Cale Gundy's greatest sin wasn't what he said, but the carelessness that led him to say it
Note: You can find the text of Cale Gundy’s first statement and both of Brent Venables’ statements at the bottom of this column.
I’m trying to square Cale Gundy’s resignation statement with Brent Venables’ final statement endorsing his resignation.
Here was Gundy, no longer Oklahoma’s receivers coach, announcing his resignation late Sunday night:
“Last week, during a film session, I instructed my players to take notes. I noticed a player was distracted and picked up his iPad and read aloud the words that were written on his screen. The words displayed had nothing to do with football. One particular word that I should never — under any circumstance — have uttered was displayed on that screen. In the moment, I did not even realize what I was reading and, as soon as I did. I was horrified.
“I want to be very clear: the words I read aloud from that screen were not my words. What I said was not malicious; it wasn’t even intentional.”
Here’s a piece of Venables’ final statement, issued Monday:
“Coach Gundy resigned from the program because he knows what he did was wrong. He chose to read aloud to his players, not once but multiple times, a racially charged word that is objectionable to everyone, and does not reflect the attitude and values of our university or our football program.”
But I want to direct you to a piece of Venables’ original statement, issued Sunday, the one he hoped would suffice, yet given the masses coming to Gundy’s defense, including many former Sooners — Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine and Dede Westbrook, among others — felt he needed to update.
“The culture we’re building here is based on mutual respect,” Venables said.
If you read this column regularly, you know it’s not always about sports.
That I’m a lefty, a liberal, who believes in democracy rather than autocracy and stands with the party that does, too.
Still, had Gundy read, without speaking, what he found on the player’s tablet, then demanded that player talk to him one-on-one and, trying to reach him said something like “This is where you’re head’s at, why are you using this word?” And then proceeded to speak THAT WORD, even repeat it, pleading to help him understand why the player’s head is there rather than in football … in that circumstance, despite the temporary cloud over the program were it reported, I’d be among the throngs saying he should keep his job.
But what Gundy says he did, though less than what Venables now says he did, is not that.
Gundy freely admits he picked up the tablet and read from it, which is not all right for myriad reasons.
The “notes” Gundy might have read could have been slanderous toward another player, coach, student, or woman (or even a man) that player or another player might be seeing.
Short of slanderous, it could have been embarrassing toward any of the above or the player himself, who deserved being called out for his lack of attention, but not to be exposed for some personal thought that may have found its way onto the tablet.
Yet Gundy made all of those eventualities possible and, one has to presume after nearly 30 years in the program as a player and coach, it wasn’t the first time and it’s certainly not consistent with, back to Venables’ words, “mutual respect.”
Gundy could have told the player to leave the room. Yes, he would lose out on instruction, but so be it, he was losing out already. Get him out of the room and, at least, his lack of attention is no longer a distraction.
Instead, Gundy created his own distraction and then, coming upon the word that may not be said and saying it, created a much bigger distraction.
Come to think of it, maybe Gundy’s statement and Venables’ final statement can be squared.
Perhaps THAT WORD appeared several times on the player’s tablet and Gundy, blinded by anger and his wish to make an example of the player, said it several times before realizing he had.
Or, maybe, it appeared several times, Gundy said it several times, and the story he tells himself because he can’t fathom another story is that it was said unintentionally.
The benefit of the doubt he should get, that he deserves to get, is that it was never malicious beyond his wanting making an example of the player in the name of discipline.
I don’t doubt Gundy’s character, nor his commitment to the Sooner program, nor the idea that one way or another, even if it was the move Venables needed him to make, his resignation eventually became the move he believed he had to make.
Those who would banish anybody for uttering THAT WORD, with no thought given to context, setting or motivation, when it’s reactive rather than malicious … well, I would hope everybody would have a problem with it because context, motivation and intent always, always, always, always (and always and always) matter.
Because life requires critical thinking, while instant banishment requires none.
Also, had the player only been writing recipes on his tablet, Gundy screwed up royally by picking it up and reading blindly from it, putting infinite bad outcomes on the table.
That and Venables is deadly serious about the culture he means to bring to the program.
Doing things the right way.
“It’s essential that we hold ourselves to the highest standards,” Venables said in his original statement, “as we model for our players the type of men we want them to become.”
He means it.
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