About six years ago, when my son was on his high school basketball team, I was talking to a friend who’d been an excellent athlete. He’d gone on to play college football at Tennessee and Maryland. I told him that Jeremy gave it everything he had, but just wasn’t talented enough to get many minutes. He told me something I’ll never forget, “It’s okay, by the time we’re 35, we’re all All-Mets.”
We’re about to find out what misstating the facts will mean for NBC anchorman Brian Williams. He’s apologized for his inaccurate account of his helicopter being hit by grenade fire while reporting from Iraq in 2003. He said he “conflated” his memory of the helicopter he was traveling in (that one not damaged) with one on the ground that had been hit. Now we have reporting that says Williams may have played with the facts during his award-winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He said in a video chat after accepting the Peabody Award that he’d witnessed a man committing suicide by falling out of the upper deck of the Superdome. The National Guard confirmed a suicide, but said the man didn’t fall from the upper deck. Williams also talked about seeing a body floating past his hotel window. As the Washington Post reported Saturday:
“A 2008 Louisiana report that mapped all Katrina-related fatalities does not indicate that any bodies were found near the hotel (where Williams stayed).”
NBC’s investigative editor, Richard Esposito, is looking into it. As Ricky Ricardo might say, “Brian Williams has some splaining to do.”
In sports, we’ve seen a slew of truth-stretchers. And they almost always end badly. A few examples:
1999 – The Toronto Blue Jays fired manager Tim Johnson after it was revealed he’d made false statements about serving in Vietnam and being a high school All-American basketball player before choosing professional baseball over a basketball scholarship to UCLA. About Vietnam, Johnson told his team about having to shoot a young girl. In fact, Johnson had served in the reserves and had helped to train soldiers, but never went to Vietnam. And yes, there was no record of his high school basketball exploits or an offer from UCLA. Though he’d shown promise as a rookie manager in 1998, going 88-74, the Blue Jays felt Johnson had to go. He has not managed in the majors since.
2001 – After a successful run at Georgia Tech, George O’Leary accepted his dream job, coaching football at Notre Dame. He’d claimed on his resume that he lettered three times in football at the University of New Hampshire. Sensing a good local angle to the story, a reporter from the Manchester Union Herald called UNH to find out more about O’Leary’s playing career. It turned out he’d never appeared in a game. A further check of the resume showed O’Leary earning a masters degree from “NYU-Stony Brook”. Not only does such a school not exist, it turned out that O’Leary had taken only two masters courses at SUNY-Stony Brook. Five days after being hired, Notre Dame asked O’Leary to resign – earning him the nickname “Oh Really?” After a couple of years as an assistant with the Minnesota Vikings, O’Leary resurfaced as the head coach at the University of Central Florida, where he’s been for the last 11 seasons.
2011 – As Yale quarterback Patrick Witt was weighing whether to play in his final college football game against Harvard or attend a scheduled Rhodes scholarship interview, Yale coach Tom Williams said he was qualified to offer advice. How was he qualified? Williams said he too had been a Rhodes scholarship finalist. A quick check revealed that Williams had never even applied for the award. Witt decided to play in the game, Yale was clobbered and Williams was fired.
2014 – Manhattan basketball coach Steve Masiello accepted an offer of more than $1 million a year to take over at the University of South Florida. Because it’s a public school, USF requires its coaches to have a degree. That seemed to be no problem since the Manhattan media guide said that Masiello was a “2000 graduate of the University of Kentucky with a degree in communications.” One problem – Masiello never graduated. USF withdrew the offer. He lucked out when Manhattan agreed to take him back, pending the completion of his degree. Masiello took care of that last summer.
One thing about telling the truth, it doesn’t come back to bite you and you don’t have to worry about how it might, as Brian Williams says, “conflate” your memory.