New Noise, From Deberry To Joe Paterno

By Kris Reilly
Updated: November 7, 2005

Winning Quashes Controversy

CALIFORNIA—Bill Callahan makes a menacing gesture and gets publicly reprimanded by the Big 12. Pete Carroll fakes the suicide of one of his players, and he’s just a fun-lovin’ guy.

Callahan, the Nebraska football coach, made a throat-slash gesture during the Cornhuskers’ game against Oklahoma last weekend.

Upset about what he thought was a missed holding call, Callahan made it as the official walked away after a discussion.

The coach downplayed the incident afterward, calling it “Gesture-gate” and saying that his pantomime was misinterpreted. The Big 12 apparently didn’t agree and issued a public reprimand on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Carroll was busy making his team think that tailback LenDale White took his own life.

On Halloween, the head coach orchestrated an elaborate prank that began with White quarreling with coaches over his playing time. White was told to leave practice and was taken off the field.

A while later, he appeared at the top of a nearby building with an assistant coach restraining him as he yelled about how much he hates football. Then a dummy wearing White’s jersey was thrown from the building.

I wonder if Carroll ever stopped to consider if some of his players had ever lost friends or family members to suicide. They surely would get a hearty laugh out of the prank, wouldn’t they?

A week later, Carroll’s stunt has been all but forgotten. There was little outcry over the fake suicide. In fact, most of the stories I’ve read about it were written with a lighthearted tone, as if to say, “That Pete Carroll, what a wild and crazy guy!”

Nobody was laughing when Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry said last month that his team needed to recruit more African-American athletes because “they can run very, very well.”

The coach was using a racial stereotype that many of his peers likely share. He was reprimanded by the Air Force Academy not long after making the comments.

Just this past week, Penn State coach Joe Paterno made a similar statement, albeit with a few more qualifiers attached.

“You have to be careful the way you say things sometimes,” he said during the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference. “Poor Fisher DeBerry got in trouble, but the black athlete has made a big difference. … Black athletes have just done a great job as athletes and as people in turning the game around.”

The content of Paterno’s comments is essentially the same as those of DeBerry. Yet the media didn’t even start to pounce on the story until two days after he said it. Some have criticized Paterno, but he hasn’t been reprimanded.

So what special skill do Paterno and Caroll have that keeps them out of hot water while Callahan and DeBerry drown in it? It’s obvious: USC and Penn State are winning.

Carroll is the best thing that’s happened to USC in decades, and Paterno has finally made Penn State a feared program again.

When you’re losing, like Callahan and DeBerry, the microscope will zoom in a little tighter. Like it or not, the sports world has a huge double-standard when it comes to these kinds of situations. A losing coach won’t be cut much slack.

Win some games, Callahan, and you can throat-slash to your heart’s content.