Bill Little commentary: Changing times
It was a day Mack Brown knew would come, even though he hoped it never would. As other schools closed the gates of their practice arenas to fans, Brown had made every effort to keep the Texas Longhorns' pre-season workouts open to the public and the media.
Midway through practice on Thursday night, that tradition ended. That is when a major newspaper posted on an Internet "blog" and several websites reported the news (and photos) that Jordan Shipley, UT's redshirt freshman receiving hopeful from Burnet, had suffered what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
At that moment, modern technology, and the media's charge to instantly report news on their websites combined for the final straw in an area of growing concern for coaches.
The Texas practice was still going on, Shipley was in the training room with the doctors and trainers, and the news of what "appeared" to have happened was already flying across the world.
Fortunately, Shipley's injury was not serious, but for a guy who had lost an entire season with a knee injury last year, any hint of trouble with his leg is concerning. It wasn't reporting the Shipley incident that was the problem, it was the realization that today's world no longer allows for any measure of restraint when it comes to communications.
"I'm a father," said Mack Brown as he announced the decision to close the practices, "and I can only imagine how I would feel if I read on the Internet that one of my children had been injured in an accident. It simply isn't fair for something to be reported while we're still on the practice field and haven't even had a chance to evaluate the injury and notify the parents. We asked some of the media if that was something they would continue to do, and they said 'they have to,' and I understand that. But it is our job to look after the best interests of our players and their families."
The issue of the injury reporting is the most disturbing factor of a number of issues regarding technology. Granted, the Shipley injury wasn't too serious, but what if it had been? It may not be right, and it may not seem fair, but it is real.
Universities are under strict federal guidelines as to how they can release information regarding injuries. Texas' policy is to evaluate the injury, and with the player's permission, release an injury report to the media. That's not a rule, it is a Federal Law.
The media will continue to have access early in the practice for pictures and video cameras, and Brown and the players will continue to be available after practices for interviews.
In the media's defense, it has little choice but to report what it sees, since dozens of web aficionados can and will immediately post the news on the Internet. Instant messaging, cell phones and digital cameras have made that possible.
So, as we said, it's too bad, but it is a sign of the times. When you can't change it, you have to find a way to live with it, and that is what Brown did Friday.
Whether cell phones that take pictures and videos are used by opponents to pick up snap counts and tips that would help them in game preparation isn't certain. But what we know is, as technology continues to develop, the possibility is there.
Earlier this summer, we took a trip to Rockport with three of our grand kids. As we strapped them into their space-age car seats and turned on the movie DVD and headed down the highway, I thought of the days when we used to count cars and cows out the car windows, bouncing from side to side in the back seat.
But an enlightened America doesn't do that any more.
I thought of the same thing Friday, as I watched little kids roll down the slope on the side of the practice field while their dads watched intently as the young men in orange went through their first practice in pads.
That was the toughest thing for Mack, to have to close out the good folks who care, who don't take pictures and instantly e-mail them around the world. My son in Iraq could have read about Jordan Shipley on the internet before somebody got to Jordan's dad on the practice field at Burnet High School.
As to the conspiracy theory that fans of opponents scout the practice and try to provide their respective schools whatever information they can, I thought that surely couldn't be true -- even though I thought it a bit strange as I noticed parked right next to me in the LBJ lot -- the sticker of an alumni of a Big 12 school on the window.
Our lives are continually changing because of the wonders of technology. We have gained so many things.
And every now and then, that means we have to give something up.
See you at Fan Appreciation Day, and the scrimmage that will be open to the public. Even with all the issues, that means too much to Mack to change.