Oct 21, 2021

Gabby Petito is missing. Her boyfriend refuses to talk to police. The Internet is angry and wants him arrested. Three days later, his parents report that they haven't seen him since Tuesday. The Internet loses its damn mind. His parents, The Internet decides, used those three days to help get him the hell out of Dodge before his girlfriend's body could be located in Wyoming.

Is that what happened? It doesn't really matter. That's what The Internet thinks happened, and everything will now filter through that. Social media, Reddit, comments under news articles - one thing has been decided: Brian Laundrie is on the run and his parents helped him put on his running shoes.

Yesterday, several news reports surfaced. Some items belonging to Laundrie had been found in the swamp where he had reportedly been hiding. Possible human remains were also found. And his parents were called to the area that day. I just did some research and couldn't really find out the timing of when those news reports were released (or in what order), but The Internet took them and combined them into one collective thought:

I'm not citing the person who tweeted that here. I just searched Twitter real quick and found one tweet (of thousands) promoting that theory. The theory that Laundrie's parents knew exactly where he was the entire time, and once the FBI called off their search, the parents decided to go out there on their own and found where he had been hiding in less than 30 minutes.

Hey, maybe that's what happened. I haven't really been following the story day-to-day so I have no idea. It's also possible that his personal belongings were found, reported to police, police searched the area and found possible human remains, and the police called the parents out to the site so that they could verify that the items belong to their son. Or the parents wanted to legitimately search for him because the FBI's search had been called off. Or the parents wanted to make an appearance at the swamp so that the TV cameras would capture them looking for their son and maybe some of the heat would subside. Don't really know. Doesn't really matter.

All that really matters in a moment like this is what The Internet decides. "Actually..." doesn't really exist in that realm. The Internet has enough evidence that the Laundries have been attempting to conceal their son's location from the beginning, so that's really all that matters. (And again, I don't really care if they did or didn't. I'm just saying that once a decision like this is made, it's basically permanent.)

Which is what makes someone like me so useless in 2021. 13% of the sentences I've spoken in my life began with "actually, when you look closer...". Which is why I tweeted this on Monday night:

That was basically a "I know it won't matter, but here I go again". I then quote-tweeted my own opinion of the Bret Bielema brouhaha and started trying to correct national writers who were getting the context wrong. It's pointless, but I did it anyway. Here I come to save the day.

Why pointless? For the same reason you can't put the "Laundrie's parents were in on it the whole time" toothpaste back in the tube. Once The Internet decides, it's over.

And, let's be honest, The Internet gets a lot right. I'm not saying Laundrie's parent's weren't in on some scheme to keep him hidden from the cops after he allegedly murdered his girlfriend allegedly. I don't really know. It appears The Internet was right about who killed Kristin Smart when police couldn't solve that case. I'm not here to hate on the internet. The internet is why I have a job.

I'm just saying that once something is out there, it's out there. It does not matter if context has been lost. A Thing has been decided and nothing will change any opinions until another Thing happens.

And with a reliable Thing out there on Twitter, well, fans can take it wherever they want to take it. I won't link to them, but look at any of the hundreds of comments from other fanbases about Bret Bielema's comments. Angry Arkansas fans attack this moment with "how does it taste, Bret?". Iowa fans seemed to go with "well, looks like we'll get every recruit Illinois wants for the next 10 years". Much posturing can happen after a Thing happens.

As for this fan-in-the-pressbox, I wrote my article on Tuesday and then waited for today's Zoom presser to ask Coach Bielema about the brouhaha. Here's my questions and his answers:

Let's start with him mentioning my "shots fired" tweet. Here's that tweet and my follow-up an hour later:

If you're curious, I don't have a problem with him bringing it up in this press conference. He started to make the point that no one in the room made a big deal of his statements in the context of the question and his entire answer, stating that (paraphrasing) had the comments been out of line, the media in the room would have likely said something in the moment. Then he paused to correct himself and say that I did tweet the "shots fired" thing in the moment. But he's right about the press conference. No one brought it up in the room, including me when I asked a question later in the press conference. It didn't blow up until hours later.

His comments today didn't really change my take on all of this. Perhaps a better way to say that: what he stated today was in line with what I wrote on Tuesday. Those in the room were fully aware of the unique nature of this offensive line. Of the seven guys playing, six are grad students. Six other offensive linemen from the three classes (2018 to 2020, not the 2019 to 2021 that I originally tweeted) have already left. So his comments didn't really toss players under the bus. He said "three classes" for a reason - all of the linemen on the field this season are from four and five recruiting classes-ago and almost all of them will be gone after this season. That is a major concern.

