If Josh Shaw’s story is a lie, this is not just on the sports media, but on USC, Sarkisian

This is not as simple as getting our facts correct.

 Of course, if even one reporter had insisted that a story on the team’s website wasn’t enough verification, we wouldn’t be here.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 7.21.10 PM

The cover of ESPNLA.com shows Josh Shaw less than 24 hours after a story on USC’s website revealed a heroic action performed by the newly anointed team captain. [ESPN.com]

If even one journalist had questioned someone – anyone – beyond the people in the athletic department, or the football office, or the athlete himself, we wouldn’t be here.

But, how often do we doubt the head coach? How often do we contest the word of the athletic director? Or that of the sports information director?

OK, it happens on occasion. And what happens then? Sometimes we see a coach throwing an on-camera tantrum directed at a reporter. Maybe we hear about a sports editor getting a phone call.

Whatever happened to Josh Shaw’s ankles is being called Manti Teo Part II. USC coach Steve Sarkisian is “vetting” it. And, suddenly, neither Shaw nor his family is available for comment.

On the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 25, Jordan Moore – USC’s director of social media – posted a story explaining that defensive back Josh Shaw’s two sprained ankles were the result of a heroic plunge off a balcony to save Shaw’s nephew.

Sarkisian spoke to the media about it. Shaw spoke to the media about it.  And the media took them at their words.

Now there is speculation that the story is false and media pundits are questioning how this could possibly happen after the Teo-girlfriend debacle of a year-and-a-half ago, which I wrote about then as a failure of not just the media, but of our culture.

Personally, this story doesn’t surprise me at all – and not because I’m some media skeptic or because I believe that sports writers don’t do their jobs.

I wrote my dissertation about how Sarkisian – with the support, at the time, of the University of Washington’s athletic department – is hell bent to control his message.

At UW, the athletic department hired former AP sports writer Gregg Bell to write feel-good stories about Huskies athletes – particularly football players – for the team’s website. Who was Bell’s top editor? Sarkisian.

Sarkisian went so far as to line-edit stories. He reviewed stories he felt were “too rough” and had Bell massage facts to make them smoother.

After four seasons at the University of Washington, Steve Sarkisian left Seattle in December to take over at USC. [Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images]

After four seasons at the University of Washington, Steve Sarkisian left Seattle in December to take over at USC. [Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images]

Sarkisian was mildly successful at UW based in large part because of his recruiting prowess. Hell, even before he got in to coaching, he was a salesman. His interest is selling the program, not facts. 

Sarkisian’s priority should be selling the program over facts, one could argue, but when you’re a micromanager with too much to do, things fall through the cracks.

The truth in this matter fell through the cracks.

Sarkisian and his support staff are “vetting” Shaw’s story, he nonchalantly told the media Tuesday.

A day late, a dollar short.

This isn’t the 1950s, when a superstar athlete could get away with all kinds of malfeasance. This is the digital age, when the public not only sees everything that happens, it also tweets it, puts it on Instagram or Facebook, etc. The vetting is way too late and both Sarkisian’s and USC’s credibility is on the hook.

The media? Yes, they are on the line, too.

Aside from the sheer accuracy of the story being verified, the details of the saving-the-nephew story would have been much richer had someone asked for the account from the boy’s parents. 

But the sports media in this age have been conditioned to let the all-knowing coach and the all-controlling athletic department create, shape and disseminate the message.


Because the fans want that message. Fans discredit reporters who report on scandals and uncover unspeakable ills in the college sports arena. Fans eat up the hero narrative, bask in the feel-good story and keep themselves intoxicated on this obsession on the turf.

Don’t buy it?

Ask Manti Teo.


11 responses to “If Josh Shaw’s story is a lie, this is not just on the sports media, but on USC, Sarkisian

  1. Thank you for your efforts – we miss you in Seattle!

    Earl Sedlik

  2. Shaw’s sister is backing him up that he saved her son from possibly drowning on an local ABC interview… not sure there is much more USC or Sark can do. If the story is proved false Shaw has just dug himself a big hole with the coach.

  3. You’re being very nice on Sark by saying he was “mildly sucessful.” He went 4-5, 5-4, 5-4, 5-4, and 5-4. He got blown out by every team with a pulse and usually beat the weakest teams in the P12. Completely unremarkable in every possible aspect.

    Great article though, thanks for writing it.

    • “He got blown out by every team with a pulse.” Simply not true. In just his 3rd game after taking over a team that didn’t win a single game in the previous season, UW beat #3 USC. That was after losing to #11 LSU by just 8 in his first game. They also beat #19 Cal that year. In 2010, they beat #19 USC, #24 OSU, and #20 Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. There were also wins against top ten Stanford and OSU teams later on, but I think I’ve already made my point. Sure, there were a fair share of blowouts along the way too, but let’s get our facts straight.

      As a UW fan, I’m grateful that Sark was able to bring the program back to a respectable level, after Willingham left it in ruins, but could not be happier that he decided to leave town, given the fact that we replaced him with Chris Petersen. Yes, the same Petersen that turned down USC!

      Regarding this story, I had heard plenty of rumors about Sark being a bit of a slime ball/used car salesman during his time here, so none of this surprises me at all.

  4. now that is trash media, you are obviously a USC hater.. just another thing in college sports that will blow over like the Notre Dame academic fraud issues about a week ago…

  5. Season hasn’t even started and the pool boy Steve Sarkisian is already having to tred water. Doesn’t surprise me one bit. Old habits are hard to break.

  6. El Siete tells the media he has passed on all info to campus security and has put it in their hands, yet, 2 of his players were told El Siete is handling all of this…sounds like a cover-up, err, clusterfuck in the process

  7. Great article. Provides good background insight. I didn’t understand why Sarkisian needed to “vet” anything, like a politician. What happened to seeking the truth. But that’s your point.

  8. Good Stuff.. Hell, Great Stuff… !!!
    Tough to make people see when they don’t want to open their eyes, but keep it up…

  9. Sark was a day late and a dollar short. Still a good guy, in my mind.

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