Inside the Mike Gundy PR crises, as told by all the emails we FOIA'd
Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points, now the official newsletter of The Intercollegiate. And a special hello to all of the new subscribers joining us from the Newsletter of Intent. Welcome! I hope you stick around for a long time.
A few quick housekeeping notes before we get to the good stuff:
1) My colleagues published a huge story yesterday on the consulting industry in college athletics. My hope is to dig into these materials for a newsletter next week, but if you’re interested in how this industry works, and how it might change in a post-COVID world, I think you’ll enjoy reading it.
2) As a special thank you for supporting Extra Points, you can use promocode EXTRAPOINTS at checkout and save 15% off your order over at Homefield Apparel. I don’t even get paid when you do this! I’m only sharing it because I really love Homefield’s clothes, and I think you will too. If you love comfortable t-shirts and vintage college football logos, you’ll really like Homefield’s catalog.
Okay! Enough announcements.
Let’s go fishing in the not-so-still waters of Stillwater…
By Daniel Libit and Matt Brown
Over the past three months, Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy hit on a remarkable trifecta of self-inflicted, public-relations disasters.
First, in a routine teleconference with sportswriters in April, he urged OSU to bring in football players for offseason workouts in the middle of a national lockdown, bizarrely citing their supposed superior ability to fight off COVID-19 — as well as the duty of this unpaid labor pool to get the economy going again.
Then, he followed up by sporting gear from a media outlet well-known for propagating conspiracy theories and Donald Trump’s party line, OAN, which caused a near-mutiny on the Cowboys’ squad. Gundy topped it off by initially trying to “patch up” a Twitter rift with OSU Heisman Trophy candidate Chuba Hubbard, by first appearing in a hastily-made — and, we discovered, internally-critiqued — video, in which the player apologized for the hubbub — but Gundy didn’t.
To see how all this played out behind-the-scenes, we sent public documents requests to OSU for email correspondence in the aftermaths of these incidents. And, well, they have a story to tell.
Let’s start back in the spring. Mike Gundy gives a press conference on April 7
This is where Gundy tells reporters that most of his players should be able to fight off the novel coronavirus, and that it was important to start the football season because of how important it is for the budget of the school and the state of Oklahoma.
Media criticism ensued and the school was forced to clarify its official position:
#OKState’s official statement on Mike Gundy’s comments from his teleconference this morning.
— Dylan Buckingham (@DylanBuckingham)
Apr 7, 2020
A local pol privately praises Gundy, but another important OSU ally raises concern
The next day, April 8, a staffer for Oklahoma state Sen. Bill Coleman forwards an email from his boss to Ray Gundy, Mike’s father, applauding Mike Gundy for making a “good point” about the public reporting on Covid cases versus recoveries. Coleman writes:
Ray Gundy, in turn, forwards the email along to Mike Gundy and his son’s administrative assistant. It is unknown how or if Gundy responded to pops.
That same day, Bobby Stillwell, T. Boone Pickens’ long-time business and personal attorney, emails Mike Holder, linking to a critical column by USA Today’s Dan Wolken (via the Austin American-Statesman’s website), in which Wolken took Gundy to task for his medically inaccurate Covid takes. Stillwell expounds:
There were also pronounced concerns among Oklahoma State faculty leaders
Jason Kirksey, a political science professor who serves as OSU’s Chief Diversity Officer, passes along an email to Holder and several other top school officials, which was written by Louise Siddons, an art history professor.
Then, we learned how Mike Gundy got that OAN shirt in the first place
On April 10, an OAN flack emails Gundy, saying that the president of the network wanted to send him a shirt “and other items.” Gundy responds just ten minutes later, telling the representative how much he loves the network, and implying that he’d rather like a full ensemble.
By the end of the day, Gundy’s hat and shirt were en route.
Let’s fast forward to June 15, which began in typical fashion
Mike Holder started his day concerning himself with a familiar obligation for any OSU athletic director: paying homage to dearly departed mega-booster, T. Boone Pickens.
8:38 A.M. Holder receives an email from a local company that specializes in “comprehensive recognition solutions,” about a 6 ½-foot long, inscribed bronze plate the university was planning to buy as a casket cover for Pickens’ gravesite.
