Jim Harbaugh in July 2022. Jul 26, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh talks to the media during Big 10 football media days at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a lot of recent discussion of the NCAA investigation into the Michigan Wolverines around alleged improper in-person sign-stealing. A key development there came Wednesday when prominent author John U. Bacon, known for his Michigan sources, discussed potential leaks to the media from Jim Stapleton. In an interview on Columbus, Ohio’s 97.1 The Fan’s Morning Juice Wednesday, Bacon described Stapleton as a NCAA Infractions Committee member who is also a Michigan booster and a co-owner of the Minnesota Vikings, and who had “blackballed Harbaugh” during Harbaugh’s early-2022 interview with the Vikings:

Those are fiery allegations, and they got a lot of attention. However, there has since been some disputation of those remarks. For one, Stapleton came out with a statement suggesting potential legal action against Bacon. However, he didn’t specify particular issues of fact. And Bacon himself retweeted a reporter relaying that statement:

However, what’s much stronger than Stapleton’s generic statement there (which does not attempt to address any particular facts) is a specific report taking factual issue with one key piece of Bacon’s commentary. According to a source who spoke to Tyler Forness of USA Today‘s Vikings Wire for a piece published Saturday, Stapleton not only is not a current part-owner of the Vikings, but has never been one:

According to a Vikings source, Jim Stapleton is not and never has been a minority owner in the Minnesota Vikings franchise.

…In the same light, the same source tells Vikings Wire that Stapleton was not involved in the coaching search that resulted in the team hiring Kevin O’Connell. Harbaugh did come in for an interview in early February, but the job was offered to O’Connell.

Both Harbaugh and Stapleton seem to be connected, but they aren’t connected via the Vikings.

This is not a shades-of-gray debate. Either Stapleton had a Vikings’ ownership interest in the early part of 2022 (when Minnesota chose to hire O’Connell rather than Harbaugh, who did interview for the job) as Bacon said, or he did not. And it’s remarkable that that information is not public in either way, and that if it is inaccurate, that the refutation is coming from an anonymous Vikings’ source rather than a named one. Who does or does not have an ownership stake in a NFL team should be something made absolutely transparent, especially given the NFL’s crossover into so many other societal dimensions.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this. Bacon does not seem to have specifically addressed this report as of Sunday afternoon. But it definitely is strong opposition to his radio claims around Stapleton, Harbaugh, and that 2021 interview with the Vikings. And yes, even if Stapleton was not a Vikings’ part-owner, the rest of Bacon’s claims on his involvement in leaking material here to the media could still be true. But Stapleton’s ownership interest was a key part of those original claims. And if that specific claim is not true, the rest of those claims deserve further scrutiny as well.

[Vikings Wire]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.