Missouri coach Gary Pinkel showed respect by honoring James Franklin’s decision

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Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator

One knows going into a football season that conversations and controversies will flare up that have virtually nothing to do with football. We’ve seen plenty of that this week, so allow me to use my soapbox to address a few.

On James Franklin and the needle
It’s meaningful that this coaching staff had the confidence both in their medical staff and in James Franklin that they, by all appearances, stayed completely out of the decision as to whether or not Franklin played last Saturday against Arizona State. It’s not appropriate for coaches to pressure a kid to play if either he or the medical staff think he shouldn’t. But I’ve seen plenty of instances where it didn’t happen the way it should. Gary Pinkel’s not only showing a level of character that I respect in putting his players’ health ahead of bare-knuckled drive for wins and losses, but he’s also showing an intelligence in thinking long-term. Had he pressed Franklin to play and he’d suffered an injury that cost him the rest of the season, Mizzou would be much worse off.

We learned last Saturday that Corbin Berkstresser’s a pretty good quarterback and responds well to pressure. But he’s still not James Franklin.

On Franklin’s comments
I was a little concerned about Franklin’s comments afterwards. In a post on Instagram (for old folks like me, it’s like Twitter), Franklin said the following:

“I don’t like taking pills and I don’t like getting injected… Just like many of you were, I was raised to say ‘no’ to drugs.”

When the whole “Say no to drugs” movement came along, I had concerns for a number of reasons, and here’s one of them. The mindset can be taken much too far, to the point where people are hesitant to use medicine when it’s appropriate. The reaction to his comments —talking about his level of character—is problematic. On the one hand, I’d never question Franklin’s character. On the other, there are times where people need pain medication, and viewing the use of it as a weakness or lack of character is a bad trap to get into.

I’ve seen the same overly-simplistic view of drugs insults people who have legitimate medical need for anti-depressants or anti-attention deficit medicine.

When Franklin mentioned that he doesn’t want to use these medicines, a reporter asked him if he used anesthesia when he had surgery. Franklin laughed in saying of course he had, but I hope the point made gets through. Few situations are so cut and dried that they can be addressed, in all their circumstances, with bumper sticker slogans like “Just say no.”

On Paul Finebaum and the “war” with Gary Pinkel
I could fill a page with rants about Paul Finebaum, the self-styled “voice of the SEC.” He is a sports-talk big mouth who’s taken the ability to make himself into a superstar all the way to national syndication. On the one hand, he knows a tremendous amount about college football and his show can be quite informative. Sadly, he’s a lot less interested in being informative than he is in ratings, so his show turns into bombast and blather. He adapts the persona of being a “typical SEC fan,” up to and including inexcusable defense of Confederate flag-waving racism, an insufferable arrogance that nobody outside the SEC knows a football from a turnip, and a way to launch cheap attacks on people and then use the resulting explosion to call attention to himself and his obnoxious radio show.

He played the cards brilliantly again this week. First, he made a pathetic attack against Franklin, saying, “I don’t know James Franklin, but with all due respect to him, he better man up, or he’s going to get laughed out of the SEC.”

That kind of stupidity is offensive on any number of levels, from the falsehood that he’s showing any respect to Franklin, to the crapola that a tough athlete is, by definition, a man (like too many of his ilk, you’ll never get Finebaum to acknowledge the existence of women’s sports, much less that these athletes work as hard or are as tough as male athletes) to the lunacy that it’s somehow “manly” to throw good judgment and the long-term needs of your team out the window to play when doing so could lead to long term serious injury, to this same old same old that SEC football is so far ahead of everyone else that a guy who’s already proven himself on the fields of the Big 12 could be “laughed out of the SEC.”

It takes real skill to cram that much bunk into such a short statement. Finebaum is a PhD level shoveler of that bunk.

But, he managed to top himself later. During the Monday press event with Pinkel, he was asked (and asked, and asked, and asked) about the decision. Finally, he expressed what he’d basically been saying all along, that there’s no possible reason for a person who knows what they’re talking about to question Franklin’s toughness. His exact words were that anyone who doubted the toughness of Franklin “Has been in a coma.”

When Pinkel appeared on the radio show of Tim McKernan in St. Louis, he was pressed on the subject. McKernan played Pinkel a tape of Finebaum’s comments, and after pressing him for response (which, admittedly, is what one expects on a sports radio talk show, although I should note that McKernan’s nowhere close to Finebaum’s level when it comes to obnoxious) Pinkel finally said what McKernan was hoping for: “So, that dude (Finebaum) must have been in a coma. I don’t even know who you’re talking about. I don’t know who he is. So, it doesn’t matter to me.”

A great answer from Pinkel. And, within mere moments, we had a response from the Mouth of the South, as Finebaum tweeted merrily:

“That didn’t take long! New SEC member declares war on Finebaum. Audio forthcoming on…”  (if you think I’m going to give the guy a plug, you don’t know me very well)

And thus was born a new tempest in a teapot, which has, of course, Finebaum’s name on the lips of Mizzou fans everywhere. Many of them in conjunction with terms like “fathead,” “idiot,” “moron,” and a few others I couldn’t get away with in this column. Finebaum doesn’t care. His job is to get attention, to get people listening to and talking about him. For those of you who spend time in online conversation, he’s like a living troll.

And I suppose it could be said I’ve played into his hands by repeating the comments and not just ignoring him. I’m sure he’d think he’d “won” somehow if I were arrogant enough to think Finebaum gives a darn what I think.

But I’ll make you this promise–I’m going to talk about what I think needs talking about in this column, and I’m going to say what I think needs saying. I’m going to give you my opinion, positive or negative, on what’s happening with Mizzou sports. And “will this increase my hit count?” “Will this drive more traffic to our site?” “Will this get me a gig at a better station?” “Will this make me famous and hip and controversial and top of mind?” will not ever be a part of the decision-making process.

I’ll praise people that may not be popular. I’ll criticize those who are popular (hello, Antlers!)

And I’ll play the irony card like never before in quoting the one guy in sports whose level of obnoxious Finebaum cannot ever touch, as I promise to do what ole Howard Cosell said he was going to do — tell it like it is.

On D.J. Swearinger’s suspension
Yes.

OK, need more? This hit had nothing to do with making a tackle or ensuring the ball carrier was stopped. If it wasn’t an attempt to injure, there’s no question it was an attempt to inflict pain and to intimidate. And even when it’s not intentional, this kind of hit does cause serious injuries. Football is right to step in and try to do something about this. And spare me all the talk about making the game wimpy. Football will always be a game for tough guys, but what it doesn’t need is any more paralyzed guys, or dead guys. One hopes the next time Swearinger’s in that position, he’ll make a solid tackle and not try to decapitate someone. If he cannot play his position effectively without the intimidation factor or cheap violence, he doesn’t belong in organized football.

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