LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Sometimes, the best thing you can do is just pull up a chair and have a talk with your readers. That's what this column is. Sit down with me here, because I have a few things to discuss with you, and there's no real way to dress it up into some kind of award-winning prose.
The subject of the day is Kevin Ware's much-discussed speeding ticket, and the even more-discussed 2013 Dodge Challenger he was driving.
The news of the day is that the University of Louisville says it is confident Ware broke no NCAA rules in borrowing a car belonging to fellow student Matt Case, and that it has closed its case on Ware and the sports car.
I've covered many NCAA issues. What I have found is that the initial stages of these things are a collaborative process. U of L does its interviews, puts together its list of facts, calls or corresponds with the NCAA and gets an interpretation on whether it needs to self-report a violation. In this case, after consultation with the NCAA, U of L sports information director Kenny Klein relayed that the school's compliance office says that there is no violation or NCAA eligibility issue. New facts can always arise. We're not clear on the facts as U of L presented them. All I can do is tell you that from what the NCAA has seen of this situation so far, it hasn't felt compelled to tell U of L to self-report.
U of L coach Rick Pitino was asked after Tuesday's win over Hartford whether he ever considered not playing Ware, either for the speeding situation or out of concern for eligibility issues, and he answered, then branched off in a new direction.
"I'm not going to play a player because he got a speeding ticket? Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket?" he asked reporters, and when it was noted that Ware missed a court date, he continued. "He just missed a day. It wasn't that he was ignoring it, he said I thought it was the following week. I said with something that's that important, believe me I chewed his --- out. Listen, I've benched a lot of players in my time, not for a speeding ticket. He shouldn't have been speeding. He took a friend's generosity, and borrowed his car, and you weren't a very good friend. That being said, you guys need to do your homework on some things, too. You need to do your homework."
What did that mean? He picked up the line of thinking after a later question.
"Find out where all this stems from. You need to do your homework," he said. " . . . You've got to see where all this stuff originates. We're in a very competitive town. You guys need to do your homework better. Don't say someone's guilty until he's guilty. . . . He's going to have to pay the consequences, whatever those consequences are. But it's interesting how things get out, it really is."
This is where we're going to have to sit down and talk. I'm going to mention some things here that I normally wouldn't, but I'm going to do it in order to make some points. In the course of it, I'm going to talk about a couple of traffic incidents, and I'm not identifying those involved, because they are secondary to the points I am making, and frankly, this discussion isn't about them.
Pitino's frustration, on the one hand, is understandable, but on the other is misplaced.
For starters, when a college basketball player, especially a high-profile player, is ticketed for speeding in a sports car, the media is going to focus on the car, and its owner. That's the media's job. It's what it does, and what it is supposed to do. It's going to ask uncomfortable questions.
That the media is somehow doing something wrong by following such lines of inquiry is a notion that I hope everyone would reject. That is, at its most basic and sacred, the media's purpose and job.
I think the best way I can explain my understanding of Pitino's frustration is this.
On my desk, right now, are two traffic citations. They are for nearly identical violations: Statute 189.390, speeding 26 miles per hour or more above the speed limit, and Statute 189.290, careless or reckless driving.
Two incidents. One on Oaks Day, 2013, on River Road. The other on Oct. 26, 2013 on I-65 in Barren County.
One involved a player who had just concluded his career at UK, one involved Kevin Ware from U of L.
About the only difference is that one missed his court date, and the other did not. The newsworthiness of the infractions, however, are the same. One was for speeding through a construction zone late at night. Another for speeding 69 in a 35 mph zone at a time of increased attendance at a nearby park. One occurred in a borrowed sports car. The other involved a player who could drive whatever he wanted because he was finished with college basketball.
One made news, the other didn't. Why? Some at U of L point out that an assistant county attorney in Barren County, whose Twitter page is plastered with UK championship banners, has what would appear to be a close relationship with a Louisville-based media enterprise whose pro-UK (and anti-U of L) stance in town is well-known.
In any event, they're chafing under what they feel is constant scrutiny of Ware and other players, including at least one instance in which a rumor about Ware with no demonstrable foundation was thrown into the public discussion via social media as actual fact.
When Pitino exhorted the media to "do its homework," this is what he was talking about.
