Grading the First Amendment: 'The State' vs. Steve Spurrier

Paul CookContributor IIIOctober 11, 2011

COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 01:  Head coach Steve Spurrier watches on during their game against the Auburn Tigers at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 1, 2011 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

These days few things rock the sports world like the thrill of the "non-story."

From ESPN's firing of confused conservative and one-time country music artist Hank Williams, Jr. to, well, pretty much anything a professional athlete tweets about a divisional rival or their take on the next Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor. 

It seems a big part of what makes 21st-century sports journalism rattle and hum are the endless parade of off-the-field brouhahas and occasional clashes with the very same sports media that feeds and clothes them.

In what might be a fitting context in which to discuss the finer points of our increasingly rare first amendment "rights" were it not so downright weird, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier told a gaggle of reporters Tuesday that he would no longer participate in any presser in which longtime State newspaper columnist Ron Morris was present.  

No, seriously, I'm not making this up.

Die hard Gamecocks fans have long despised Morris, who--whether or not he is a closet Clemson fan, as many have claimed--is no doubt feeling the intense pressure of being one of the 18 remaining full-time employees in the sinking Titanic that is print journalism.

Still, you have to believe this is going to sell a heck of a lot of papers come tomorrow morning.

Apparently, the scuttlebutt here has to do with former (current?) Carolina basketball star-turned-WR Bruce Ellington's decision to play football this season, which Spurrier attributes to a well-planned, thoughtfully-executed deal with head basketball coach Darrin Horn.  

Well, yeah, sure he does.

Morris, on the other hand, had this to say in the text from his original column published some seven months ago in The State:  

"Ellington is a superb athlete, probably as talented as any to come out of this state in awhile. He proved himself capable of being an SEC-caliber basketball player as USC’s point guard this past season. The way Steve Spurrier has courted him since the end of the football season makes you believe he is capable of playing that sport at a high level as well."

Now, I know bona fide PhDs in literature who wouldn't be able to pull out of this passage the same level of interpretive meaning that the Ol' Ball Coach does, which is odd since he has made a career on being not only a superb football coach, but also a plain-spoken, plain-dealing southerner.  

A master of interpreting fine shades of meaning?  That's a new one.    

But what's more troubling about this is the fact that Spurrier and pretty much everyone else associated with the Gamecock football program seems to have no problem at all with limiting access to a seven-figure public employee, people I assumed were in fact working for the public.  

Or does that only matter when they're PhDs in literature?