Iowa Football: How Misuse Of Social Media Has Ruined a Program's Reputation

Kevin TrahanAnalyst IJanuary 29, 2011

IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 20: University of Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz looks on from the sideline during pre game warm ups before game action against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Kinnick Stadium on November 20, 2010 in Iowa City, Iowa. Ohio State won 20-17 over Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images).
David Purdy/Getty Images

Just one year ago, Iowa football was set up for greatness. With a boatload of returning starters from a team that finished 11-2, including an Orange Bowl win, it seemed the sky was the limit—well at least a trip to Glendale was.

What a difference a year makes.

Instead of finishing undefeated, the Hawkeyes lost five close games and ended their season not in Glendale, but just down the road in Tempe for the Insight Bowl.

It was a frank reminder of how the 2010 season had gone; so close, but yet so far.

However, an 8-5 season is the least of Iowa’s worries right now. In fact, Kirk Ferentz might trade the scrutiny of a winless season for what he’s feeling right now.

Because right now, eight of 13 Iowa players remain in the hospital with rhabdomyolysis, the rapid breakdown of skeletal muscle and a disease that affects kidney function that was likely the result of a difficult offseason workout.

The university has launched a 90-day investigation into what could have caused 13 players to suddenly contract this disease and who is at fault.

Clearly Iowa has some explaining to do and needs to figure out how to avoid future outbreaks, but finding who is at fault is irrelevant.

On Twitter and every college football blog on the Internet, we’ve already had it blasted into our heads: Kirk Ferentz needs to be fired.

In this new age of social media, news spreads in a hurry, and consequently, so does blame. It’s not fair, but it’s the world we live in.

Within hours, CBS Sports’ Gregg Doyel was quick to write a column about how “heads need to roll” before a press conference was called. ESPN’s Pat Forde called Ferentz uncompassionate and unaccountable.

And now, Iowa is no longer that “do more with less” program in the middle of a cornfield—it’s the heart of darkness in the Midwest. 

Thank you social media.

Don’t get me wrong, Twitter is an ingenious idea. For a sportswriter like me, it’s a great way to get updated information fast and it’s a way to share my work and read the work of others.

However, its users lack an important quality in journalism, a quality that Forde ironically drilled Ferentz for lacking—accountability.

We’ve all been told “don’t believe everything you hear on the Internet,” but sadly, people will believe almost anything they see on Twitter. That’s how rumors spread and that’s how Kirk Ferentz has become everything that is wrong with the world.

Rumors can’t be undone, mainly because people don’t want to hear that situations aren’t as bad as they seem. It’s human nature—when the big public figure is no longer at fault, it’s no longer a juicy story.

Because of this human tendency, arguments, especially on Twitter, are often one-sided, and in some cases, just wrong.

Nevermind that Iowa has done this workout before and many NFL players, such as Albert Young, said that they have done the same exact workout before.

Nevermind that the father of one of the hospitalized players said he has been extremely pleased with Ferentz’s response.

Nevermind that numerous physicians, including a specialist at the Mayo Clinic, have said that the workouts cannot be the only reason for the outbreak of rhabdomyolysis.

Those facts are rarely “tweeted.”

The Pat Fordes and the Gregg Doyels of the world don’t want to hear it—then there’s not a juicy story; then there’s no head football coach to attack.

This isn’t TMZ: This is journalism. However, in this generation, people are always looking for the next big, juicy story and Twitter fosters an environment where rumors can spread with ease and an environment where journalists can ruin the integrity of their profession.

What’s worse, as pointed out by Todd Brommelkamp of Voice of the Hawks, is that few of these media members have ever set foot in Iowa City. Few of them know anything about Ferentz or the Iowa program. Few of those who say Ferentz endangers his players know that he has a son on the team.

Right now, everything being written is pure speculation. And sadly, more people want to believe speculation coming from Bristol, Connecticut than they want to hear facts coming out of Iowa City.

This isn’t the first time this has happened in Iowa. In fact, the nation called for Ferentz’s head less than two months ago.

All-time leading receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was arrested on numerous drug charges and Ferentz was obliterated on Twitter as the coach who allows drug-use to go on in his program.

Nevermind that Ferentz immediately kicked Johnson-Koulianos off the team. Ferentz did the same to Adam Robinson, who was arrested for marijuana possession in Des Moines the day before the bowl game while already serving a separate, non drug-related suspension.

Johnson-Koulianos ended up not being the horrible drug dealer that everyone thought he was and he received deferred judgement on a mere marijuana possession charge.

Those facts were conveniently ignored by the journalists who desperately wanted to find something wrong with the Iowa program. That gets reads—truth doesn’t.

Like it or not, Twitter has cemented its place in our society. It’s a great source of information, but when abused, it becomes a rumor mill.

I’m not an old-timer who thinks that the Internet is ruining journalism and traditional newspapers. The Internet is an outstanding tool that we, in the 21st century, are lucky to have.

But with tens of thousands of Twitter followers comes an immense amount of responsibility to uphold journalistic integrity. Too quickly sportswriters are losing the accountability of accuracy and becoming channels to spread rumors faster than ever before.

It’s too early to know what really happened in Iowa City. And while it may turn out that the coaching staff went too far with its workouts, there is a significant chance that the workout was not the only factor that caused the rhabdomyolysis outbreak.

But the outcome of the investigation doesn’t matter, because no matter who is at fault, Pat Forde, Gregg Doyel, and many more national media members have already convinced the country that Kirk Ferentz is in the wrong.

Once the investigation is over, there will be no column—it’s insignificant in 90 days.

In the court of public opinion Kirk Ferentz is already guilty, regardless of what a team of doctors decides.

While the Iowa case has already been closed, this will undoubtedly happen again in the future. Some college football program will be destroyed on Twitter for something it may or may not have done wrong.

There’s no stopping the response, it’s an American way of life.

However, I have just one suggestion for the national media: Before you go and attack a head coach and an entire university, and before you start a rumor on Twitter for the world to see, use something you probably never wrote about Derrell Johnson-Koulianos—you know, the non-juicy part of the story. 

Deferred judgment.


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