It is in the "Proverbs of Alfred," that we first learned the axiom, "believe nothing you hear and only half what you see." Had old Alfred, who wrote in the 13th Century, known about the Internet, he probably would have thrown away his Old English writings and walked away in frustration.
The information age has brought many wonderful things, and immense learning tools. One of them is not, however, Web site chat boards nor self-proclaimed gurus. And now, things have reached a new low.
Major League Baseball, that bastion of Americana which brought us the "National Past Time" for years, has been pressured to issue a statement denying a rumor which germinated from a fan web site.
No, Pete Rose has not been reinstated, despite what you may have heard/read/or seen on the Internet. Finally, the irresponsibility of the speculator has caused the actual source to deny something that never happened in the first place.
It reminds me of the phone calls we suddenly got in our offices when Chris Simms was coming to Texas as a freshman. Two legitimate media outlets in South Carolina, one television station and a newspaper, called because a Web site had reported that Major Applewhite was transferring to South Carolina.
"Well," I said, "somebody better tell Kwame Cavil, because they have been practicing together all summer, and Kwame's going to be awfully lonely without somebody throwing to him."
Every day, the work load of legitimate journalists working for legitimate news media outlets is increased just chasing down rumors that have absolutely no fact to them. Where, oh where, is Alfred when we need him?
In Colorado this fall, Gary Barnett threatened to ban everyone from his practices because an Internet site reported a contemplated position change for a lineman. Fact is, with Texas A&M closing its pre-season practices to the media and fans, Mack Brown's policy of open fall practices is part of a dying breed, primarily because of the stuff that flies across the world on the Web.
What has been created is an electronic version of Grandma's Sewing Circle, where the town gossip was broadcast to the locals, not to the masses.
Most interesting in the phenomenon is the anointing of "authorities," whose sole claim to fame is going to practice and expressing their opinion. Most of them have never coached, never played the game or had no experience at a high level and never visit with the coaches. But there they are, whether talking about recruiting or practice, pontificating about the subject. And Joe and Jane Fan, who know every bit as much about it as the pontificator, too often take what they say as learned and correct. Too often in America today, the voice of the majority is drowned out by the negative minority. The feathered bird says "the sky is falling," and we listen to him. Now, instead of merely crowing in the yard, the chicken has his own Web site. Those who could never make it with a stand-up comedy act suddenly have a forum to try to be funny at the expense of a coach, a player or a program. And somebody reads and believes.
This is not, by the way, a blanket condemnation of fan Web sites. There are many well-meaning folks who are for their schools and who run sites that are, for the most part, positive. For them, it is about Texas, not about promoting themselves. One of the great things about sports is opinions, and the fact that hundreds of thousands of people care about Texas football is a great thing.
Did we say "hundreds of thousands?" Try this: In the month of October last year, the Mack Brown-Texas football site had 26 million hits. That is Million, with a capital M. For years, our job in media relations was to tell our story to the media, hoping to get the message to our fans. Now, our fans are coming to us. Twenty-six million of them.
For years, the difference between Joe and Jane Fan and the sports writers who covered the games was that the sports writer had a typewriter, and a forum with which to state his or her opinion. There was no course requirement of studying games, or of the fundamentals of coaching. Those of us who were sports writers did it because we loved the game, and loved writing about it, and the kids that played it.
Now, in the new phenomenon, comes the self-proclaimed authority, who answers to no one. Newspapers have editors. Radio and television stations have managers. Networks have executives. Web sites and fan newsletters are usually the creation of one person, and they don't have a boss.
When Texas A&M tragically had a player die last year, it was reported on the Internet before family members were even informed.
With the accessibility, what we have to hope for is responsibility.
What we know about the Web is that we have all been given a great tool, a wealth of knowledge and immense communication that sometimes even still is incomprehensible.
But when it comes to what you see, hear, read or believe, let's add one more proverb to our centuries-old buddy Alfred:
Consider the source.