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Media Swings, Misses on James Franklin Hit Job

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By Jim Weber

If there’s one thing I’ve learned while running a sports website over the last couple years, it’s that the public’s distrust and disdain for the media right now is at an unprecedented level.

The most recent example of this in the college sports world was Sports Illustrated’s flawed expose on Oklahoma State football last September that amounted to a failed take down of the program. The hatred for the media is especially strong at Penn State, where Nittany Lion fans lashed out at columnists who constantly one-upped each other with self-righteousness in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal by demonizing Joe Paterno, the football program and school as a whole.

And now this issue has reared its ugly head again with several national media members shunning Penn State for the hiring of James Franklin. Dennis Dodd, Christine Brennan, Michael Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser and Keith Olbermann all said last week that the Nittany Lions should not hire Franklin in light of the Jerry Sandusky scandal because of a rape case that involved five Vanderbilt players.

The aforementioned media members didn’t even do their homework on the case, saying essentially that Franklin shouldn’t be hired by Penn State because a coach with a rape case on his watch is bad for the perception of PSU. If you think Penn State or James Franklin condones rape because of five allegedly disgusting human beings that were once on Vanderbilt’s football team, you are a moron. Period.

Every football program has legal issues with players. That’s just the sad fact of big-time college football with 100 college kids per roster. I hold head coaches responsible for setting a tone of conduct for players, acting appropriately when legal problems arise and not recruiting bad apples who increase the likelihood of off-the-field problems. But they can’t prevent crimes by their players, even one as horrible as rape.

Sadly, sexual assault is a college football-wide - and college-wide - epidemic right now. Look at a list of schools which have been plagued by sexual assault allegations in recent years: Notre Dame, Florida State, Navy, Montana, Texas, Michigan, Connecticut, West Virginia, Arizona State and UCLA.

So you are telling me that none of the coaches at these schools - or at least the ones where the players are proven to be guilty - could be considered for Penn State’s job because of what their players allegedly did? What about other horrific crimes committed by players on a head coach’s watch?

For example, if in some alternate universe Bill Belichick was interested in the Penn State job, would he be unhirable because of the alleged Aaron Hernandez murder(s)? Or would that be “OK” because it was murder and not rape?

Brennan wrote: “James Franklin is a coveted 41-year-old head coach who probably would make a fine hire for any of his other suitors. Just not Penn State.”

Dodd penned: “Franklin has not been tied to the case, at all. But he was the coach when it happened and that should be enough — especially at Penn State.”

So this wouldn’t be an issue at all at another school, but James Franklin needs to be punished for the crimes of Jerry Sandusky?

The logic just doesn’t add up.

I know how this happens. Columnists don’t want to just write “James Franklin is a great hire” stories, they want to find a unique angle that creates buzz. And nothing makes for better copy than creating a national debate - one that I admittedly have now been sucked into - in our “Embrace Debate!” media culture. And nothing gets people more fired up than bringing up the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State. Even though many of the comments on Brennan and Dodd’s stories rip them for their opinion, it still got people talking, didn’t it?

As the Penn State fan site Black Shoe Diaries put it well, “James Franklin is not the problem. These columnists hijacking his hire to claim the moral high ground are.”

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Brennan and Olbermann even cited Franklin’s off-hand joke in 2012 that he wouldn’t hire an assistant coach without an attractive wife as another reason Penn State should not hire him, and Olbermann went so far as to say it contributed to the rape culture at Vandy.

That’s completely asinine.

The real issue that deserved examining on Franklin (which none of these personalities mentioned) was an accusation that Franklin helped cover up the rape. A Buzzfeed article from September reads in part:

“A source close to one of the defendants said he believes that Franklin encouraged a player to delete a video of the incident after the player showed it to Franklin.

‘I’m 99.9 percent sure that Franklin saw the video,’ the source said. ‘And I wouldn’t be surprised if the public finds this out soon.’”

We’re still waiting to “find this out,” as Franklin’s attorney emphatically denied the charge. If Franklin covered up the crime, he shouldn’t be coaching anywhere. The man with a wife and two young daughters should be in prison.

But nothing ever came of the anonymous accusation. The District Attorney later declared that there was absolutely no evidence that Franklin did anything wrong, much less cover up a rape. If this was a court trial, an accusation like this would be dismissed in a heartbeat. But in the court of public opinion, people are always guilty until proven innocent - as evidenced by the Change.org petition that was started on Penn State’s campus by a professor.

Should Penn State have hired James Franklin? Hell yes. And the media should be embarrassed for their contrived critique of the move to manufacture a national debate.

Because this collective hit job on Penn State and Franklin was a big swing and miss.

Jim Weber is the founder and president of LostLetteremen.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JimMWeber and @LostLettermen.

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