Sports Illustrated muddied the bright orange of Oklahoma State with the release of their investigative piece last week. However, as the article’s ripple effect has spread throughout the media, Sports Illustrated may have inadvertently thrown themselves into the spotlight as the greatest offenders.
Last week, Sports Illustrated released the five-part report that has since come under massive scrutiny from all corners of the media spectrum. The result of a 10-month investigation by senior writers Thayer Evans and George Dohrmann, the exposé placed the Oklahoma State Cowboys football in the crosshairs of the NCAA, citing alleged violations involving sex, drugs, academics and money.
Oklahoma Christian University Assistant Baseball Coach Ty Weeden, once pursued and approached by Oklahoma State for his football talents, offered assurance that in all of his interactions with the Cowboys nothing questionable arose. Weeden’s older brother Brandon, quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, is a former Cowboys standout quarterback.
“I have never had a reason to believe that OSU engaged in any of these violations,” Weeden said. “No coach or representative of OSU ever offered me anything like drugs, money or help in academics ever.”
Published Sept. 10, part one — entitled “The Money,” — described alleged violations that demanded the attention of the entire college football world.
Riddled with quotes from sources since called into question, this initial article relayed eight former Cowboys’ confessions to receiving cash payments from sources related to the football program. The players identified 29 other teammates as having accepted similar payments during their time at Oklahoma State.
According to these sources, from 2001 to 2011 illegal cash payments came to players in performance-based bonus cash, non-performance based payments and through a facade of jobs where players were either overpaid or paid for jobs that were never done at all.
“The Academics,” released as part two on Sept. 11, was packed with various tales of assistance in the classroom.
Former Head Coach Les Miles set the precedent, according to the player sources, when he allegedly held up two fingers while saying, “academics first,” and one with, “football second” to portray a subtle message in closing out a team meeting.
Listed among the sources’ confessions were alleged reports of receiving answers to tests beforehand, having work done completely by tutors or university staff and receiving passing grades despite insufficient effort or work.
In 2008, star receiver Dez Bryant was named second team academic All-Big 12. The honor garnered less than congratulatory reactions from his teammates, however, as words like “laughable” and “unbelievable” were used to describe the academic accomplishments of one who allegedly required an escort to class by football staff.
Sept. 12 introduced “The Drugs” as part three. According to sources, “drugs were everywhere,” and it was not uncommon for players to smoke marijuana before games.
Three former players confessed to having dealt marijuana while active members of the 2001, 2004 and 2006 teams. Players from seven other seasons between 2001 and 2012 were identified as having dealt the hallucinogen as well, providing source accounts of dealings in 10 of the past 12 seasons.
The heat of controversy surrounding the report’s credibility delayed the final segment’s release. “The Sex” highlighted the supposed escapades of members of the Orange Pride, a university-recognized organization of female undergraduate students who assist with the recruiting efforts of the Oklahoma State football program.
Miles and current Head Coach Mike Gundy have both personally interviewed applicants for the Orange Pride, and by 2004 membership had tripled and a more concerted effort was allegedly made to obtain more attractive and outgoing girls for the group.
An unnamed former Orange Pride hostess from 2003 to 2004 spoke in the piece as having known of such acts.
“People did cross the line, that’s why I was only in the program for one year,” she said.
More than a dozen former Cowboys from 2001 to 2011 told Sports Illustrated that certain members of the Orange Pride had engaged in sexual relations with them or with other prospective players while on recruiting visits.
In an ironic twist of fate, however, the investigative report that intended to scrutinize the questionable actions of Oklahoma State football fell under similar scrutiny.
Oklahoma Christian senior Blain Elliott maintains a belief that SI’s motives run deeper than they appear on the surface.
“I think that newspapers and magazines are at a desperate place right now,” Elliott said. “[Sports Illustrated] seems to have taken a hunch and grown it the only way they could – with more rumors.”
In a field where documentation equals credibility, the work of Evans and Dohrmann is almost entirely reliant upon the testimony of its sources. Therefore, should any of the sources sink, the credibility of the entire investigation would appear likewise undermined.
In the days following the articles’ release, Deadspin, a sports news website, has compiled a rundown of more than a half-dozen players who have since taken issue with the use of their key testimonies in the articles.
Several have refuted quotes while others claimed that their words were presented completely out of context.
Brandon Weeden has also been very outspoken about his experiences with and opinion of Thayer Evans. Ty Weeden expounded upon his brother’s remarks with a statement summating his opinion on the writer.
“[Brandon] thought the whole thing was an absolute joke,” Weeden said. “He stated over and over that they had no facts.”
In a sea of largely informal opposion regarding the publications, ESPN writer Brett McMurphy has since presented a more formal declaration of SI’s inconsistencies.
It is uncommon to hear a chief media source call out another chief source with follow-up reports, however, McMurphy uncovered official university documents that he contends refutes several sources’ testimonies throughout the article.
Dexter Pratt’s inclusion that every course that he took was online was disproved by university records, which revealed that Pratt took two in-class courses in addition to three online.
Fath’ Carter described a situation in which he and running back Tatum Bell received A’s in a class, then had the same instructor after their eligibility had expired in 2004 and received F’s, alluding to a certain pressure felt by the professor to assign grades because of football. However, according to the transcript Bell provided to ESPN, he had withdrawn from school after the 2003 fall semester.
While these discrepancies may not prove factually massive, the uncovering of discrepancies appeals to the theory that holes in the individual stories mean holes in the whole story.
ESPN’s Jason Whitlock further punctured this story’s credibility on an Oklahoma City radio show, questioning the amount of bias that may affect Evans’ articles.
“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,” Whitlock said.
While credibility remains an issue, the revealing of such a potentially massive series of violations has every NCAA institution looking inward. Oklahoma Christian is no exception, according to Elliott.
“When you look at the OSU situation and you consider how terrible the effects could be, I think the president of every NCAA school in the nation is behind closed doors with a stack of folders and a magnifying glass examining their own department,” Elliott said. “Think of the possible consequences if OC was to violate rules like that. How would the university be perceived?”