But Holder’s day/week/month is about to take a rather dramatic turn.
10:34 A.M. CBS Sports’ Kyle Boone tweets out a screengrab of a Facebook post from Captain Steve, a Texoma fishing guide, posing with an OAN-clad Gundy.
1:48 P.M. Chuba Hubbard, a junior running back who gained 2,000 yards for OSU in 2019, quote-tweets the screengrab, with the declaration, “I will not stand for this.”
Now, this is a national story.
3 P.M. Peter Erdoes, a prominent Oklahoma City lawyer whose family is a major university benefactor — having established a $1 million OSU scholarship fund in 2018 — emails school president Burns Hargis with a call for action:
A minute later, Hargis’ executive assistant forwards Erdeos’ request along to Mike Holder and the school’s general counsel, Gary Clark.
Other allegations of racism bubble up, including the claim that Gundy called an opponent the N-word back in 1989, but a subsequent investigation by “uncovered no signs or indication of racism” at OSU, according to Holder.
Meanwhile, in another virtual sphere of campus, a group of academic department heads and faculty council members catch wind of Gundy’s comments during the course of an email exchange over the school leadership’s plans for the start of school.
Thad Leffingwell, the head of the school’s department of psychology, emails several of his colleagues:
Chris Francisco, the math department head, responds:
You didn’t have to be a mathematician to guess that
3:41 P.M. Deputy AD Chad Weiberg receives an email from Kevin Klintworth, OSU’s top athletics spokesman, with a draft of a “Gundy statement”:
3:45 P.M. Amazingly, OAN’s Chief White House Correspondent sends an email to Gundy — who is now squarely in the firestorm — asking if he would be available for an interview that upcoming weekend when President Trump is in Tulsa for his first, post-pandemic rally. Chanel Rion is an optimist — or something:
Folks, you know what they say: Shooters shoot.
OAN wouldn’t be the only TV outlet sending inquiries to Oklahoma State. Producers from ESPN’s First Take (successfully) and CNN’s Tonight with Don Lemon (unsuccessfully) also write in to solicit guest appearances from Hubbard and Gundy, respectively.
3:46 P.M. Weiberg emails Klintworth again with some “early suggested edits,” cutting out the language about Black mistreatment in America and BLM. The new draft reads:
In an email to Extra Points, Klintworth confirmed that the statement was never released, adding: “Before the process could get that far, Coach Gundy, without prompting, had pushed out the initial video with Chuba.”
“Adminstration [sic]We are aware and understand the strong reaction from current and former players to the picture of Coach Gundy wearing an offensive t-shirt with the logo of a controversial political news network. We are collecting information and will look into this matter.”
This statement also doesn’t appear to have seen the light of day.
4:45 P.M. OSU President Burns Hargis sends out this statement via Tweet:
I hear and respect the concerns expressed by our Black student-athletes. This is a time for unity of purpose to confront racial inequities and injustice. We will not tolerate insensitive behavior by anyone at Oklahoma State.
— Burns Hargis (@burnshargis)
Jun 15, 2020
5:45 P.M. Holder sends out this statement to the media:
6:21 P.M. Holder’s statement is reiterated on Oklahoma State Athletics’ Twitter account.
Statement from Oklahoma State Athletic Director Mike Holder.
— Oklahoma State Athletics (@OSUAthletics)
Jun 15, 2020
6:34 P.M. Hubbard tweets out the reconciliation video with Gundy, now viewed by over 4 million people. In it, Gundy offers a much-criticized, milquetoast response to the day’s events:
Gundy delivers a much more fulsome, BLM-endorsing mea culpa the next day, in a video he posts to his own Twitter page.
6:53 P.M. Courtney Bay, the Creative Director for OSU athletics, emails Klintworth, with a plea for production value:
This is a good point! But hopefully, for everyone’s sake, there isn’t a next time.
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Questions, comments, article ideas, FOIA’d documents you would like to share with the world, and more can all be sent to [email protected], or to @MattBrownEP on Twitter dot com. You can reach Daniel Libit at [email protected] or @DanielLibit.
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