briefly, stick to the game

Occasionally, a story about one thing just can’t help itself from being a story about another. This is something that can, in no small part, be controlled by a writer.

Last night, defending national champion Florida State and #5 ranked Notre Dame played a football game for the ages, a match-up that was rightly hyped beforehand and, in reality, was not short on drama. The Seminoles eked out a 31-27 victory, and preserved their spot on the inside track for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

If you read ESPN blogger Jared Shanker, though, you got the pertinent details about last night’s contest, as well as a heavy-handed helping of red meat for an anti-FSU contingency. Florida State, and its Heisman-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston, have been the subject of scrutiny for many months, most recently involving a half-game suspension for Winston for shouting an inappropriate comment in FSU’s student union and ongoing investigations into a situation with am autograph dealer. Winston has been foolish, of this there can be no doubt. But, last night, even if for just one night, what happened at Doak Campbell Stadium was worthy of standing alone on center stage. Shanker apparently couldn’t help himself from dragging the baggage–and by extension, himself–into the spotlight.

“I get hit a lot of times, but you know what I do: I get back up,” Winston said. “I keep playing football, and we keep winning.”

Then Winston flashed a smile. He knew his answer could be extended far beyond the Fighting Irish’s exotic blitzes to the numerous off-the-field headlines that have threatened to force him from the field.

How could Jared Shanker possibly know that this was an intentional entendre? The very next paragraph:

Saturday, the second-ranked Seminoles were celebrating a 31-27 victory not just over Notre Dame, but, at least in their eyes, against an allied front of college football fans who’d like to see the sport’s longest active winning streak end.

This appears to be projection. Again, how could Shanker possibly know this? Did he ask the team if they felt they were the brunt of an entire college football nation’s opprobrium? The inference to the best explanation is that Shanker is aligning himself with what he assumes is a plurality of college football fans to enforce his point, which is logically fallacious and sloppy journalism.

With Winston, the Seminoles always have a puncher’s chance, and the entire playoff-seeking country is lamenting Sunday morning that the three-knockdown rule in boxing doesn’t apply to college football. For a third time this season, Florida State was staggered and bloodied, lying on the mat and struggling to find its center. College football looked to, of all schools, Notre Dame to play the unfamiliar role of David. The Irish were maybe the last chance to eliminate the reigning champions from the inaugural College Football Playoff after Oklahoma State and Clemson both had the Seminoles reeling before fourth-quarter blunders.

A clunky metaphor aside–that entire first sentence should have been excised by an editor’s backspace key–this is a great example of how FSU fans might be justified in thinking they are on the business end of an anti-FSU bias. Give the Seminoles some credit, Shanker: they were played tough by Oklahoma State, Clemson and Notre Dame. They were victorious in all three games. There are no asterisks in the standings, only in attempts to cast doubt upon a subject.

Winston’s teammates said there wasn’t much talk in the locker room this week about the looming school conduct code hearing or the authenticator that has labeled more than 2,000 Winston signatures as credible.

Was there any question that there would have been such talk? Again, it would appear that the writer can’t help himself from wanting to write a different story.

Last night, FSU won. There was more than enough within the sidelines to warrant coverage. Dragging the extracurriculars into the game not only detracts from a dramatic game and its outcome, but unintentionally trivializes the investigation–which deserves its own due diligence within the controls and protocols of the university and NCAA (laughable as the latter may be)–and gives the impression of a writer who had one story written up and ready to go, only to be forced to write something else. Notice the timestamp on the post. He had five hours to write something, and he gives this to the public?

Stick to the game, Shanker.


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