Dating back to The Lexington Herald-Leader’s involvement in uncovering a major NCAA scandal inside the Kentucky basketball program in the 1980s, many Wildcat fans have viewed UK’s hometown paper as being anti-Wildcats. The paper didn’t help its cause on that front yesterday.
On Tuesday, The Herald-Leader ran a cartoon poking fun at John Calipari’s role in ending the Kentucky-Indiana basketball series. Naturally, the reaction hasn’t been great.
The drawing features (as you can see below) Calipari’s trophy case. There are two spots “vacated” referring to the Final Four seasons that were wiped away at UMass and Memphis. There’s a large NCAA championship trophy — complete with two dollar signs on it. And there’s another trophy marked “Lose At IU, Take My Ball And Go Home Award.”
I gotta say, that’s a bit rough for a local paper. Not the Indiana part or even the vacated banners part, but the dollar signs on the trophy. The cartoonist — Joel Pett — says those dollar signs were a statement about the money-driven NCAA, not Kentucky. Here’s guessing most Cat fans won’t buy that argument, but we’ll take him at his word.
Pett told WTVQ-TV in Lexington that “everyday he tries to draw about something that angers him.” The end of the UK-IU series angered him because he is a Bloomington native, his father was a professor at Indiana, and Pett himself went to school there.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with poking a little fun at sacred cows, even if those cows happen to reside in a nearby field. The Lexington Herald-Leader should cover Kentucky. It shouldn’t worship Kentucky (as many fans would wish).
Sites like KentuckySportsRadio.com took immediate issue with the cartoon and the paper. Perhaps unwisely, Pett also decided to call into their radio show today. (Full disclosure: I’ve been on with those guys, too, and while we’ve never met, KSR’s Matt Jones is a Middlesboro, Kentucky native like myself. I like them and I often laugh at their hugely-successful site.)
Here’s the problem I’ve got with them today, though. While fans and fansites like KSR are outraged when someone flings a barb at their team, they see nothing wrong with doing the exact same thing to someone else. Example: Today they posted a cartoon mimicking Pett’s style that takes aim at Rick Pitino’s trophy case.
Oh, now that’s funny. The Herald-Leader’s attempt at humor? Obviously those dirty, ol’, egg-sucking mules are just a bunch of hacks.
Here’s the irony. As someone who reads every local paper across the SEC on a daily basis and does so without any team to root for… I can say that most SEC papers are very fair in their reporting. Fans almost never see it that way, but I can think of only one paper in the SEC that repeatedly seems to be either out to help or out to hurt Hometown U. (That would be The Gainesville Sun, by the way, and the only time you’re likely to find something negative there is if the Gators lose and the writers are angry about it.) The Herald-Leader is home to Jerry Tipton — who Cat fans view as the devil incarnate — but it’s also home to John Clay. Clay is quite often pro-Kentucky in his stance (though he surely got some heat this week for not gobbling up Calipari’s nonsense about “nontraditional” scheduling).
Overall, as an outsider with no dog — or cat — in the fight, I would actually list The Herald-Leader as being one of the more positive papers in the SEC when it comes to covering their local basketball team. They also happen to cover the hell out of that team to boot.
But again, I don’t have an agenda. If you have an agenda as a reader, you’re going to perceive an agenda in the words of a writer, whether one actually exists or not. Trust me, I’ve been called a lover and a hater of every program in the SEC and I can’t figure out how the heck that’s possible.
Across the league, most SEC hometown papers are viewed as being too harsh, too critical and too negative toward the local heroes. In reality, most of them produce tons of coverage and attempt to do so in an objective fashion.
The Herald-Leader probably went a little overboard with yesterday’s Calipari cartoon, yes. But I’ve got news for Kentucky fans, as an outsider looking in, your local paper is nowhere near as negative as you believe it to be. Then again, when you compare it to fansites like KSR that revel in talking up the Cats and beating down everyone else — even ex-coaches who brought Kentucky great success in the ’90s — there’s no way an objective paper can appear as anything but negative.