a gap in which "irresponsible journalism" based on unfortunate inaccurate reports to happen, and left Muschamp so spitting mad on Saturday that he had to generate fodder for another story to paper over this one.
None of this journalism stuff is easy, and no one appears to me to be fully in the right; I'm sure that Gator Country and its reporters and the Post and Lieser feel bad for what they did, and their apologies and corrections suggest as much. (For the final time, the Sun's handling of this situation makes a conclusion much harder to draw.)
For my part in posting about what turned out to be inaccurate reports, I apologize for spreading information that proved to be wrong, though I certainly stand by how I wrote that post, and will continue to pass along reporting I trust in that same fashion.
But I suspect the lasting image here will be a man nicknamed Coach Boom berating reporters, and calling them "church mice." And while I think Will Muschamp's very smart, and understands the press very well, I also think he will regret that remark when the "church mice" next have reason and ammunition to squeak in disapproval.