Walt Austin of College and Magnolia recently wrote an article offering his opinion on the existence of a nationwide anti-Auburn agenda.
It’s Austin’s contention, based on events from the 1983, 2004 and 2014 seasons that the reality of a massive, organized nationwide bias against all things Auburn doesn’t actually exist.
While we find the methodology to be faulty and his sample to be weak, surprisingly we don’t disagree with his overall point.
There is no pervasive conspiracy in the national media with the ultimate goal of tearing Auburn apart. In that we are agreed.
College and Magnolia contributor Josh Dowdy responded with a series of surveys that showed that the overwhelming majority of Auburn fans believe there is, in fact, a consistent anti-Auburn bias that manifests itself in the media as well as in how Auburn is perceived nationally. With that we also agree.
How can that be, you ask? Aren’t those two positions diametrically opposed? No, they are not.
What Austin doesn’t account for is the true nature of bias. Bias in its most basic form isn’t a massive and unified assault, it occurs on an individual level. Bias is more personal. It’s not found marching defiantly out in public, it’s much more subtle than that.
Just because you don’t join protest marches and throw blood on people wearing fur coats doesn’t mean you aren’t sympathetic to animal rights issues.
Bias isn’t perpetuated with a sword, it comes in the sting of a thousand individual needles.
Bias originates at the local level. It’s seeds are sewn in how certain topics are addressed or handled, how the web of perception is stealthily spun and it seeps out across the landscape stealthily, influencing how those who know no differently view things.
In the State of Alabama there are two clearly defined forces: Auburn and Alabama. The media treatment of one affects the perception of the other. What’s so often unspoken is that there has been for years a consistent tendency to subtly downplay Auburn while simultaneously hyping the rival Crimson Tide. As Dowdy pointed out, nearly 90% of the fans he surveyed recognize the bias even if they can’t put their finger on specific instances.
The Never to Yield Foundation examined this phenomenon as it pertained to the recruitment of Rashaan Evans and subsequent fallout when he signed with Alabama. There was a concerted effort on the part of the state media to portray Auburn fans as loons based on the unsubstantiated whining of Evans’ father, while turning a blind eye to similar documented behavior from rival fans in relation to Auburn signees. What was the result? Media outlets from around the country picked up the “Auburn fans are out of control and harassing a poor recruit and his family” line when in reality there was no story.
Does that create a unified national bias? Of course not. But portrayals like that stick in the minds of people around the country and can’t help but influence their perception of Auburn and its people.
By the very definition of this vitriolic rivalry anything relentlessly pro Alabama can also be perceived as anti Auburn and vice versa. We know that competitive balance is difficult to achieve and that state and local media will never make fans of either program entirely happy. We also understand that Alabama fans make up a larger portion of most media outlet’s reader base.
That said fail to see how that justifies the near-daily Alabama hyping and surreptitious Auburn downgrading that is a staple of most of the state’s major media outlets.
The efforts are often very subtle. When Auburn gets a commitment from a prospective student athlete, the article that accompanies his pledge almost always refers to Alabama’s interest in the player and/or the potential for Alabama to sway the recruit’s decision. The reverse is rarely true.
The bias also manifests itself in how positively our main rival is persistently portrayed. State media has anointed Nick Saban as the greatest coach in the SEC, the creator of an infallible ‘process’, a paragon of discipline and the premier developer of NFL-level talent.
There is no arguing Saban’s success on the field, but a closer examination of his record shines a completely different light on all of the largely unchallenged claims of his supremacy. Saban has an excellent record against teams with lesser talent. In fact, his teams almost never lose.
Match Saban’s Tide against a team of equal talent or success, however, and his Tide is under .500. You won’t hear that anywhere else but here and from Bob Stoops.
State media ridiculed Stoops for even insinuating that a Tide loss to his Oklahoma team had any meaning whatsoever.
Saban’s record of discipline is spotty and features more arrests (and more violent offenses) than Auburn by far, but the overall perception and the vision perpetuated by state media is that Auburn is the renegade program.
