Nebraska Football: Bo Pelini, Sailor Victim of Melodramatic Hatchet Job

Patrick Runge@@patrickrungeCorrespondent IJanuary 7, 2011

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 04:  Head coach Bo Pelini of the Nebraska Cornhuskers leads his team against the Oklahoma Sooners at Cowboys Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. The Sooners beat the Cornhuskers 23-20.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Who doesn't love a good melodrama to help get attention and drive traffic to a website?

On FOXSports.com, Lisa Horne wrote a column detailing how Bo Pelini promised to Morgan Ryan, a sailor serving on the USS Ronald Reagan, that he could call a play during the Holiday Bowl. The promise came during a pregame event, where both teams were honoring the sailors and servicemen that were in San Diego.

Ryan was given a game jersey and allowed to stand on the sidelines with the team during the game. But he never got to call his play.

When Horne asked Pelini about Ryan's play-call after the game, Pelini told Horne that it was "a joke" and that other Nebraska officials told her that there was never an intention to actually let him call a play. When asked about the playcall, Ryan told Horne that he would understand if he didn't get to actually call the play.

Pretty innocuous stuff, huh? Not really the type of story that's going to get its author much attention, right?

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Well, Horne found a way to fix that. Sophistry and emotional manipulation are pretty effective tools.

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So how did the article get tweaked? Well, let's start with a full four paragraphs talking about how brave, true, and patriotic a seaman Ryan is. That's important to make sure everyone knows Ryan is the hero of our melodrama.

Then, we set the table by detailing Ryan's excitement about the game and anticipation in calling "the play." After all, a good melodrama has to set the tension before bringing in the villain.

Then, the dastardly deed is perpetrated. In aching detail, for paragraph after paragraph, Horne outlines the pain that Pelini caused to the brave and true defender of freedom by failing to "honor his commitment" to Ryan, turning it instead into "a farce, a joke."

That pain, of course, didn't really come from Ryan himself. It came from Horne's descriptions of Ryan, talking about how his "face fell," looking "a bit stunned," having to "look upwards, searching for words."

If the roles in this melodrama weren't made clear by Horne, she made sure to add in that Pelini didn't just tell her that he intended it to be "a joke" at the press conference. No, instead, it was what "the sour head coach barked at me in his Holiday Bowl postgame news conference." (emphasis added)

You know, just to make sure you get the message. Mean ol' Coach Bo, denying dreams to brave and true sailors and barking at innocent reporters and all. The only thing missing was the black handlebar moustache drawn on Pelini's picture to make sure you knew who the villain of the piece was.

But the emotional piece de resistance came when Horne summarized the reaction of the petty officer third class, trained by the United States military to serve on a warship during armed conflict.

"It was a gut-wrenching moment to witness. Ryan had been let down by the head coach of his favorite team. In front of his peers. But Ryan kept his emotions in check. He was not going to dishonor Pelini."

Gut-wrenching? Really? I sincerely hope that having to deal with not getting to call a play in a bowl game is the most traumatic incident both Ryan and Horne face. Unfortunately, in these dangerous times, it almost assuredly won't be for Ryan.

But I find it very hard to think that Ryan, a member of the United States military and someone who is "serious about his football," would have been emotionally devastated by being unable to call a play during the Holiday Bowl, particularly when it was clear from the outset that Nebraska wasn't doing well.

If Ryan was a seven-year-old, I could see being devastated by the disappointment. But he's a big boy, a well-trained member of our nation's military. If not getting to call "the play" left Ryan as emotionally devastated as Horne would lead us to believe, I can't imagine basic training went well for him. 

Look, I'm no blind supporter of Pelini. I've publicly criticized both Pelini's demeanor and his decision making. So this isn't about circling the wagons.

In a sense, this really isn't even about Pelini. He happened to be the guy that set the table for Horne to spin her melodrama. And had he been a little cannier in his answer to the question, he might have headed this whole story off at the pass.

It's not really about Ryan, either. Sure, Horne shills at the end for Ryan to get a sideline pass to the Nebraska-Ohio State game next year. But I suspect Ryan probably could have got that for himself had he asked. But Horne uses Ryan, by all accounts an honorable military man, as the melodramatic hero merely to further the emotional punch of her story.

This is about Horne. This is about a writer who resorts to blatant and ham-fisted emotional manipulation to create a controversy that didn't exist until the column was posted. This is about a writer who inserts her own suppositions about Ryan's reaction as opposed to Ryan's words themselves to increase the emotional hook of the piece. This is about a writer who injects herself into the story to create the story.

And the end result is a lazy piece of journalism, attempting to peddle manipulation, melodrama, and sophistry cloaked as a human interest story. The fact that she's going to get lots of attention by generating controversy and stirring up a fan base known for defending their own no matter what (just ask Dan Beebe) is, of course, the ultimate goal.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with Horne being a woman. Unfortunately, many of the criticisms of Horne's piece have focused on her gender. Those criticisms are unfair and unwarranted. Believe me, there's plenty of lazy and manipulative male journalists and columnists peddling their wares. Just ask Jason Whitlock.

Ordinarily, I would provide a link to Horne's article for you to read for yourself and make your own judgments. But I would prefer not to give Horne any more clicks and ultimately help her in her goal. Use the Google machine for yourself if you want to read it.

I hope Ryan is able to come to Lincoln for the Ohio State game next season. For the service he and his fellow sailors provide to the nation, he would certainly deserve it. Unfortunately, thanks to Horne's self-serving melodrama, he will probably face some uncomfortable attention and awkward moments if he does get to prowl the sidelines again.

And perhaps Pelini was ultimately wrong in not letting Ryan call a play. After watching Nebraska's atrocious offensive performance in the Holiday Bowl against Washington, it's hard to imagine Ryan's playcalling could have been worse than what the Nebraska staff dialed up that night.

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