Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Using Cale Gundy's resignation to teach writing (seriously)
There is news.
Donald Trump’s having a hard time of it.
One day the FBI searches his Florida residence looking for records absconded from the White House and the next, in a totally different case, he took the Fifth more than 400 times, refusing to answer questions about the valuation history of his real estate holdings.
Also, a few golfers who’ve bolted for the LIV tour appeared shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn a federal judge won’t let them swoop back in for the PGA Tour playoffs beginning today at the St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in Memphis.
On the off chance you’re curious about the most historic moment from that tourney, it would be Al Geiberger’s 59 at what was then called the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic, 13-under par at the 7,249-yard Colonial Country Club, also in Memphis, on June 10, 1977.
A very long course for the times, when woods were still made of wood.
Thomas, if you didn’t know, was a mid-century entertainment superstar who raised the original funds that made St. Jude possible. His daughter, Marlo Thomas, 84, all these years later remains married to Phil Donahue, who is 86.
How about that?
And for the second straight day, the Mariners beat the Yankees, 4-3 after claiming Tuesday’s tussle 1-0 in 13 innings.
The Yankees are the second-highest scoring team in the bigs with the third-best record, yet the Mariners held them scoreless for 19 consecutive innings between Tuesday and Wednesday, four of them — the 10th through 13th on Tuesday — with a runner at second base to begin each frame, per MLB’s extra inning rules (in case you didn’t know).
But we’re not writing about any of those things. Instead, we’re writing about writing.
We’re not going to identify the news source — no need to embarrass — but we’re going to take the opening bars from three stories about Cale Gundy’s resignation and edit/rewrite them into better openings bars. We’ll also hand out some notes about each.
Here we go.
No. 1, original:
NORMAN, Okla. — The head coach of the University of Oklahoma’s football team expressed optimism about the future of the program following the resignation of longtime assistant coach Cale Gundy.
At his first press conference since the announcement, Head Coach Brent Venables said the team is “trying to find the good in a dark place, a dark moment. I’ve seen a lot of encouraging signs from our guys. A lot of maturity, the love they have for one another.”
Gundy, who started coaching at OU in 1999, announced his resignation Sunday evening in a post on his Twitter account.
No. 1, Clay’s edit:
NORMAN — Oklahoma football coach Brent Venables is already seeing positives in the wake of assistant coach Cale Gundy’s Sunday resignation.
Speaking to media for the first time since, Venables said the program’s “trying to find the good in a dark place.”
“I’ve seen a lot of encouraging signs from our guys, a lot of maturity,” he said. “The love they have for one another.”
Gundy was OU’s starting quarterback from 1990 to ’93 and had been on staff since becoming a part of Bob Stoops’ first staff in 1999.
No. 1, notes:
Sportswriting should not be formal.
Thus, Venables is Oklahoma’s coach, not “head coach of the University of Oklahoma’s football team.” Christ, what a mouthful. And he certainly doesn’t need to be ID’d two different ways in two different paragraphs as he was originally (and “Head Coach Brent Venables” drives me batty; even if you call him that, capitalization is not required).
Next, quoting somebody in the fashion Venables was quoted — without the quote being its own paragraph — is problematic. It really only works if the quote is one sentence or a fragment of a sentence.
So we broke the quote up, killed a piece of it that added nothing, and changed its punctuation to make it read better.
In the dateline — NORMAN, Okla. — we killed the “Okla.” because Oklahomans don’t need to be told what state they’re in.
Finally, we added the dates Gundy actually played in the program, because factual details illuminating a bigger picture are good things to add.
No. 2, original:
Oklahoma football fans are getting used to sudden, surprising coaching departures.
In an OU offseason shaped by former head coach Lincoln Riley leaving Norman for the USC job, longtime wide receivers coach Cale Gundy resigning suddenly on Sunday night provided another shocking development for the Sooner faithful.
Gundy said in a lengthy statement released on Twitter that he picked up the iPad of a distracted Sooners player during a meeting and read aloud words “that had nothing to do with football.”
