Now that the Eric Bledsoe saga seems to be reaching a conclusion, a valid question to ask is “what did this whole thing accomplish?” We ended where we started, with a grade in Algebra III that looks suspicious, might not pass the smell test for some, but ultimately cannot be proven to be incorrect. That was where we were three months ago and it is likely, where the NCAA was 18 months ago when they initially cleared Eric Bledsoe. For four months, Eric Bledsoe’s grades and speculation as to his intellectual ability has been the talk of college basketball and that is thanks to one man, Pete Thamel of the New York Times. Thamel released a newspaper article based entirely on speculation and took Eric Bledsoe’s private grades to the world, all the while having no proof of wrongdoing. His original article was poorly sourced (if you remember, he didnt even have Eric Bledsoe’s Senior Year transcripts) and lacked any substance beyond accusation and his later “analysis” was a thinly veiled attempt to piggyback on an Alabama paper’s work and try to take credit for its initiation. In short, this entire pointless mess began because of Thamel and for all his handywork, he essentially made the Birmingham Schools $10,000 poorer, Eric Bledsoe painted as dumb in the national media and a potential small change in future policy for Alabama on makeup work. Now thats fighting for change Pete.
So the question then remains, who among Thamel’s peers will call him to task for this wild goose chase that did little positive and a good deal negative? One might argue that if Thamel had PROOF that Eric Bledsoe’s grade had been changed in a nefarious manner and he could PROVE that Bledsoe didn’t earn his grade, that might justify putting a story in the most powerful newspaper in the world about his private high school transcripts. However Thamel had none of that and instead chose to crush a kid’s reputation solely through innuendo. His story led to ESPN coverage, Outside the Lines reports and a piling on that basically went all over the Retweeting self-congratulatory college basketball media. And what did all of that accomplish? Virtually nothing. So will Gary Parrish, Jeff Goodman, Mike Decoursey, Andy Katz, Pat Forde, Dana O Neil, Seth Davis or any of the other major college basketball writers in America actually call him on it? Will any of them say, “you know what, we like Pete…but the New York Times really screwed this up and it was incorrect of them to publish a kid’s high school transcripts without proof of wrongdoing.” I am not asking for a KSR-like beatdown…but what about just some acknowledgement that your colleague screwed up?
The reality is that it is unlikely to happen. Just as the police will virtually never turn on one of their own, there is an unwritten rule that you dont go after your fellow sports journalists, especially on a national stage. Some dont adhere to that rule, Gregg Doyel and Jason Whitlock for example, but most do…and when the few that do express their problems with each other publically speak, it is usually about something petty and personal, as opposed to their actual work. Pete is well-liked by those in his profession…good for him. While I would know little about being Mr. Popularity in the Media Room, I do know a little bit about what it takes to have the guts to speak publically about things that matter where others fall silent. Many of the writers on college basketball, both locally and nationally, have privately told me that Thamel was out of line and the Times caused a tarnishing of a kid’s reputation in a way that should have never happened. Now, one of them should step up and say it publically. It isnt treason to call out one of your own when they made a professional mistake. If a coach, player, administrator or referee did it, you would have no problem holding their feet to the fire. Why cant you do it for your colleague, who has ensured that questions and jokes about “Eric Bledsoe” and “Algebra III” will go on forever.
I dont have faith that any of the media will step up and do the right thing. But I certainly hope to be proven wrong.