A Costly Mistake

This being the unpredictable, wackadoo off-season for college football, it’s time to tee up the theater of the absurd. With no games to write about, no Heisman race to handicap, no BCS standings to ridicule, on a slow news day, writers, bloggers and talk-show hosts rustle up stuff that they hope will pass for stories.

As the latest Aaron Hernandez/Wondy Pierre-Louis gibberish only proves, we are in for a siege of silliness.

We seem to be transfixed on percentages these days, perhaps brainwashed by the “polling” technique used on the ESPN afternoon lineup of shows like Sports Nation, Around The Horn and Pardon The Interruption, because it apparently passes for credence. ESPN producers must believe if you can attach a number to some opinion disguised as pseudo fact, this will camouflage that it is thinly veiled.

All of a sudden, Wondy is George Gallup, throwing out the figure “75 percent” as the number of Gator football players on the 2006 national championship team that smoked marijuana. And he didn’t even allow for the usual 5 percent variance that the pollster normally concedes.

Just in case you didn’t see it, the Orlando Sentinel reported:

“Wondy Pierre-Louis, a Gators cornerback from 2006-09, said Meyer instilled fear in his players about smoking marijuana and often threatened to kick players off the team in meetings and huddles. Pierre-Louis estimates about 75 percent of the 2006 team smoked marijuana based on internal talk among players and teammates posting positive tests. Pierre-Louis refused to estimate the current percentage since he says Meyer has significantly reduced the drug use on the team.”

This came on the heels of a Boston Globe story charging that Hernandez, drafted by the Patriots, failed multiple tests. To be exact, the story said:

“According to sources with three NFL teams, the Florida product’s precipitous fall was because of multiple failed drug tests for marijuana as a collegian. Hernandez was open about his marijuana use at the Scouting Combine in February.

“’He admits to it,’ said one longtime NFL executive who interviewed him there.

“’It’s good he did that,’ said a college scouting official from one AFC team. ‘But it was enough to scare people so that he fell through three rounds.’”

First, let me apologize for giving any more attention or shelf life to stories that I know to be either inaccurate or overstated, which according to my sources were. Because:

1. I have it on good authority that Hernandez’s admission that he failed one drug test at Florida was, indeed, truthful and accurate. The Globe and the “NFL source” got it wrong.

2. Sources close to the team say they put almost no credence in that “75 percent” figure thrown out by Pierre-Louis and wonder how he arrived at it.

Furthermore, one of them told me: “If you asked 10 players, nine of them would say, ‘That’s just Wondy running his mouth’ and would dismiss it.”

Critics are going to say that this is an attempt to “trash” Wondy, but be that as it may, Pierre-Louis put himself out there when he made the statement and it needs to be put into context.

Does that mean the Gator football players in 2006 or 1996 or 1986 never smoked grass? Of course not. Football players indulge in most of the normal activities that other college students do. And no doubt have been doing continually so over the years.

It’s what the Pierre-Louis and Boston Globe stories don’t say that is damaging, however, because of the implication that Florida runs a loosey-goosey program and lets things like drug tests slide. And that’s just not true. Wondy did admit that Meyer was getting a grip on the “issue” and apparently made threats to players caught using drugs.

I’m not going to deny that there were implications about “character” issues with Hernandez and I’ve heard a few rumors about that myself, but as to exactly the nature of those I have no clue. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to use this occasion for a referendum on the conduct of the talented tight end, who came to Florida and Meyer as a confused young man, still grieving the death of his father, and spent many hours in his coach’s office talking about life and faith.

As for the Globe story about Hernandez, the writer was victimized by a source with faulty information, which happens in the fact-gathering business. We are only as good as our sources.

There are a couple of other points journalistically about the Pierre-Louis story that concern me as well. For instance, if I were going to try this as a case in court, contending that the 75 percent of the ’06 team smoked pot, I’d be a fool to put Pierre-Louis on the stand as a key witness. As a player who had a limited role with the team – as memory serves, his one contribution for four years was recovering a fumble against Arkansas in the 2006 SEC title game – Pierre-Louis would not be one of the leaders privileged to be “in the know.” And, in fact, he has his own legal problems, having been charged with five counts of domestic abuse in January. Those are undeniable.

Somebody close to the team characterized him as “emotional,” “immature” and somebody who “blows things out of proportion.”

Which makes one wonder why the writer would choose him, other than the fact that he had no other sources. It’s just not enough to hang a story on, but I realize that such topics are difficult to quantify and almost nobody wants to go on record about it. So maybe that’s all the writer could muster.

For instance, if I were doing a story about the inaccuracy of facts in sports stories at one newspaper and quoted a person who formerly worked there, what kind of credibility would the story have if I had written:

“My survey says: ‘Sports writers at this paper make factual errors in two out of three of the stories they write, according to a former intern who worked in the sports department.’”

You get the point.

So make of it what you will, but it’s already gotten more attention than it was worth. Which, of course, is what this silly off-season is about.

Kentucky Derby Talk

I’ve always loved the Run for the Roses, but somehow this year’s event sneaked up on me —perhaps because the first Saturday of May this year is actually the first day of the month. With favorite Eskendereya out with injury, I am resorting to these three horses as my favorites:

1. Looking At Lucky (3-1): A Bob Baffert horse is favored and the name seems to fit.

2. Super Saver (15-1): I love jockey Calvin Borel because he knows how to ride a longshot on the rail to the winner’s circle.

3. Jackson Bend (15-1): The only Florida horse (Marion County) in the bunch who has never finished worse than second and will be in the money somewhere.

Quick Jump Starts

1. Applying the same standard as used in the cases of to Jimmy “The Greek,” Snyder, Al Campanis and Don Imus, why shouldn’t Boston sports talk show host Fred “Toucher” Toettcher be fired – even though he now claims he was “just joking around” when he compared Tim Tebow’s NFL draft-night party to a “Nazi rally”?

2. Dan Mullen went on an unmentionable Birmingham radio show and said had Urban Meyer left Florida he wasn’t “sure I’d be interested” in replacing him. Understand the political sensitivity, but we’re calling baloney on that one, Danny Boy.

3. Looking over the list of most popular NBA jerseys and seeing the name David Lee, ESPN’s Colin Cowherd asked, “Who is David Lee?” If you’d bother Google-ing him, Cowherd, you find out that Lee is the Knicks’ best player, averaging 20 points a game this season, and was named an NBA All-Star in January.

4. Despite what you may read in other publications near Disney World, there is nothing vague about Meyer’s role next season: He will be the head coach at Florida.

5. Tigers Woods shot 74 at Quail Hollow Thursday, but the number people are talking about is 121, which is how many women Woods reportedly has slept with while married – according to the National Enquirer (I never thought I’d quote that rag, except it was the publication which broke the story about the famous golfer’s sexual exploits in the first place).

Short Stuff

Talk about your tough guys: Colorado Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo went to the bathroom in the fifth inning, passed a kidney stone and went back on the field. … Steve Addazio on Mike Pouncey, who he predicts will follow his brother to the NFL as a first-round pick next year: “He is, in my opinion, the best offensive lineman in America.” … So which major league baseball team do you think is most hated? If you guessed the Yankees you’d be wrong, because in a survey by the Nielsen Company there are four others ahead of the pinstripers – No. 1 being the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland? … Dwight Howard should stick to playing basketball and avoid trying to write. The Magic center was fined $35,000 for criticizing officials in his blog.

And good morning …

… and congratulations to Chris Patrick, longtime assistant athletic director for sports heath at UF, who will be honored at the Dinner of Champions May 8 for his 40 years of service.