By Will Chavey
I am an avid fan of Michigan football. For a number of reasons (including a pedestrian 3-4 record), that makes me a huge critic of the current head coach, Brady Hoke. But it distressed me to hear Hoke crucified in the media last week. He left a backup quarterback in the game after an awful and obvious concussion, and this prompted a litany of attacks accusing Hoke of putting the program above his players. On the surface, those attacks seem justified, but only on the surface.
Every one of Hoke’s former players loves him. They praise how much he cares about his players. The athletic department has repeatedly trumpeted rising academic performance and graduation rates. I just wish that his accusers took these factors into account before they criticized him. Leaving a concussed quarterback in the game is wrong and inept, but it does not have to be malicious.
One of the things I love about sports is how genuinely it reflects our culture. And I think the recent controversy around Brady Hoke highlights a hairier aspect of today’s society: reading and interpreting news without regard for holistic understanding. In both the media’s reporting of the news and our own digestion of it, it seems that objectivity and thoughtfulness have given way to convenience and excitement. I cannot offer much more than anecdotal evidence of this trend, but certainly polarization in D.C., rapid and conflicting responses to Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, and a litany of other wide-scale conflicts point to a disjunction. Either first principles on various sides are so diametrically opposed to one another that a conflicting view cannot contain any shred of truth, or we are not quite doing a good enough job of communicating and listening.
It is sad that, as we make major advances in a variety of areas, we regress in our ability to understand each other. Congress offers an example of this type of paralyzing polarity. But I think something more profound is happening as well. As a result of not understanding someone else’s perspective, people begin to evaluate other stances within the framework of their own value systems, and that can lead to false assumptions about motives, adequacy and perhaps even validity. Understanding another point of view does not necessarily mean compromise or conversion (although it can). It simply entails evaluating the validity of one’s own claim against its actual drawbacks, and not against a straw man.
We can cite a lot of different causes for the problem. Certainly, the media is at fault. According to PunditFact, a spin-off of PolitiFact that crosschecks media claims, 60 percent of Fox News and 46 percent of NBC/MSNBC “facts” contain at least some degree of duplicity. And sensationalism in the media only emphasizes the fact that extraordinary stories sell better than the mundane.
But there is also an irony in this issue plaguing our increasingly interconnected, digital world. The people of the United States benefit from the best set of resources in world history to seek out nuanced, balanced views on current events. I joke sometimes that the best way to read the news now is to split time between Fox and MSNBC. That might be true, but enough sources exist to ensure that the argument receives coverage from multiple angles.
At the end of the day, I do not think Brady Hoke is the only person who has been criticized beyond the scope of his actions because people did not bother to evaluate his actions thoroughly. That is sad, but the real impact of that trend goes beyond wrongful accusation. It impedes progress and resolution, creates injustice and, most importantly, contributes to an attitude that detracts from the dignity owed to each individual person. And really, I think it comes down to a basic question that I ask myself a lot: When I read the news, am I trying to affirm my own opinion, or find out what really happened?