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Time To Play Tip-O-The Hat/Wag-O-The Finger: Media Edition

June 12, 2010

First, the wag of the finger:

N&O: Why Hoops Star Used Handicapped Sticker

On May 28, Chris Meekins said, he watched Tracy Smith, N.C. State’s 6-foot-8 basketball power forward, walk in front of his car about 11 a.m. That’s the time Meekins usually waits in a small parking lot off Hillsborough Street to pick up his daughter, who is attending summer school at State.

Seeing Smith was exciting for Meekins, he said, because he bleeds Wolfpack red. Meekins received two degrees from State, and he has followed Wolfpack hoops since he was a child listening to the radio under the covers in 1974 when David Thompson led the team to the NCAA championship.

But Meekins said his celebrity sighting turned to shock when he saw Smith get into a car parked in a handicapped parking space.

“Where I was waiting I could clearly see that he had a handicapped parking pass hanging from the rear-view mirror of his new car,” Meekins said. “I went from excited to ‘Oh my gosh, what’s he doing with a handicap sticker?'”

That weekend, Meekins said he couldn’t let it go and kept talking about what he’d seen. His sister told him to do something about it if it bothered him so.

So Meekins did. He wrote an e-mail message to NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson, as well as to David Horning, senior associate athletic director for men’s sports. Meekins also sent the message to The News & Observer.

First, a justified wag of the finger to Tracy Smith.

Dude, seriously? Using a handicapped sticker? I don’t care what the justification may be–whether it’s a sticker in a borrowed car, one that belongs to a family member, whatever–unless it’s for YOU and you alone, there’s no good reason for you to justify using it. Period. YOU ARE NOT AN AVERAGE STUDENT OR CITIZEN. The special circumstances that apply to you that allow you fame and a free education ALSO come with responsibilities. You failed to realize that in this circumstance.

Second, a disappointed wag of the finger to Chris Meekins, who supposedly “bleeds Wolfpack red,” yet didn’t see anything wrong with emailing the News & Observer to bring to light this (non) story. Are you unaware of State’s history with the paper? Of the Claude Sitton days? What did you expect to come of your email to the paper? That they would contact State’s administrators to get everything squared away?

I have no real issue with sending a note to the athletic department. Tracy was in the wrong, and it did need to be addressed. But let the coaches address the situation. What place did you think you had in involving the N&O? Would smearing the N.C. State basketball team (whom you supposedly profess to love) and Tracy Smith in the paper help you sleep easier at night?

But, the third–and sternest–wag goes to the N&O.

OK. You’re the editor. You receive an email from Meekins, claiming to have spotted Tracy Smith using a handicapped parking sticker improperly. You analyze the facts as you perceive them and have some decisions to make:

1. An N.C. State athlete is caught using a handicapped sticker. On the level of offenses–especially in light of the USC ruling last week–it’s pretty tame. Newsworthiness: Maybe a 2 or 3 out of 10.

2. You understand the N&O’s tenuous relationship with the N.C. State fanbase. Claude Sitton doggedly pursued Jim Valvano on a witch hunt that was ultimately unfounded. Many within State’s fanbase have ceased their subscriptions as a result; some go so far as to refuse to visit your website and/or refuse patronizing your advertisers.

3. Your paper–like the rest of the newspaper industry–is struggling. Dying. Subscribers are the lifeblood of a paper, and losing any more subscribers would be unwise, to put it lightly.

So given all of that, WHY on EARTH do you decide to dedicate over 700 words and nearly 20 column-inches of a paper space to a basketball player using a handicapped sticker? Do you WANT to go out of business? Are you LOOKING to draw the ire of the N.C. State fanbase? Do you WANT to rekindle the cries of “bias,” “favoritism” and dare I say “conspiracy?”

No one is excusing Smith’s use of the pass. It was unwise, and dealt with internally. But c’mon…did it warrant THIS much coverage? It’s something that far too many people do, but we’re not talking about a basketball player being given free residence in a house owned by a booster. Or a player’s parent being set up in a cushy job by the university. THESE are the types of things that would necessitate this type of coverage.

