Down here in the Deep South, we love ourselves two things: football and good ole’ Southern hospitality. So when one of these gets overlooked, it tends not to go over so well, especially when one conflicts with the other.
This was the case last week when the Opelika-Auburn News decided to let their love of football outweigh their regard for the well-being of a player.
Laquon Treadwell, the Ole Miss wide receiver, suffered a season-ending injury during last Saturday’s Auburn vs. Ole Miss game when Auburn’s Kris Frost tackled him to the ground, unintentionally dislocating Treadwell’s ankle and fracturing his fibula. The play came with even more heartbreak when replays revealed that Treadwell had lost the ball right before he reached the end zone, resulting in a fumble recovered by Auburn. It was a heart-wrenching game with a win that Auburn fans just didn’t feel right about excessively celebrating. Across the South, people from all different fan bases vowed to keep Treadwell in their thoughts and prayers after his horrific injury.
However, the O-A news made the mistake of putting football above respect, ultimately throwing people into an uproar. Not only did a picture of the injury take up the majority of the front page of the Sports section, but the headline also read, “Finding a Way.”
Needless to say, Ole Miss fans were super angry, as were people with other college football allegiances. Even Auburn fans were mad, especially because it reflected poorly on the sportsmanship of our fans. Auburn fans pride themselves on being classy. We’re the Auburn Family and in this situation, we see Treadwell as an extension of that family.
So for one of our major local news outlets to present this situation in a celebratory light, it makes Auburn University look just as terrible.
And in true Public Relations fashion, the paper tried to apologize. But their apology was similar to the ones you used to give your siblings when your parents forced you to say, "sorry." It went along the lines of, “Sorry you found what we posted to be offensive, but we’re journalists, so we know best....” This was clearly not a good way to gain readers’ trust again.
I know that journalism isn’t supposed to succumb to the opinions of the masses, but in this instance, the O-A News is in the wrong on every aspect of this issue. Not only was the combination of the picture and headline insensitive, but their “apology” was even ruder. The headline paired with the picture implies that our Auburn players will go to any means, even hurting another player, to win a game. And by not regretting this decision or issuing a retraction letter, the paper cemented this portrayal of Auburn in readers’ minds.
As far as positive publicity goes, the O-A News may want to invest in a different Public Relations team, because this situation reflects a classic case of PR gone wrong. Let this be a lesson to everyone else: when you apologize, make sure you mean it and make sure you don’t let football take priority over respect.