The problem, of course, is that the media doesn't as much care where information comes from as much as it cares whether or not it is true.
I'm sympathetic to Pitino's frustration at having a pro-UK media within his own city that actively searches out negative stories about his program while ignoring similar stories in its own, but that doesn't necessarily discount facts that come into the public domain.
There is frustration, I think, among some at U of L that there is no corresponding pro-U of L outlet in the city trying, with the same zeal, to dig up dirt on UK. Most Wildcat fans I know would tell you that there are enough of those around the country, they don't need one in Louisville. They have their own media enemies.
At times, in fact, the media watching and baiting becomes a sport of its own.
Being a sports columnist in the city of Louisville means your skin gets thick over time. No matter what you write during college basketball or football season, you are ticking off an entire segment of your readership.
There are sins of omission and commission. It's not enough to write a nice story about UK, you must also write negative stories about U of L. It's not enough to praise U of L's recent success, you must also belittle whatever UK is doing.
One week, you're held up as a sure-fire winner of the Pultizer. The next you're condemned to the lowest circle of hell. Usually by the same fan base, and often by both simultaneously.
It is, over the course of years, a tiresome process. Frankly, it's a lot like having two children who always fight. There is no end to it. Social media only poured gasoline on the entire enterprise. I can post stories on my own Facebook page, and within an hour the discussion has devolved into name calling and personal insults. Nobody seems to be able to let a single article go on one team without antagonizing rival fans or arguing of the superiority of their own team. People I know in real life who are calm, reasonable people say things on social media that I cannot believe issued from their keyboards or phones -- and they put their names on it. Civility is not dead, but it has a virus it can't shake.
Where this becomes relevant to this discussion is that there now are "Twitter police" monitoring the two programs, usually rival fans quick to Tweet and email any whiff of impropriety they think they come across. Every incident brings public baiting. Don't report a rumor, and you are charged with "being in the pocket" of one side or another. Even if the rumor is false, or at the very least, patently un-provable.
On Tuesday, I got messages from a number of Twitter police. The charge: Check out this report about a U of L player who was ticketed in northern Kentucky with a car belonging to an official of U of L's sports marketing partner. Yes, there was a ticket given -- for a "headlight not illuminated." The problem with the Twitter police, however, is that they're right enough to have something, but not right enough to be completely right. The car was registered to a person who had the same name as the sports marketing official, but it wasn't that person. It was another person of the same name. The car, a late-model sports car (aren't they all?), in fact belonged to a U of L student, a female, who was a friend of the player and who was in the car with the player at the time of the incident. That violation, too, had a failure to appear in court notation, though its current disposition wasn't immediately available.
That incident, too, had been cleared through the same NCAA process that Ware's went through.
But the other problem with the Twitter police is that they aren't always wrong. In fact, sometimes they're dead on. The Manti Te'o story began because of a careful piecing together of Twitter information. Back in 2002, when I was part of a group of reporters who discovered U of L coach Bobby Petrino had met secretly with Auburn officials, the nugget that started the ball rolling was a message board post talking about a small airport in southern Indiana.
I may be old, but I'm not too old to realize that you ignore new media at your peril. A trip to the White House press room earlier this year confirmed that times are changing. Seats that used to belong to newspapers now are filled by Politico. I may need glasses, but I'm not too old to read the writing on the wall. It's why I write for a website today.
We can't discount anything, but neither can we accept what is flung into the Twittersphere with anything approaching faith. And certainly, while in the middle of trying to separate the bad from the good information, I don't think it's productive to engage people in a debate over what's right or wrong. I've done that in the past. It led to nothing good. It only alienated people and led to more distraction. In the new media world, we are all finding our way.
All of this has been fairly wide-ranging and not always well-organized, but it has been a good-faith effort to share insight on these matters. I'll try to tie it all together now with a quick list of five things we have learned through this, in no particular order:
1. If I don't talk to you on Twitter while a big story is developing, it's not that I don't like you, I'm just ignoring you.
2. If Kevin Ware asks to borrow your car, think twice.
3. Show up in court when you're supposed to.
4. Outside of Kentucky, there are very few people who care about any of the finger pointing. Neither program holds any kind of moral high ground.
5. When driving through Barren County, or even Jefferson, slow down.