Friday, August 12, 2011

The Fantasy of Control

Sad news for a great person as it looks like Knile Davis' season is over before it starts with a serious injury. According to Arkansas, he already had surgery to deal with the practice injury yesterday.

The word about Davis' situation and condition flew across the internet via social and participatory media, racing ahead of the efforts to not comment by the school.

Davis himself had backed out of social media before the start of practice, reflective of the mood there. His injury, however, reminds us how little we control even privileged information like medical conditions.

The first word came right from practice, a pair of media genesis Tweets:

@cbahn RB Knile Davis injured on run in scrimmage. Left field in cart. Putting no pressure on left leg. Will update.

No official comment from Ark: re Knile Davis injury. It's left leg and he could put no pressure on it. Ankle-foot-knee hard to tell

That would be because even if Knile isn't Tweeting, his concerned friends and teammates are, leading to this morning's info from the lead writer of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

Still nothing official from Ark. on Knile Davis, but based on tweets from teammates, friends it's a bad one. Likely out a long while

Former teammates like D.J. Williams (Prayers for Knile Davis. Arkansas running back. Out for the season. Ankle. Great person!! He will bounce back !) and current ones like Ronnie Wingo Jr. (It's hard losing a brother on the field three years in a row but we gone be alright ..... We got u #7) were among the Tweeters. By late evening, the regular media had what they thought was the story:

@5NewsSports Sources tell 5News Sports that Arkansas RB Knile Davis broke his ankle:

Kate Starbird gave a great talk at NCS4 regarding this growing phenomenon. The research she presented was a little dated -- it was based on the Virginia Tech shooting and how the "I'm OK-VT" Facebook pages and groups became a de facto clearing house/release of information about who was killed. Before VT dared release the names of the victims, the crowd had shared info among itself, verified and self-corrected to the point that the entire list of 32 was out without a mistake.

(BTW -- Starbird was excerpting some of the research done by the EPIC team at Colorado where she is doing her Ph.D. If you want to read more jump to the published review -- and fast-forward to page 7)

So in crisis moments, it is extremely important to understand that whether you want to or not, your critical information will get out. How far it spreads and how quickly it happens are the only mitigating factors.

If there is a exterior group that cares, they will rally. Knile was the experienced face of a powerful offense for Arkansas, a school that has a very involved fan base and now has a national footprint after last year's BCS appearance against Ohio State. Thus by midnight after the late afternoon injury, we all knew what happened, how serious it was and that his season was over.

National contenders get national attention, so what is the shock that Erin Andrews and ESPN columnists like Pat Forde are talking about his injury -- BTW, not what it was or season ending, simply opining that it would impact the team. That's actually GOOD news -- you matter nationally. Second side note, in the 15 minutes of editing here around the 10 p.m. Central news hour, the Twitter search of "Knile Davis" blew up with 50 messages in that window. Yep, you belong to America now, Knile.

Contrast with a domestic violence incident among teammates on less visible teams, and the immediate reaction to also try and lock down the information. It took three days before the media brought it up, but it was on the message boards and social media within 24.

The truth will out.

Better to just get it out and get it over with.

As a side note, Arkansas media reported that the team is off limits following tonight's practice. One has to wonder if that is an attempt to prevent future leaks or comments about Knile or other injuries.

Petrino breaks pattern, talks to media tonight instead of Willy Rob - says Knile Davis has already had surgery - and players off limits

In that post-practice event, Petrino expresses his frustration with open practice resulting in "people in the stadium" sending messages about the injury out. He specifically add "people in this room" meaning the media. Jump to about 1:45 in this clip from KNWA of the press conference.

He is right, it's bad that an athletes family may see or hear of an injury from a casual observer today before they get it from the school. Or that message boards had the injury information before others. Or that it was from ESPN that your mother learned about your injury.

But news today travels at the speed of light.

Including that Davis had surgery last night. And the teammates were aware his year was over last night. And the school didn't officially comment to anyone until mid morning the next day.

Petrino hinted he may close practice to prevent this in the future. If that is a concern, then he should. What isn't fair is to ask media to not report a major injury from practice when casual fans or others in the stadium are not going to be held to that standard because there is no press pass, no access to players, no ability to get interviews that can be withheld against fans. Well, I guess you could take tickets or move seat priorities, but their livelihood isn't at stake.

The previous head coach at Arkansas set himself up for big problems by closing practice, but then fans or friends were inside practice and sending out updates to participatory media.

It is a tough fishbowl college coaches and players exist in. And it is there at every level -- not just the Arkansas.

At the end of the day, we really don't control what our brands are, our fans do. We can only try our best to be transparent, be genuine and when frustrated by them, do what we can to make them understand.

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