The Missouri football teams' strike over racial intolerance at the school and demands that the school president step down or be fired is one of the most remarkable sports stories I can remember. It's a stunning display of social consciousness and power by student athletes.
But ESPN has a story today that casts doubt on the strike. From the story, written by Brett McMurphy:
A Missouri Tigers player said Sunday night that the entire team is not united over the decision to stop practicing until grad student Jonathan Butler ends his hunger strike.
"As much as we want to say everyone is united, half the team and coaches -- black and white -- are pissed," the player, who wished to remain anonymous, told ESPN. "If we were 9-0, this wouldn't be happening."
The player, who is white, spoke on the condition of anonymity because coaches told the team not to talk to the media as they thought the situation "would blow over eventually."
Now, let's stipulate that this might be 100 percent true. The team might not be as united as we thought on Sunday, and this could be an issue in the locker room. That's all absolutely possible.
But for me, this story is problematic. Because it is a one-source story, based on an anonymous source. That always leads to questions about the source's possible agenda, why he is granted anonymity, etc.
The bigger issue here for me is not the anonymity but rather this - how did ESPN get this story? Who contacted whom? Did the nameless player contact ESPN? Or was it the other way around?
If it's the former, then I'm more inclined to believe the story is true - or at least is more legitimate. That would show me that the player really does feel this way, that the team is really split and the player is speaking out to demonstrate that.
If it's the latter, if ESPN's reporter contacted this player - it feels a little off to me.
Again, it could be 100 percent true. Or it could be a white player who's racist. Or it could be a player who's mad that his season's ending. Or it could be a player who doesn't like the coaching staff and is using this as way to make the coaches look bad.
We don't know.
And that's the problem.
The problem with relying so heavily on anonymous sources is that it takes the decision of trust out of the readers' hands. We are supposed to trust the reporter and his or her source blindly. Sometimes, that's OK. Sometimes, that's necessary. Sometimes, it allows people to further their own agenda and hide behind a journalistic invisiblity cloak.
The story could be true.
But it relies on one source - a white player speaking out against the actions of black players on a story involving racial tolerance - a source whose motivations we don't know. It makes a wide-ranging claim about one of the most important sports stories of the year. "Half the team" is a huge claim, and yet that doesn't get challenged or substantiated at all in the story. It takes one player's word as gospel, and asks us to do the same without giving us a concrete reason to do so.
It could be true.
But it's still problematic to me.