Popping the tab on another 12-pack of stories from the Pac-12 (and beyond!), starting with a sobering situation at Washington State ...
1. Last week was Washington State’s first home game since quarterback Tyler Hilinski took his own life in the offseason. Hilinski’s parents were there for the ceremonial pregame flag-raising, but otherwise the game proceeded without tributes or public acknowledgement of the tragedy.
Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated spent the weekend with the Hilinskis and produced this account. (Bishop, you’ll recall, also broke the news that Hilinski’s brain showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.) His story makes it clear that the Hilinskis were hoping for more acknowledgement from Washington State. He writes:
“There were things the Hilinskis hoped that Washington State would do: start the game on offense with a 10-man formation, show video of Tyler on the JumboTron, encourage those who wanted to tell Tyler’s story to keep telling it, to erase the stigmas surrounding mental illness by addressing it head-on. None of that took place.”
2. For background on Washington State’s response, read this piece by Dennis Dodd of CBSSports. According to Dodd, Washington State consulted experts who advised the school not to draw attention to Hilinski’s death. Dwelling on a high-profile suicide, those experts believe, can make other people more susceptible to following the same path.
“It’s very hard when a celebrity like that dies,” said Mary Jo Gonzales, Washington State’s vice president of student affairs. “People are going to report on it. That’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid. Someone in that (suicidal) place sees that person getting a lot of attention, positively. Then they think that is a viable option for them. These 15- to 25-year-old brains aren’t developed like your brain and my brain from a frontal lobe concept. They’re more impulsive.”
A few thoughts on this:
First, I’m not an expert. I’ll give Washington State credit for consulting people who have studied the data, and I’ll stay open-minded to the possibility that this is absolutely the correct approach.
However, I’ll need to see more evidence to be convinced that the risks of talking about suicide outweigh the benefits. The Hilinskis have chosen to honor their son’s memory by starting a foundation, Hilinski’s Hope, dedicated to removing the stigma surrounding mental illness. That seems like a worthy cause. I would worry about treating suicide deaths as taboo, or giving the impression that those who die from suicide shouldn’t be memorialized in the same way as those who die from cancer, heart failure or any other cause.
Again, it’s a complicated subject with valid points on both sides. But I think everyone would agree it’s important for those who are struggling to be aware of the resources, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK
3. In another troubling story out of Pullman, the Daily Evergreen reported this week on a pattern of questionable behavior involving former Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser, now a fundraiser for the school’s athletic department.
The Evergreen obtained documents outlining allegations that Gesser made sexual advances on interns and coworkers and, in one case, used school funds to fly a companion to a donor event.
Gesser, who led the Cougars to the 2003 Rose Bowl, left his job as a radio analyst for WSU football in August. He remains employed by the Cougar Athletic Fund, and Washington State released a statement saying its investigation found no violations of university policy.
4. Gesser wrote a letter to the Daily Evergreen denying the allegations and describing the newspaper’s reporting as a “non-story.” From afar, the story looks like a sound piece of reporting to me.
5. On a lighter note ... how about Herm Edwards? I went to bat for Herm in last week’s 12-pack, suggesting that a lot of us could end up eating crow for the jokes we made when he was hired at Arizona State.
Edwards took a step in that direction last week by leading the Sun Devils to an upset win against Michigan State. Washington Post columnist Jerry Brewer paid a visit to Tempe and caught up with Herm in the aftermath.
I’ve heard a lot of Herm-isms over the years, and they run the gamut from banal to profound. There’s no doubt, however, that the guy has charisma and the ability to inspire. This quote from Brewer’s piece struck me in a particular way:
“I don’t need confirmation,” Edwards said. “I’m willing to do something a lot of people — and I stress this to young people all the time — you got to be willing to bet on you. That’s good enough. You don’t need confirmation. Just bet on you. You put the work in, and you commit to something without knowing the outcome. Most people are afraid to do that. When I get ready to do something, I’m going to commit to it.”
6. It’s easy to roll your eyes at some of the things Herm says, like his quote this week about how “most college coaches want to score ... they always think points are the thing.” As someone who grew up watching Herm’s Chiefs struggle to cross the 50, I chuckled along with everyone else. But my friend Tully Corcoran, another veteran of the Herm-ball era, provided the context behind the quote, and it actually makes sense.
Against Michigan State, ASU had the ball in a tie game with 4:55 remaining. We all know college coaches who would try to score as quickly as possible in that situation, because they don’t trust their offenses to be successful unless they’re snapping the ball every 7 seconds. Instead, the Sun Devils marched calmly down the field and kicked the game-winning field goal with no time on the clock. It was a thing of beauty.
7. I’m always amused by the pendulum of overreaction in sports. Based on the response to Edwards’ hiring, you’d think he was planning to punt on third down and line up with 10 players on the field. Now come the inevitable takes about “silencing the critics” and “disproving the doubters,” when in reality the skepticism had very little to do with his ability to lead a team and almost everything to do with the other stuff that goes into college coaching: recruiting, building a staff, sustaining a program over time.
I thought it was strange that ASU hired Edwards but planned to retain all of Todd Graham’s assistants. That plan quickly fell apart when defensive coordinator Phil Bennett departed. In his place, the Sun Devils hired Danny Gonzales from San Diego State, and that’s looking like a good move so far. Doug Haller of The Athletic examined that marriage in greater detail as the Sun Devils and Aztecs prepare to square off Saturday.
8. Following up on an item from last week’s 12-pack, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News obtained emails between Washington, the Pac-12 and ESPN related to a controversial tweet from announcer Mark Jones.
Jones took a potshot at the Huskies after their loss to Auburn, reviving an old feud that the two sides had hoped they’d put to rest. In a response to the Pac-12 and Washington AD Jen Cohen, an ESPN programming executive called the tweet “childish behavior” and described it as “frustrating and disappointing to us on so many levels.”
This situation illustrates the odd dynamic that exists between schools and TV networks. Ostensibly, ESPN broadcasters are journalists and not paid promoters. But because so much money changes hands, there’s an expectation that the two sides will play nice together and work to mutual benefit.
Coming from any other media outlet, I doubt Jones’ tweet would have caused much consternation. But because he works for ESPN, and because of the history with the Huskies, it became a bigger deal than it should have been.
9. Washington has bigger worries than what an ESPN announcer is putting on his Twitter feed. Specifically, the Huskies need to figure out how to get their running game in gear.
After running for 84 yards in their season opener, the Huskies had less than 200 against North Dakota. Matt Calkins of The Seattle Times says the Huskies aren’t panicking, but they’ll need more from Myles Gaskin if they want to beat Utah on Saturday.
10. Washington-Utah is the marquee game on this week’s Pac-12 slate and a biggie in determining both division races. Kurt Kragthorpe of the Salt Lake Tribune says the Utes are encouraged by how they’ve competed against Washington in recent years, but they’re also haunted by the way their last two games got away.
11. In the “faded glory” category, USC and Texas square off Saturday in Austin. This series looked great when it was scheduled, but as Pat Forde writes here, a can’t-miss matchup now looks like a box-office flop.
12. And finally, in your weekly reminder that there’s more to life than sports, read Steve Hyden’s great meditation on the life and times of Warren Zevon in The Ringer.