His record of putting players in the NFL is strong, but the longevity of those players is questionable at best. Is that what you hear reported? Of course not. It doesn’t fit the narrative. Those inaccuracies spread to a national media and a broader concept is formed.
No school has had more run ins with the NCAA in the last 20 years than Alabama. Auburn hasn’t had a legitimate infractions case in nearly three decades. But if you ask the average fan on the street or the random national sports anchor for a list of programs considered to be “outlaws” chances are Auburn’s name will come up.
Why? Because that’s the version of the truth peddled by our local and state media.
We agree with the proposition that Auburn can be its own worst enemy at times. We tend to play our issues out in public, as families often do. The departure of Tommy Tuberville, the rise and fall of Gene Chizik, the “scandals” that amounted to absolutely nothing were all matters for public consumption. We, perhaps, aren’t as proficient at keeping things under wraps as others. We are, in some cases, more willing to admit our faults. We don’t always march in lockstep with the ‘approved message.’ We’d like to think that makes us as a whole more rational and reasonable.
The voracious appetite of state media for all things that could cast Auburn in a less flattering light also bears some culpability, however.
We won’t belabor the point and dredge up memories of radio hosts who were fired for not being suitably “pro Alabama.” We won’t recall how so many radio and print outlets were quick to take Scott Moore at his unsubstantiated word when he had absolutely nothing to offer. We won’t drag out all the comparative articles that illustrate an undeniable and consistent willingness to look the other way at one program’s potential transgressions (Tom Albetar, DJ Fluker, Luther Davis, etc.) while rushing to judgment on the whisper of others.
We’ll simply agree with that the concept of a massive national bias is essentially baseless. We do contend adamantly, however, that the steady and stealthy stream of subtle pro Alabama/anti Auburn rhetoric has a definite impact on how Auburn is perceived and influences how Auburn is treated nationally.
A decided in-state and local bias (even if it’s unintentional) does in fact exist. The result of that bias is that teams like Auburn in 2013 can still make waves, but the task is made more difficult than it is for other programs.
Yes, Auburn climbed the national ladder in 2010 and 2013, but the ascent was a chore. Compare the the cupcake climb our rivals enjoyed in 2009 or their electric backslide into the BCS title game in 2011 to see how things differ. We can still climb the mountain, but the perception foisted on us makes that climb harder than it has to be.
When you have people today postulating that 2013 SEC Champion Auburn wouldn’t have deserved a place had the final four existed a year ago or arguing already that a one-loss Auburn shouldn’t be considered for a spot on the upcoming final four, how can you legitimately deny that some bias exists? Where was the same degredation of an extremely fortunate Alabama in 2009? Or a bizarrely fortunate Tide in 2011?
Greg Ostendorf of ESPN recently posted a lengthy “what if” piece essentially discrediting everything Auburn achieved in 2013. What if holding was called, what if Manziel doesn’t go down, what if, what if, what if. His contention fits the persistent narrative that Auburn was lucky last year and should have been a four or five loss team. But wait. What if it doesn’t rain in Baton Rouge? What if a member of the kickoff team doesn’t suffer a cramp? What if Auburn were unbeaten?
That same what if game could be played with every team in history. What if Colt McCoy doesn’t get speared in the back? What if Terrence Cody weighed 40 more pounds and couldn’t jump? What if, what if, what if.
Does it matter that Ostendorf if a graduate of the University of Alabama? Only if you believe that affiliation has no bearing on Ostendorf’s thought processes or (subconscious) agenda.
We don’t want those who subscribe to the notion that bias is nonexistent to take our word for it. That’s why we are introducing a new feature at Never to Yield. With the help of our readers and supporters we’ll look for evidence of bias at the local, state and national level. Those that deserve attention will be featured in our new BIAS WATCH section. We’ll call them out on it.
It’s up to you to make sure that those who get their digs in are reminded that we’re aware. If you see something in the state or national media that perpetuates a biased viewpoint, that unfairly maligns Auburn or that creates a perception of bias through inaccurate or misconstrued information, let us know. We’ll post the details here so you have the opportunity to read and decide for yourself whether there’s a clear and persistent pattern.