It probably says something about us that we address people by "coach" and "doctor" with equal solemnity.
Like, if I met Jim Tressel on the street as he was halfway through horking down a hot dog while wearing a windbreaker and white sneakers, I'd have to pause for a hot second as I mentally cycle through which honorific to address him by.
I'd probably settle on "coach," despite the guy being a president of a college and being of equal education to myself (we both have our M.Ed's), which is basically my tacit acknowledgement that him winning a national championship trumps my own ability in literally any other topic or scenario. I don't know if Tress knows how to change the oil in a car, but I know that he beat Miami in the natty and that's good enough for me! Please file my taxes sir, you upset Michigan in 2004. I trust you.
That's, you know, stupid, but it's the same logic that we operate under with how we choose to respond to people with big fat mouth and a head football coaching position.
Maybe you've heard about Dabo Swinney and Mike Gundy making asses of themselves in the past week or so. I don't have the desire or patience to exhaustively recap their verbal diarrhea in this space, but it suffices to say that Dabo said a bunch of dumb stuff about being blindly, aggressively "optimistic" before casually dropping that he's going to take some kickass family vacations while most of the country is on lockdown, COVID be damned, and Gundy followed that up by checking off a list of Worst Possible Coronavirus Takes for an hour or so.
Congrats, I guess, to Dabo and Gundy for having the kinds of jobs and wealth that gives them an absolute belief in their immunity from doing or saying dumb shit. And congrats to them again for having the kinds of jobs and wealth that encourages people to jump to their defense after they say or do dumb shit.
For one shining moment, Clemson's coach -- entering his 13th season with the Tigers -- made us believe. Believe that we can think about football again as the greatest game in the world without looking over shoulders at an invisible pandemic.
Swinney did it in a tasteful manner lauding his faith and first responders while trotting out a new acronym to live by: T.I.G.E.R.S. This. Is. Gonna. End. Real. Soon.
Yes, a weary nation turns its gaze to a multimillionaire taking vacations in his "sanitized" private jet to soothe our jangled nerves. I feel so much better now. Thank you, man who once said he'd quit coaching if players ever got paid. Your clear-eyed perspective is just what I needed.
Gundy's comments were worse and less defensible; skirting racism as they did, Oklahoma State was forced to issue a statement countering his words, and he was eviscerated for what he said in other spaces besides here and in much more forceful language. Bomani Jones rightly pointing out that Dabo Swinney was "being stupid" was nothing compared to the absolute dumping that Pete Thamel put on Mike Gundy at Yahoo! Sports.
The entire presser, Gundy placed a dunce cap perfectly on his own head. He was negligent to health concerns, ignorant of how the notion of sequestering his players would be received and set a May 1 return timetable for football employees that strains credulity.
That's cathartic, but the larger issue is not that Dabo Swinney and Mike Gundy and anyone else said and did things that are incredibly, obnoxiously dumb or false; rather, it's the idea that right or wrong, their opinions on anything beyond coaching football real good have some kind of authority before they demonstrate it.
Expertise in one area does not confer expertise in another.
If I find out tomorrow that Dabo has a secret PhD in epidemiology, I will gladly shut my mouth and listen to whatever hot take he has about COVID. If Mike Gundy co-chairs a historiography seminar with Eric Foner, maybe I'll listen to what he has to say about culture or China or whatever the hell he was trying to talk about.
I suspect none of those things will happen. Instead, what is more likely is that highly paid public employees will be given a soapbox to pontificate dangerously about things in which they have zero expertise. That is, unfortunately, inevitable. But we don't have to give them the right to extend their personal fiefdoms from the realm of football into the world of public health.
Ryan Day and Gene Smith and Michael Drake have all been rightly deferential to medical professionals (and in Drake's case, he is one), but maybe the best example of the right attitude is Day's former mentor Chip Kelly, currently the head coach at UCLA.
Chip Kelly: "Im not well-versed in infectious diseases. Ill leave that to the Dr. Faucis of the world, who Ive got a lot of faith in. When I listen to him talk, it seems like hes got a pretty good grasp of it, so when he says Go, well go."— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) April 9, 2020
On October 27th, 2010, Jim Tressel (after talking with his staff) held practice indoors because wind gusts made it dangerous for his video crew to film, worrying about their "well-being." A few hours later, just a few hundred miles away in South Bend, coach Brian Kelly failed to make that same decision.
Declan Sullivan, a Notre Dame videographer, died when high winds knocked over the tower he was filming from, a tower he climbed despite his personal misgivings about doing so. It was a terrible, entirely avoidable tragedy.
Ultimately it isn't so much that Jim Tressel and Chip Kelly should be praised for making sane, rational choices based on advice they got from more informed people. That's the absolute bare minimum level of competence we should expect from anyone with authority.
Instead we should acknowledge that, just like anyone else, the opinions of the Dabos and Gundys of the world are neutral at best and actively harmful at worst when it comes to topics outside of their area of expertise. People have been sticking microphones in their faces and asking them questions for most of their lives, but the media and those that consume it have to understand that the act of doing so isn't like Queen Elizabeth I knighting some noble warrior.
They are flawed human beings, and just because we feel they've earned the right to have a capitalized job title in front of their names doesn't mean we have to give them the keys to our house.
Or we could do the exact opposite!
For instance, I have a gallbladder surgery scheduled in a few weeks in the basement of a guy who owns a Ford dealership and performed by a 16 year old high school junior who holds the speedrun world record in Yo! Noid on NES.
It's gonna go great.