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Oklahoma State football: Sports Illustrated series was about perception more than truth

COMMENTARY — Where SI saw a program that was part of the ‘Dirty Game,' OSU can claim, based on the series' evidence, that it has changed the culture.
by Berry Tramel Published: September 17, 2013

Sports Illustrated painted a picture of a program that had been cleaned up. Not spotless; not pristine. But cleaned up. A culture change.

I don't know if that portrayal is true. But that's what was portrayed.

So while SI lumps it all together — a long connection from 2001, when Les Miles was coach, Terry Don Phillips was athletic director and James Halligan was president, to 2013, when Gundy is coach, Mike Holder is AD and Burns Hargis is present — OSU can show a clear disconnect.

Remember last week, before the series started, when Holder said that even if all of SI's allegations are false, OSU failed on some level, because so many of its former players now feel so negatively about the school?

You can turn that around. Even if all of SI's allegations are true, OSU can claim the high ground, because of the massive difference in football culture on campus from 2003 to 2013. And that's by using nothing more than Sports Illustrated's own evidence.

OSU won't couch it that way. Won't concede anything it doesn't know to be true. But that will be the ultimate play. Who knows what happened in 2003? Who knows if Rickey Coxeff and Brad Girtman and Thomas Wright were telling the whole truth or any part of it? But whatever went on, it's not going on now.

And the heavy lifting for that OSU argument was done by Sports Illustrated itself.

Ten years is a long time. Nine years, which is how long Miles has been gone, is a long time. Seven years, which seems to be about when Gundy finished up his well-chronicled purge of knuckleheads, is a long time.

Sports Illustrated talked to 60 players, heard some horrific stories, and saw Dirty Game. Those stories fit SI's desire for an example of what's wrong with college football.

OSU read the horrific stories, studied the timeline, and saw a culture shift. Those dates fit OSU's desire for an example of, in Boone Pickens' words, “wholesale changes.”

So in the end, the vaunted SI project fundamentally was not about truth. It was about perception.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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