Finger-wagging done.

Now for a tip of the hat, to the folks at ACCSports.com for their piece on Lee Fowler and the reasons for his departure:

…And considering the sad state of affairs with Wolfpack athletics over the last decade and especially the struggles with football and men’s basketball, apathy was increasing among Wolfpack fans.

Many began viewing Fowler with the same degree of disdain that forced former basketball coach Herb Sendek’s departure four years ago. Confidence in Fowler also had run out among many high-level boosters and administrators.

The bungled 34-day search for Sendek’s replacement in 2006 forever will remain the ground zero of Fowler’s tattered legacy. Some sources very close to the situation then and now maintain that State would have lured away Texas coach Rick Barnes if only Fowler had flown to Austin and personally made him an offer. For whatever reason, he didn’t do it.

Fowler mishandled the rest of the search and ended up hiring someone who hadn’t been around the college game for 23 years and didn’t have a college degree, a requirement to coach in NCAA athletics. Sidney Lowe had to finish his degree taking online courses and couldn’t preside over the program for another six weeks.

Lowe has progressed a bit in learning to manage a program and in better understanding the nuances of the college game, but the program still hasn’t been seeded higher than 10th in an ACC Tournament under his guidance.

That 2006 fiasco was on Fowler, and was a key factor in Woodson wanting someone else to conduct State’s next search for a new coach, which could conceivably come at the conclusion of next basketball season – Lowe’s fifth – or even sooner, if the football season turns into a disaster.

“No matter what you think about Lee personally, he couldn’t be trusted to run another search for either football or men’s basketball,” a source close to the situation said. “That (2006 search) was an embarrassment for everyone associated with N.C. State, and I think it will remain Lee’s most identifying moment. And that’s just not good.”

Frankly, it’s the most honest look at Lee Fowler’s tenure–from a performance-based perspective–I’ve seen yet from a media outlet. Most of the pieces written of late are fluff pieces that gloss over Lee’s gaffs and State’s pathetic performance relative to the rest of the league.

This piece does give credit to Lee’s work in driving facility improvements, but also acknowledges–where other articles haven’t–that much of the explosion in giving came in response to the excitement Chuck Amato brought to the football program, Wendell Murphy and the work of Bobby Purcell with the Wolfpack Club.

The media can be a school and athletics department’s best ally or worst enemy. Where State stands to gain in the former and prevent the latter is in encouraging those who write pieces like those written by ACCSports.com and admonishing pieces like that written by the N&O.

Our athletic leadership seems to do neither.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 12, 2010 5:06 pm

    Touche’ R&R on ALL fronts… Especially the “finger-wags” to all parties involved! This may be the BEST piece of true objective journalism I’ve seen involving NC State in Years!!! Keep up the great work…

    • June 13, 2010 12:31 pm

      Thank you very much Allen for the kind words, and thanks for reading!

  2. K Coggins permalink
    June 14, 2010 9:59 am

    The best N and O comments I have seen.

    The only exception I would have is in reality, advertising revenue not subscriptions is the lifebllod of the paper..all othe points are right on.
    I wonder if a leader from NCSU or the community will ask Orage that direct question. What did you hope to gain by publishing that article?

    Obviously, the N and O knew what the response would be b/c of the lengthy disclaimer by the author.
    I guess getting NCSU fans upset at the paper gives them more web clicks and that has a huge impact on ad revenue.

    • June 14, 2010 10:13 am

      But Kevin, without subscribers, they have no basis to ask what they need for ad space. As their circulation drops, so too does their ability to command market rate for ad space. “So what I said was true…from a certain point of view.” –Obi Wan Kenobi (my son has been watching an insane amount of Star Wars over the last year, forgive me.)

      Someone commented in the Pack Pride thread that the N&O’s subscription base dropped 8% over the last year. That’s 8% less they can charge for ads. Eight percent they have to trim from an already anemic budget.

  3. angelo permalink
    June 16, 2010 6:58 pm

    Does he have PROOF that this incident happened?

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