I do still believe that bringing up the topic at all is a bit of a shot being fired. Even if it's just about the numbers, those were numbers that the former staff was supposed to be monitoring. And, I should note, the former staff did leave some "numbers" on the offensive line. Those players simply transferred down to FCS schools this summer or were moved over to defense. Follow that single thread all the way to the end (I follow every thread) and, in my opinion, it ends up being stitched into Lovie's windbreaker.

But that's just my take on him taking his answer in the "look at our OL two-deep" direction. The way the clip went viral, with everyone acting like he was talking about the 60-some players in the last three recruiting classes and how all of them sucked, well, that just wasn't the case. His point was clear: if your offensive line rotation in 2021 has two guys from the 2016 class, four guys from the 2017 class, one guy from the 2018 class, zero from 2019, and zero from 2020, and zero from 2021 you have a major problem on your hands in 2022.

OK, so now he has clarified his comments. Will that matter? Of course not. The Internet has found a Thing and it's not really going to go looking for information to clarify that Thing. The Laundrie's lawyer can tell CNN whatever he wants about his clients' cooperation with police, but even if it's true, no one will hear it. Case was closed weeks ago. The parents are helping him hide.

Here's what I mean in the case of Bielema's comments. Just click on this Adam Rittenberg tweet (specifically, click on the little quote bubble with the number next to it) and read all the replies:

Minds are made up.

But I linked that tweet as a way to make my final point here. Which I will do now. And then I'll probably stop talking about this subject forever.

Bret Bielema's comments from Monday were, in fact, taken completely out of context. People focused in on a portion of a quote about the offensive line depth chart (all seniors, no underclassmen in the two-deep) and carried it forward to mean that he didn't think he had a single good player in the last three Lovie Smith recruiting classes. He was not referencing a single player that's been on the field this season (and only two or three who are on the practice field), and yet the responses were "will the team walk out before the Penn State game after he trashed all of them?". Many national CFB media members were responsible for removing the quote from the boundaries of the answer in which it was spoken and applying it to another topic. Quite literally, taking it out of context.

Bret Bielema then answered my question today by stating exactly that: that his answer was taken out of context. He said he showed his entire team the clip - all of the questions and all of the answers - and they took no issue. He didn't clip out certain parts of it to make himself look better - he expanded the quote so that everyone would understand the context. They - the players who everyone was defending by saying "how can he talk about his team like that?" - had no issue. Several players said that in Tuesday and Wednesday interviews this week.

Yet what do you feel when you read Adam Rittenberg's tweet? Here's the text again:

Illini coach Bret Bielema says his comments about personnel Monday were "completely taken out of context." Says he wasn't talking about current Illini roster. Bielema showed the entire transcript of his comments to the team Tuesday.

A tweet like that, in 2021, gets what? 85% "suuuuuurrre they were taken out of context" eye rolls? It's almost like a tweet saying "completely taken out of context" today is some kind of "get a load of this guy" dog whistle. Face value was destroyed long ago, I'm afraid.

Well, except for ol' fanboy over here (me), MUSTPROTECT-ing his way around the internet, saying "actually, when you look closer...". Here's the face value I see: The Bret Bielema quote at the center of this was taken completely out of context. After spending hours studying this brouhaha, I can say this with absolute certainty. The core of this debate is whether he was discussing three entire recruiting classes or whether he was discussing the fact that only a few offensive linemen remain from those three recruiting classes, and I can tell you with 100% certainty that he was saying the second one.

Does that mean it wasn't a shot at the former staff, the mathematicians behind those numbers? I stand by my tweet. After being mostly complimentary of Lovie's staff the last 10 months, this felt like the first "shots fired" moment. So I tweeted exactly that from the presser.

But that's a different topic. In this specific issue - was he saying that he didn't have a single good player in three whole recruiting classes? - I believe the answer is no.

And that's all I have to say about the subject. If you'll excuse me, I need to go pack for my trip to State College.

Oh, and I also need to check to see if the body found in the swamp as actually Brian Laundrie.


escot on October 21, 2021 @ 06:40 PM

This sort of public judgement existed before the internet. The internet has just ramped things up. One example is the McDonald's Coffee is Too Hot lawsuit:

Tom Keck on October 21, 2021 @ 06:43 PM

Thank goodness most people in this country have short memories.

IlliniJoe81 on October 21, 2021 @ 07:02 PM

I didn’t even know this was a thing.

Robert on October 22, 2021 @ 11:46 AM

I mean, his response to my question is currently a headline on the ESPN college football page. I'd argue that it's the most prominent media moment of his 10 month tenure.

