Opinion: Oklahoma State football had a program-changing week — but will it be for better or worse?
Oklahoma State football had quite the week.
The head coach photographed in a controversial shirt. The star tailback outraged to the point of boycotting all OSU-related activities. The support of dozens of teammates that smacked of a player revolt.
And that was just Monday afternoon.
Meetings and videos and apologies would follow. So, too, would a Colorado standout from long ago saying that same head coach had called him the N-word during a game back when he was OSU’s quarterback.
It was a bad week for the brand. At the mention of OSU football, eyebrows raised and eyes rolled. I’m assuming public-relations types everywhere broke out in hives when they heard the words “OSU football” the past few days.
Still, this wasn’t a bad week for OSU football.
Or at least it doesn’t have to be.
What this week will be has yet to be determined. That history has not been written. People inside the program are going to decide if this was the start of great divisions, wide chasms opening between players and coaches and administrators and fans, or if this was the beginning of healing.
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Could this week be the genesis of a transformative time for the program?
Sure seems possible.
As Monday afternoon progressed from Chuba Hubbard’s initial tweet condemning Mike Gundy’s shirt, it became clear the outrage was about way more than apparel. The number of players, both past and present, who joined the chorus was significant. So was the lack of players supporting Gundy.
All of that signaled something serious. Something has been amiss within the program. Something has been roiling for years. This wasn’t just about a shirt. This was about more long-standing, deep-seated feelings.
Former Cowboy Trace Clark even said on Twitter that he never played for Gundy. He only played for his fellow players.
Even in our say-anything world, that isn’t a sentiment you expect to hear.
We haven’t been given exact details of the issues players are angry about, but there are indications that racial tension at the least and racism at the worst is at the heart. From Hubbard’s initial tweet referencing “everything going on in society” to what others said, the dots connect.
Wide receiver Tylan Wallace said, “It’s about way more than football.”
Wide receiver Braydon Johnson said, “I refuse to keep feeling the uncomfort.”
Former linebacker Patrick Macon said, “I was (threatened) I was gonna get sent back to the hood numerous (times).”
And on Tuesday, Hubbard himself posted more in-depth comments saying, “I am a young Black man that wants change. I want change that will bring a better experience for my Black brothers and sisters at Oklahoma State.”
The bottom line — a significant percentage of football players at OSU have been made to feel uncomfortable.
We’re not talking about discomfort of a coach riding them for missing an assignment or being late to a meeting. If only a few guys had spoken up, that might’ve been plausible. Maybe it could’ve been sour grapes or hurt feelings.
What we saw wasn’t that.
We saw team leaders stepping forward. Young men who are not only tops on the field but also in the locker room. Captains. Spokesmen. Faces of the program. They have great love for OSU football.
That’s why they spoke out.
They don’t want to tear the program apart — they want to build it up.
They want this program that they love, this institution that they adore to be better. Whatever was uncomfortable before, they want it to stop. They want the environment to improve for the hundred-plus players now and for every Cowboy football player to come.
Now, the process to get there might be difficult and lengthy. It might even seem unsettling. If you love OSU football like the young men who wear the jersey do, you might not like all of this upheaval.
But seismic change, the kind of change that alters the landscape, starts with an earthquake.
The Big One hit OSU football this week.
What emerges from the shaking and the aftershocks has yet to be determined, but if it is what the players are espousing, if it is a program that provides a better environment for all players, this past week won’t have been bad.
It will have been good.
Very, very good.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.