Don’t like someone’s opinion? Suggest that a bar patron could do their job better. That’s a regular refrain amongst some rabid fans, but it’s rarer to see it from media members. However, that’s what Cecil Hurt, who covers Alabama for The Tuscaloosa News, chose to do Wednesday. Hurt expressed his disagreement with an opinion ESPN college football playoff reporter Heather Dinich expressed on Alabama’s strength of schedule on The Paul Finebaum Show Wednesday by saying that sports bar patrons are more qualified for her job:
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) November 30, 2016
What’s really dumb here is that this may be vitriol based off just the quote in question (not like Finebaum has a habit of tweeting the most inflammatory parts of segments or anything!) without actually watching the segment, which features Dinich saying she thought Alabama was the top team way back when they demolished USC, saying “nobody’s keeping them out,” and just referencing other SEC teams’ struggles and saying that if other top teams are criticized when their signature wins are later diminished, Alabama should be too:
That doesn’t really seem like that outrageous of a statement in context, but that doesn’t appear to have stopped Hurt from going off on it. Unsurprisingly, he was then roasted for this take, including by two prominent college football reporters at ESPN competitor Fox:
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) November 30, 2016
@CecilHurt That's disappointing, Cecil. Question her opinion, that's fine, but not Heather's professionalism.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) November 30, 2016
Others weighed in, too:
Absolutely not true. Heather knows the CFP better than anyone. https://t.co/aHiGsmqE4t
— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) November 30, 2016
You could find an unprofessional jerk like you in any sports bar in America, too … https://t.co/iLiq05xBXP
— Viv Bernstein (@viv_bernstein) November 30, 2016
@CecilHurt Disagree with someone all you want. But you tear them down like this, and you've lost any measure of respect in this industry.
— Travis Haney (@travhaney) November 30, 2016
Hurt was also accused of sexism, but said his “average fan” comment included women:
Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel like this isn't a statement that would be made about any male writer/pundit. https://t.co/MChc9zeuWo
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) November 30, 2016
Hurt later agreed that it wasn’t his best moment and said he was leaving the tweet up to face the heat, but didn’t really recant his comments on Dinich:
Props to Hurt for keeping the initial tweet up, at least, and there’s nothing wrong with him disagreeing with Dinich’s opinion, but saying this feels both like an incredible overestimation of the qualifications of sports bar patrons for actual reporting and/or punditry and a ridiculous shot at Dinich. Dinich is a long-time college football reporter who has a journalism degree, covered Maryland for The Baltimore Sun, joined ESPN.com in 2007, and has been covering the playoff committee both online and on TV in recent years. You may not like her, her reporting or her opinions, but you’re not finding those qualifications on most barstools. (Until the wave of media cuts keeps growing, anyways…)
This situation does illustrate a few larger problems with how the CFP is set up and covered, though. The system has received significant criticism from a “it exists for ratings” standpoint, as AA’s Sean Keeley noted recently, and as Katie Baker wrote at The Ringer, “the scope and sprawl of FBS football means that it will forever be hostage to subjective decisions by conflicted parties.” The CFP committee itself is a weekly target for criticism, and some of that winds up directed at Dinich for her role in covering it closely week to week. Also, despite her extensive reporting background, she wasn’t really a nationally-prominent TV figure before this role, and some fans might have preferred to see a bigger name doing it (although many big names probably wouldn’t want to, given what it demands, the criticism it draws, and how it restricts your other work).
Angry fans (and in some cases, media members) are looking for targets when their team doesn’t receive the ranking they feel it should, and Dinich is an obvious target. ESPN is also making it tough by asking her to wear multiple hats; she’s reporting the information she receives from the committee while also analyzing what they’re saying and not saying and weighing in with her own opinions, and some have made the valid point that she doesn’t always clearly delineate which of those roles she’s in at any given moment. That’s not really the case here, though; Finebaum asks for her opinion, and it seems clear that’s what she’s giving.
It’s not clear why a not-unreasonable take from Dinich drew such vitriol from Hurt, who seems less qualified for her role himself. His Twitter bio says he’s covered Alabama since 1982, but covering one team doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be great at covering a national committee. This was poor form from him; disagreeing with her is fine, but why suggest she isn’t qualified and that average fans in bars are? While some insults towards media from angry fans are expected (albeit disappointing), it’s even more disappointing to see this from other media members.