Dez Bryant, Former Oklahoma State Players React to Sports Illustrated Article
Part Two of "The Dirty Game," Sports Illustrated's five-part series detailing alleged corruption in the Oklahoma State football program, was released on Tuesday morning, supplementing Monday's "The Money" chapter with one about academic misconduct.
But the response to SI's story has become a story unto itself, a backlash narrative exploring the credibility of the whole investigation and the people who conducted it.
Many former OSU players and other people associated with the program have denied the reports and pilloried against SI's journalistic integrity. The school even has its own official response page, dedicated to spreading and substantiating its side of the story.
Of the former Cowboys who have disputed the claims, Dez Bryant—who's now a Dallas Cowboy—is perhaps the most well known. He was an All-American receiver when he played in Stillwater, and he tweeted the following in regard to player payment (via Chris Brown of Smart Football, since the original tweet no longer exists):
T. Boone Pickens, one of Oklahoma State's highest-profile boosters, issued the following official statement, expressing his disappointment in the report:
There’s one word I have for the Sports Illustrated reporting on Oklahoma State University: Disappointing.
This series is not reflective of Oklahoma State University today. Many of their sensational allegations go back a decade ago.
There have been wholesale changes at the school in recent years in leadership and facilities. During that time, I have given more than $500 million to OSU, for athletics and academics. Have I gotten my money’s worth? You bet. We have a football program that has a commitment to principled sportsmanship. They understand the expectations we, as fans and supporters, have for the program. We have an incredible and growing fan base, and a loyal group of alums that believe in the character of our players, coaches and administrators.
But I do welcome this scrutiny. If people take the time, it’s an opportunity to better understand where Oklahoma State is today, not a decade ago. It’s a different university today. It’s a better university. If there are areas where we need to improve, we’ll do it.
Which leads me back to my disappointment with Sports Illustrated, and their failure to ask the most important question of all: What’s happening at OSU today?
Seahawks offensive tackle Russell Okung, a former OSU player, an NFL Pro Bowler and one of the most cerebral players in football, has the same journalistic issue with the report as many professional writers: source credibility.
Okung raises an interesting point, but it's not just the credibility of the sources that have come into question—it's the credibility of the writers.
Co-author of "The Dirty Game," Thayer Evans has a reputation (fair or not) for disliking the Oklahoma State program, and his former colleague at Fox Sports, ESPN's Jason Whitlock, couldn't believe his eyes when he learned of Evans's inclusion on this piece.
According to Kelly Hines of the Tulsa World, Whitlock said:
Having worked with Thayer Evans at Fox Sports, having followed his work for some time, I am completely and utterly flabbergasted that a legitimate news outlet would allow Thayer Evans to be involved in some type of investigative piece on college football that tears down a program, and particularly one that tears down Oklahoma State when it is no secret what a huge, enormous, gigantic Oklahoma homer Thayer Evans is.
This is just incredible. Knowing the lack of competence that’s there with Thayer Evans, knowing the level of simplemindedness that’s there with Thayer Evans, to base any part of the story on his reporting is mind-boggling.
Which leads to the testimony of Aso Pogi, a former OSU quarterback who was quoted in the story. According to Gina Mizell of The Oklahoman, Pogi said he was "straight-up" misquoted by the writers:
For example, the quote I said that, “Wow, it’s a big deal, because I was the starting quarterback,” that was in reference to, as he was quoting off all of the allegations, I was repeating it back to him. So he would make allegations about OSU about football players and I’m sitting there just kind of like, “Wow, this is crazy. You mean this was going on?” So I’m just basically repeating what he’s saying, and then I said, “Man, that would have been a big deal, because I was the starting quarterback.”
That is the way it was actually being said. And then he took that quote and said, “It’s a big deal, because I was the starting quarterback.” It was nothing like it. Now, when he asked me specifically, 'Aso, were you a part of this? Did you see any of this going on?' I said, “Absolutely not.” My time at Oklahoma State was phenomenal. We had a great time. It was just all good. And I saw absolutely nothing of that manner going on.
Rodrick Johnson, another source named in the piece and former OSU player, posted on Facebook that Evans "wrote lies":
Many other players have also joined in solidarity to defend their former program. Artrell Woods, a former OSU wide receiver, took to Facebook for a very NSFW rant (h/t College Spun):
And according to Tom Withers of the Associated Press, current Browns QB and former OSU star Brandon Weeden laughed at the allegations, calling them comical:
Weeden, who set numerous records at Oklahoma State from 2008-11, said he "literally laughed out loud" while reading the first part of SI's investigative series. Weeden said the players SI interviewed for the expose "are guys that aren't real credible." Weeden said he did not accept any money while he was at OSU and praised coach Mike Gundy for running a clean program.
Weeden said he did not see any wrongdoing during his time at the Big 12 school.
The second-year NFL starter believes SI writer Thayer Evans targeted Oklahoma State because he's a fan of rival Oklahoma.
Weeden said "it's comical. The truth will come out."
Other former Cowboys have taken to Twitter to voice their testimony. Here's just a small sampling of what they've had to say:
I spent 5 years in Stillwater and never experienced any of these allegations... I'm interested to see who they got their information from— Anton Jamie Blatnick (@JBlatnick) September 10, 2013
Everyone that played with me knows I had a tutor and always took care of my biz. Far as money. Man I drove a Ford Focus. Haha— tatum bell (@tspeedtx) September 10, 2013
Man this article is all the way false. Haha. Said Seymore sawe take money haha. From who? From we're ? He was scrub who not doing nothing— tatum bell (@tspeedtx) September 10, 2013
In all that's going on I don't think it's right to bring up ppl that can't defend the program like Darrent Williams and Vernon grant.— Isaiah Anderson (@imaFREAK82) September 10, 2013
This article is a joke. Come on... Former players who were kicked off the team is a credible source? Good try Sports Illustrated. No respect— Andrew McGee (@Coach_McGee) September 10, 2013
John Talley did nothing but good in the community and he did it the right way. And SI is allowing these fools throw dirt on his name!?— Andrew McGee (@Coach_McGee) September 10, 2013
Coach Defo was my position coach, I love the man and thank him for all the TIME he invested in me #GreatCoach— Zachary Crissup (@CoachCrissup) September 10, 2013
What do you guys think of the SI reports? Fair or foul? Sound off in the comments.
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Why is this article poorly edited?