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Hoppy on October 22, 2021 @ 01:06 AM

National media (in general, not just sports related) thrives on reporting things out of context. It’s how you get clicks.

And it’s also a big reason for the “fake news” mantra, on both sides of the political aisle.

AGig21 on October 22, 2021 @ 07:22 AM

I'm thankful the internet wasn't around when they were searching for Who Shot J.R. if so, the real assailant may never had been apprehended. And yes, I know only about 10% of you will have any idea who J.R. was...

Tom Keck on October 22, 2021 @ 09:59 AM

J.R. Was the man!

Joe Edge on October 22, 2021 @ 03:38 PM

Count me in the 10% group... BUT... Don't mistake 'knowing' who J.R. is, for 'not giving a 'flyin'-Eff' who J.R. WAS... But your point is funny and probably dead-on... LOL

firet92 on October 22, 2021 @ 08:15 AM

Robert going after the twitter mob is a great way to start my morning!

Robert on October 22, 2021 @ 01:05 PM

It's not really the "Twitter mob" here as much as it is social media vs. media.

Here's maybe the best way to explain that. As far as I can tell, only four outlets wrote articles about the comments from Monday: Deadspin, Larry Brown Sports, 11 Warriors (Ohio State site) and Nittany Lions Wire (Penn State). And all four whiffed at the exact same part of the quote: Bielema saying "not significantly doing anything in the playing department" meant "they're not on the field" (because there's only three left on the roster), but each article took it to mean "these players I see out there on Saturdays aren't doing anything significant".

I'm guessing dozens of media outlets (from the Trib to national websites and blogs) looked into the story but passed on publishing it when the context wasn't clear. Those four went through the stop sign and wrote about it.

The difference today is that social media doesn't have the same requirements to pause and make sure it's correct. There's no hesitation to run with something because of a possible future retraction. You just put it out there and nobody cares.

Yes, there are Twitter mobs, and they take their stance hammer and swing it at anything that moves. But this issue, to me, is Twitter media. There's no recourse for Steven Godfrey (35,000 followers), Vic Tafur (85,000 followers), Jeff Pearlman (65,000 followers), and dozens of other national media members who spread the false narrative. They all chose to not write about it (too risky), but with social media they can just tweet it and quit it.

IlliniLion on October 22, 2021 @ 09:59 AM

My problem with this isn't what he said (because his comments are literally correct) so much as how easy it is to be taken out of context and used as negative recruiting tactics. Robert, what is your take on that facet of this story?

Robert on October 22, 2021 @ 12:27 PM

Felt like I covered that in my tweets that I linked there but I guess those are links and not part of the text.

I wouldn't have said it. As I said in the one tweet, it's too "clunky". Leaves a lot of openings for opposing coaches to twist his words. And, to me, feels like a direct shot at Lovie (which is probably never a good look).

But the damage done by this is 3% that and 97% hit-and-run quote tweets from national media. As I said somewhere else, this was the old story where you tell the investigator "you keep trying to get me to say I stole the money, but I did not" and then the investigator chops the clip down to you saying "I stole the money".

I believe a media environment should be safe enough that this could never happen. That's the issue here (in my mind). Yes, the answer was clunky, but he should be able to expect that a clunky answer won't be pushed off the cliff like this one was.

IlliniLion on October 22, 2021 @ 12:55 PM

Oh shoot my bad, Robert. I knew I should've clicked the links. Thank you for your reply!

skibdaddy on October 22, 2021 @ 02:24 PM

This was my thought too. This is the wrong direction to be going especially when BB is still in his honeymoon phase. He could just be talking about lack of depth and needing to hit the recruiting trail instead of throwing current players (or players that aren't here anymore) under the bus.

tgb on October 22, 2021 @ 10:18 AM

You could say the sun is going to come up tomorrow, and tweeters (is that a word?), would take it that the sun is only going to come up tomorrow and never rise again. We are all doomed. Wow, I call that the dumbing down of America.

Illinimac68 on October 22, 2021 @ 11:36 AM

Another problem is that "taken out of context" is too often used as code by celebrities and their press flacks to mean "we didn't really say what you know damn well we said and we wish we hadn't said it." In this case, careful analysis shows the quote really was taken out of context but it's very often a b.s. excuse so the internet doesn't take it seriously. It's sort of like you watch one of those true crime TV shows and after you know damn well the perp is guilty they say "everyone is presumed innocent until convicted in a court of law."

purcy51 on October 22, 2021 @ 08:29 PM

The four who wrote about it know damn well it was taken out of context. And if they didn't, shame on them for not doing the necessary research before publishing. It's all about clicks. Poor excuses for journalism.

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