Cole didn’t mean for all this to happen.
He’s just a 17-year-old self-described “Dawg fan, through and through.” The last thing he wants is for something he wrote to cause a backlash from the players he roots for every Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
But a blog Cole (no last name available) posted on bleacherreport.com caused a media brushfire earlier this week. Making matters worse, he’s not the one who lit the fire, but unwittingly, his blog fanned it to life. Such is existence in The Weird World of New Media.
Here’s the chain of events that eventually led to the Georgia locker room:
Citing an unnamed podcast he heard, Cole wrote that the Bulldogs weren’t doing their weight room work in the offseason and that strength and conditioning coach Dave Van Halanger was to blame for lack of accountability in the program. Some players were reportedly only working out three or four times per month.
From there, Bill King of ajc.com’s Junkyard Blawg linked to the bleacherreport.com story, multiplying its readership exponentially, and asking readers if they thought a lack of conditioning contributed to the Bulldogs’ rash of injuries.
A few hours later, Anthony Dasher of the Rivals.com University of Georgia affiliate, took the story to the team. Predictably, the players reacted with outrage.
“That’s total BS,” junior defensive tackle Brandon Wood told Dasher. “How can people say things like that?”
Wood further stated that players are working out four times each week and that the team’s upperclassmen dole out punishment for any team members that skip or are tardy for sessions.
But the real meat of Dasher’s report came from coach Mark Richt.
“The summer workouts are not mandatory. Period. If you try to make them mandatory you’re breaking an NCAA rule,” Richt said. “Bottom line, (Van Halanger is) not allowed to, OK? But I tell you what. If you want an answer to that, you could talk to Joe Cox, Jeff Owens. Talk to one of those cats and see what they say.”
Unfortunately, nobody did that until Dasher picked up the story.
But where does the blame lie? With the 17-year-old kid who repeated a rumor? With King, who shined light on it? With ajc.com, which allowed it to be linked to from its site?
Nobody has a definitive answer, but I’d argue that it falls at the feet of the yet-unnamed podcasters who started this thing on dawgcast.com.
“Derek and Old Dog,” as they introduce themselves on the podcasts, did not respond to phone calls and e-mails requesting their input for this column (talk about a lack of accountability), so we’ll have to go with what they said on Episode 193. And they said plenty.
Saying his information came from “members of the Georgia football staff,” Derek blasted Van Halanger, labeling him “the new boogeyman for the Dawgcast,” which apparently amounts to public enemy No. 1 within the Georgia football program.
“I’m here to tell you, and I’m telling you this comes straight from the top,” Derek said, “that the work ethic and attendance records, especially on the defensive side of the ball, in the weight room is not all that it should be.
“It’s gotten so bad, the accountability of the strength and conditioning coach,” he goes on to say, “that guys on the offensive side of the ball, guys like (offensive coordinator) Mike Bobo and (offensive line coach) Stacy Searels are using their own graduate assistants, their own staffing assistants to double check Van Halanger’s people to make sure that the guys of the offensive side of the ball — receivers, running backs, skill positions and line, on the offensive side of the ball — are showing up and getting their work done.”
Just to reiterate, offseason workouts are not mandatory, nor can they be under penalty of NCAA. Van Halanger isn’t allowed to require attendance. Of course, nobody before Dasher bothered to check up on that little detail.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Gossip has probably been around since man developed the ability of speech.
What these blogs did is simply the 21st century equivalent of shooting the breeze in a barber shop. But the Internet is a much more efficient delivery mechanism than word of mouth, and as Cole learned, rumor written takes on the pesky appearance of fact.
He declined to be interviewed, but has since removed the article in question and hopefully chalked the whole thing up as a learning experience.
We’ve always been told, “don’t believe everything you read.” In an age when anybody with a modem can pass off opinion as truth, that’s more important than ever.
And when it comes to guys with shady sources who don’t divulge their last names yelling through itunes, we probably shouldn’t believe everything we hear either.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. His columns appear on Friday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.