No. 2, Clay’s edit:
Oklahoma’s longest serving assistant football coach resigned on Sunday after admittedly using “one word … that I should never — under any circumstance — have uttered.”
Cale Gundy, on staff since 1999, explained in his resignation statement the incident occurred when, upset a player was not paying attention during a meeting, he picked up that player’s tablet and read from it.
“In the moment, I did not even realize what I was reading,” he said, “and, as soon as I did, I was horrified.”
No. 2, Clay’s notes:
Admittedly, I rewrote everything.
That’s because the premise of the original story was false and dumb, because the number of Sooner fans who thought “first Lincoln Riley, now Cale Gundy” is zero, because Gundy is one of their own, like family, things Riley never became.
If you’re going to try being clever like that, it must work.
But for the moment, consider the story’s original text.
Lincoln Riley did not leave “Norman for the USC job.”
He left to be head coach at Southern Cal.
“USC” could be South Carolina. Southern Cal actually itself “SC” not “USC.”
Just go with Southern Cal and you can’t miss.
Two more things:
You don’t have to tell your readers that something shocking is shocking. Instead, through description and facts, you make its shock value self-evident.
Also, “longtime wide receivers coach Cale Gundy resigning suddenly on Sunday night provided another shocking development for the Sooner faithful,” is such a mouthful and only half of the sentence.
Just bad writing.
No. 3, original:
NORMAN, Okla. — The University of Oklahoma football program has a major shakeup as former assistant coach Cale Gundy steps down.
Longtime assistant coach Cale Gundy said he’s stepping down after apparently reading a racially charged word off a player’s iPad several times. It all happened during a film session last week.
A player was distracted and when Gundy called the player out, he read out what was on his iPad, which apparently had nothing to do with football.
Gundy had said he uttered the word but the team’s head coach said Gundy repeated it several times.
No. 3, Clay’s edit:
NORMAN — After 23 years on the Sooner coaching staffs of Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley, Cale Gundy will not make it to Game 1 of the Brent Venables era.
Gundy resigned Sunday night, announcing his departure in a statement detailing an incident occurring in a meeting he was running. Seeing a player wasn’t paying attention, Gundy said he picked up that player’s tablet and read from it.
“In the moment, I did not even realize what I was reading,” Gundy said, “and, as soon as I did, I was horrified.”
Venables responded with two statements, one late Sunday and a second on Monday. In the Monday statement, Venables said Gundy “chose to read aloud to his players, not once but multiple times, a racially charged word that is objectionable to everyone.”
No. 3, Clay’s notes:
My edits usually make the original shorter.
This one is longer because the original was too fast and loose with the facts.
Twice two things are connected with the word “apparently.”
“Apparently” is a difficult word to use well. You can drive a truck through it. Instead, you’ve got to make the actual connections.
Further, you can’t just write “A player was distracted and when Gundy …” because you’ve got to attribute it to Gundy before recounting it. You can’t say something happened as though the wind told you.
Also, “Gundy had said he uttered the word but the team’s head coach said Gundy repeated it several times,” is problematic, too, because a close reading of Gundy’s statement reveals he did not explain how many times he used the word, only that he’d said it before realizing he’d said it.
Perhaps he said it three times before realizing he’d said it. Unlikely, but possible.
In the rewrite, you’ve got what Gundy said, and what Venables eventually said, actually quoted, so there’s no mystery.
Also, take a look at the original’s first sentence.
“The University of Oklahoma football program has a major shakeup as former assistant coach Cale Gundy steps down.”
No entity of any kind “has a major shakeup.”
Instead, it might “endure” one, or “suffer” one, or be “caught” in one, and it certainly doesn’t have one “as coach Cale Gundy steps down.”
It would be enduring one “because” he stepped down or “in the wake” of him stepping down.” But “as” he steps down makes it sound coincidental, not connected, as though it’s merely happening alongside his stepping down
Of course, beyond all that it’s best not to call anything a “major shakeup” unless it’s actually a major shakeup, because it wasn’t. It was stunning news, yes, but it was also one coach resigning and one being added from existing support staff, thus not “a major shakeup.”
It’s good to be accurate!
I hope that was fun.
Until next time …
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