If you were online the last couple of days (and you know you were), then surely you are aware of the controversy surrounding Jerry Tipton and his interviews with UK commitments Vinny Zollo and Michael Avery’s parents. If you are not, what follows is a brief summary of the events that have caused some in the Big Blue Nation to blow a gasket and others to call for Tipton’s firing and the burning of the Herald Leader offices. At the center of this controversy are Jerry Tipton….a Hall of Fame journalist who has been criticized many times on this blog and who has a reputation for negativity that is unmatched and Marc Maggard….an internet recruiting follower who has taken it upon himself to call for a boycott of Herald Leader advertisers and to lead the UK fans march on Lexington. The facts of this are a bit murky, but here is what we seem to know….
— After Vinny Zollo and Michael Avery committed to UK, Jerry Tipton called both young men’s parents to interview them. During those conversations, Tipton asked a number of questions that are at the center of this controversy. Everyone agrees that Tipton asked the regular recruiting questions and then followed up with some questions about whether the players’ families knew how hard the practices were at UK and some form of a question about the injury situation at UK in the past year.
— Marc Maggard recorded two podcasts with the two parents that asked about these Tipton questions (along with other topics) and pursued what exactly Jerry said to them. In the course of these conversations, both parents agreed that Tipton asked about the injury and hard practice questions. Maggard then asked if Tipton had questioned them on “rumors” about Gillispie’s DUI history or social life. Neither parent said yes and Avery’s specifically said no. Maggard on his website however hinted that in private Zollo’s mother had told him something opposite. This was not however on the podcast.
— Maggard then apparently (according to A Sea of Blue) wrote that, “I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that Tipton is UK enemy #1.” UK fans then hit the message boards, intimating that Jerry should be fired and some fans began online petitions and started calling the Herald Leader. The rhetoric increased to such a degree that the Herald Leader editor decided to respond in this blog post in which she says that she has listened to tapes of one interview and read the transcript of the other and believes Tipton did nothing wrong. Here is a part of that article:
Jerry did not ask about any rumors alluded to in the podcasts, nor did he comment on Lexington as a place to live. Unprompted, Ms. Curry mentioned that she had heard things about Coach Gillispie. As Jerry reported in his story, “When asked to elaborate, she said, ‘I didn’t hear directly. But I heard he [Gillispie] was arrogant. I saw none of that. He was very down to earth.’” I reviewed a later conversation that Jerry had with Ms. Curry, who confirmed that Jerry did not speak in a negative manner about Lexington. Jerry also called back Mr. Avery, who acknowledged that the injury question made him uncomfortable but that it was not Mr. Avery’s place to pass judgment on whether it was appropriate.
So this is where we are….Tipton vs Maggard and the question of what Jerry did, whether it was wrong and what the response should be. Three quick caveats before we begin.
1. I admit to being a regular critic of Jerry Tipton. While I respect his long career and his success, I do think he has become overly negative in recent years and is very guilty of injecting his own opinion into his “news” stories. This is not the role of a reporter (as opposed to a columnist or blogger) and I think hurts his credibility.
2. I have at times in the past had a blogging relationship (the best kind) with Marc Maggard. I know he has a great number of connections in the recruiting world and I also know that he is a big UK fan. I have listened to Marc’s podcasts on this subject and I think they are legitimate and the questions asked to the parents arent out of line.
3. Most importantly however, I also know that no one, except maybe Tipton, the parents and the editor, has heard the actual conversations and thus, it is hard to know definitively what was said.
With all that said, there are a number of issues here. First, we have to be clear about what questions Jerry may have asked that could be objectionable. Jerry’s questions about what Zollo or Avery’s parents think about Gillispie having a reputation for being tough or a hard worker are in-bounds. These questions are asked every day by reporters when recruits are being interviewed who have committed to tougher teams. Those are, in my view, unobjectionable. Equally as clear to me is that any question allegedly asked about Gillispie’s personal or social life are completely out of line. Asking recruits’ families about rumors of social shenanigans, when they are backed up with no proof, would be completely inappropriate. Maggard apparently alleged on his site that Jerry asked such questions and Zollo’s mother told him that Jerry asked such questions in private. If that were true, it would be highly inappropriate. But both Zollo and Avery’s families deny publically that he did. Thus I think the hysteria based on such questions is, at this time, misplaced. There is no proof such questions were asked, and until there is, I wont assume that someone in the business as long as Jerry did such a thing.
What is left then is the topic of the questions asked about injuries and the difficulty of practice. Here my views are mixed. Whether a particular question is inappropriate depends entirely on the wording of the question and the context it was spoken in. If Tipton said, “did you have any concerns about the injuries to the players on the team last year?”, that would be a question that I wouldnt ask but I dont think is ridiculously out of line. If however he said, “do you have a concern about the fact that Gillispie works the kids so hard that they get injured all the time,” I would think that question is way out of line. Again, context and wording matters and at this point I personally no neither.
In both cases, Zollo and Avery’s parents said they felt somewhat uncomfortable about the questions asked by Tipton. But when I listened to the podcast, I felt they were more uncomfortable about Tipton’s questions about why a kid would commit at such a young age, which I think is an ok question, rather than the questions that are being discussed on the message boards. Again, I dont really know because I havent spoken with the families, but nothing in the podcasts indicates to me that it was those questions that made the family upset. Maggard indicates that they told him privately that the other questions bothered them, including the supposed personal questions, and I have no reason to believe that Maggard isnt telling the truth. But i didnt hear THEM say that, so I am hesitant to call for a man’s job because of them.
Ultimately that is the point. I am a harsh critic of Tipton. I believe he is overly negative and way too often interjects that negativism into his stories for the newspaper. But, as Jeff Drummond of TCP pointed out, we are talking about a man’s livelihood and his profession here. Because of that, I think both sides of the story need to be heard before conclusions are made. Calling for a man’s firing without that information seems to me to be a bit premature. Maggard claims to have that information and he may….but I am surprised that a recruiting analyst who is neutral in his affiliation with universities would put himself in the role of a fan and call for a boycott that could end up with a man’s ouster. We can all criticize Tipton’s journalistic ethics, and I have. And if the fans are tired of reading Jerry or want to cancel their Herald Leader subscriptions, then I completely understand that (the newspaper business is heading down south anyways, as we all know). In fact, solely speaking from a fan’s perspective, I think that is the way to remedy any problem a fan has with Tipton’s comments. But I dont understand why a neutral recruiting analyst would think a systematic attempt at leading a boycott of a newspaper based on hearsay and conjecture is the way to go.
The fight between Maggard and Tipton is one that I admit to finding interesting on a variety of levels. And believe me, I understand the fans’ frustration and at times anger, with Jerry and his reporting style. I have long wondered why people still rely on the outdated mainstream media to get their reporting when it frustrates them to such a large degree. But I also think that the piling on over Jerry in the last 24 hours has been a bit much. If you are going to get upset at a person, get upset for the right reasons. There should be some real concern on the possibility of Jerry asking questions about injuries supposedly caused by Gillispie….but we should make sure exactly what was asked and how it was asked. Similarly, if allegations are going to be thrown that more devious questions were asked, they need to be backed up with proof. Otherwise, the furor is a bit over the top. I do know this….there are mainstream media outlets looking into this at this point and seeing if there is any “there”, there. If something really went down that was as juicy as some of the rumors….I do think it will come out.
But then again, what do I know….I just blog and watch “The Hills”….
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