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July 10, 2005

Apologies, anybody?

It's been a very interesting off-season for the Florida State football team. After a couple years of relative quiet, within the last couple months three players have made national headlines for off the field incidents.

As predictable as Old Faithful, the jackals in the state and national media, as well as rival fans, once again pounced on the Seminole program like a lion on a wounded gazelle.

This knee-jerk reaction isn't something new, not even close. Seminole nation has seen this pattern several times before - FSU football player is involved in an off the field incident, sports talk show hosts rip the program for being out of control, followed by state and national columnists piling on with engaging tales of scandal and sensationalism and finally fans from rival schools see it as an opportunity to thump their chest and trash a hated rival.

Sadly, even some of the mainstream sports writers have taken liberty with the underlying facts in these cases to make sure their story reaches a larger readership.

The rule of thumb for some in the media is to be as negative as possible, always assume the worst and take a few liberties with the facts if it makes for a better story. And when somebody is down, it's time to kick him and make sure he stays down as long as it is interesting.

Such was the case with the recent incidents involving Wyatt Sexton and Ernie Sims.

Shortly after the Tallahassee Police Department issued their report detailing Wyatt Sexton's bizarre behavior, you can bet a few folks in the media were licking their chops. A starting quarterback running around like a maniac in the streets and calling himself "God" probably drew a big smile since it gave them an easy springboard to fire off another scathing column, or in the case of the shock jocks, a chance to get in a few nasty quips that might light up the phone lines.

It's all in a day's work.

Just about everybody from coast to coast jumped to the conclusion that the former Leon High School QB was whacked out on drugs. That supposition was reached despite any real evidence outside of his strange behavior. I have to admit that's what I figured happened but it would have been irresponsible to put my assumptions in writing as fact. One state columnist went so far as to suggest that Sexton's had already been kicked off the team as a result of three failed drug tests. Facts, sources, anybody?

A few weeks later we find out that Sexton contracted Lyme Disease resulting neuropsychiatric and cardiovascular deficits. According to medical experts, in the later stages the disease can attack the central nervous system leading to mental disorders. Apologies, retractions, anybody? Just listen and hear the pin drop.

Then there is the case of Ernie Sims. All we know for sure is that the Seminole linebacker and his girlfriend got into a heated argument last Tuesday night, which resulted in misdemeanor charges of battery and resisting an officer without violence. Other than that, there are a lot of different versions of events floating around.

One version reported by one witness, of the several on hand that evening, was that Sims "slammed" his 118-pound girlfriend onto a cement surface and then "repeatedly shoved" her back down to the ground. That statement made the initial incident report compiled by the Tallahassee Police Department. However, in a finalized incident report the statement from this witness was not included. That's likely because none of the other witnesses corroborated that story and it was not consistent with the facts of the case.

"The witness that said he threw her to the ground, there are witnesses perception and you have to take that at face value," TPD public information officer Mark Meadows told Warchant.com. "All the injuries were on him like finger nail scratchings and that sort of thing.

"There was no slapping, hitting, kicking, beating or that sort of thing. The definition of a battery is an uninvited touch. He was trying to grab and her to get her to stop and listen basically and she didn't want to listen."

Even though the final statement was public record available to the media, and sergeant Meadows made himself available to discuss the case, and even went on a local radio station to explain what happened, several media outlets went with the more salacious versions of events. It's only somebody's reputation at stake, right? It may not be accurate, but it's certainly more interesting than a guy holding his girlfriend by the writs and shoulders during a heated argument.

Not that it matters to those trying to sell papers or improve ratings, but Sims' girlfriend flatly denied that she was "slammed" or was "shoved" to the police. The next day, she even did an interview with a local TV station again denying that Sims did anything harmful to her and emphasized that it was nothing more than a typical girlfriend-boyfriend argument.

If Sims did grab and hold his girlfriend as noted in the second report, he probably should be punished to some extent, but are those actions enough to compare him to his adopted brother who was convicted of rape and murder? If the reports out of Orlando are accurate, a certain columnist compared the two on a local radio talk show. Interestingly, this is the same columnist that predicted that the NCAA would shut down FSU's football program prior to the Adrian McPherson gambling trial. That ridiculous prophecy was made even though FSU had been recognized by the NCAA as one of the top schools for educating their athletes about the dangers of gambling.

Still waiting for a follow-up on that one.

The vitriol from attention-seeking columnists and talk show hosts certainly give people something to talk about, but so does the National Enquirer. I know I had to look twice in the grocery line when I saw a cover story about a 300-pound space baby. I'm not sure if there is much of a difference between the Enquirer and some of the stuff you read in the local paper or hear on talk shows these days.

There are still some very good, ethical and responsible writers and talk show hosts out there but they seem to be a dying breed. If your story doesn't get people talking then what's the point, right?

Of course, all this sensationalist reporting only gives fans more fodder to blast their rivals. Shortly after news of both incidents became public, Gator and Hurricane supporters flocked to the Warchant.com message boards to lay down all kinds of trash talk directed at the football program, Bobby Bowden, or whatever might get a rise out of the FSU faithful. It's not their fault - The same thing would have probably happened if the roles were reversed.

Even worse than a bunch of rival fans talking a little trash, which is to be expected, several people calling themselves Seminole fans assumed the worst and called out these players. It's human nature to jump to conclusions and assume the worst-case scenario, but not so easy to wait around until the facts work themselves out.

It's doubtful anything can be done stop those in the media that continue to rake Florida State and their players over the coals every chance they get. On the other hand, maybe the next time a player makes headlines for the wrong reasons, Seminole fans will think twice before jumping to conclusions, and maybe, recognize that version of the story they are reading may not be an accurate one.

Talk about it on the Football Message Board or on the Tribal Council



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