Giger: Let’s be honest in sports

Commentary

This is always an interesting time of year for me because I’m finished covering the Curve and now focus pretty much solely on Penn State football for several months.

I’m one of the few full-time baseball beat writers around who also covers a major college or pro football team on a daily basis. That’s not common in this industry because there’s so much overlap between baseball and football at various points of the year that most media outlets separate the two beats.

OK, I’ll get to the point, because most of you don’t care about all that.

Because I cover the two sports on an everyday basis, it’s become so clear over time just how much more honesty you get from people in baseball.

My least favorite thing in this business is coach speak — all of the non-answer answers you get when a coach (or player) is asked a question and is obligated to respond but doesn’t really say anything.

At best, coach speak can be described as spin or avoiding the issue. At worst, one can consider it lies. Yeah, that’s a harsh word, but when you’re asked something and what you reply with really isn’t the full truth, isn’t that a lie?

If your kids do that, you’ll think they’re lying and tell them to stop.

When coaches and players do it, we just accept it because we know they’re usually just not in position to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There’s little benefit to them or their team in doing so.

Baseball is every day. If a player is in an 0-for-17 slump with a bunch of strikeouts, he can’t hide from it or talk his way out of it by saying everything is fine. We all can see it’s not, every day. The player usually owns up to his struggles, tells you what he’s doing wrong and how he hopes to fix it.

If a baseball team loses five in a row, most managers will express their frustration, single out certain players or groups for not playing well or even describe in some detail what’s going on with a guy’s swing or pitching delivery.

There’s usually a lot of good, honest dialogue from baseball folks. Not always, of course. Some guys are more quiet or secretive or talk in code about touchy subjects — “Did your team hit that guy on purpose in retaliation to start the brawl?” “Well, no. He was pitching inside (wink, wink).” — but when you’re around coaches and players every day, they tend to not try to BS you as much.

It’s refreshing, and appreciated.

Baseball is a relatively simple game, and since most of us at least played in Little League, we have a decent grasp of what’s going on. Throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball.

Football is not every day. It’s once a week. There’s a lot of talk and little action. Football is a much more complicated game, one with 22 players on the field at all times, and every single one is responsible for something important. If a play gets blown up because one guy made a mistake, who even knows unless the camera catches it?

Most people did not play football at a high level, or perhaps even any level. They may think they understand the game and still can even if they didn’t play. But honestly, who has any clue what a 320-pound offensive lineman is thinking unless you’ve played the position, or what’s going through a quarterback’s mind when he looks over the field and sees all sorts of disguised coverages?

In short, some football coaches and players probably feel they don’t even want to bother trying to explain such complicated things. And really, how many fans even want to know all the technical mumbo jumbo?

All of this gets me to James Franklin.

In the past two weeks, Penn State’s coach has made two comments that are just hard to believe. Coach speak at its finest.

Following last week’s win over Pitt, Franklin famously said, “I know last year for their win, it was like the Super Bowl. But for us, this was just like beating Akron.”

Franklin wanted us to believe he wasn’t really taking a shot at Pitt. I don’t care if he was, honestly, because as I wrote in this space a week ago, I think sports need more trash talk between rivals.

But if you’re going to talk trash, own up to it. Franklin talked trash, then tried to talk his way out of it trying to be politically correct.

Penn State doesn’t like Pitt, and Pitt doesn’t like Penn State. That’s no secret to anyone.

The Yankees and the Red Sox talk about how much they love beating each other. There have been documentaries about that with Michigan and Ohio State. The Celtics and Lakers of old days didn’t shy away from their disdain for each other.

Saturday night, Franklin called timeout with a few seconds left and the Nittany Lions leading Georgia State, 56-0. The Panthers were about to try a 31-yard field goal to end the shutout bid, and Franklin clearly didn’t like it. He was caught on camera motioning with his hand in a “you’ve got to be kidding me” way.

Afterward, Franklin was asked if the timeout was called to secure the shutout. The question didn’t include the words “ice the kicker,” but that’s ultimately what happened as Georgia State’s Brandon Wright did miss after the stoppage in play.

“Really that had nothing to do with it,” Franklin said. “It had to do with we had our fourth team on the field, and we don’t have a fourth-team field goal block or really even know how to get lined up with the mix and matched guys we had in there. So we called a timeout to get the second-team field goal block in there, and that’s just how it played out, to be honest with you.”

Was he being honest with that response? You can decide for yourself.

I don’t think he was.

For the record, I don’t care that Franklin called a timeout, even if it was to ice the kicker. You coach until the end of the game, you coach your own team, and saying you pitched two shutouts in the non-conference schedule carries weight.

I also don’t care that Georgia State tried a field goal. Shawn Elliott can coach his team how he sees fit, whether Franklin likes it or not. The Panthers wanted to try and score, they don’t have a good kicker, and getting the kid some work in that spot could help him and the team later on.

My issue is with Franklin’s answer. The personnel excuse is weak coach speak that comes across as disingenuous, and I don’t understand why he can’t just come out and say, “Yeah, we wanted to try and keep them from scoring, we were still playing the game until the end, and that was my decision.”

Franklin has done a marvelous job at PSU. No one can dispute that. But two weeks in a row now he’s said things that have left a lot of people questioning his honesty/sincerity, and that’s not a coach speak issue, it’s a slippery slope for his reputation.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.

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