Dennis Dodd needs to apologize. Not should, not would be wise to, but needs to. And needs to first thing Monday morning.
Each Friday during college football season, Dodd publishes his Weekend Watch List in which he discusses the upcoming games. But this past Friday, he took it a step further.
Dodd wrote a scathing attack on Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, referring to the “broken careers he has stepped over on his way to the top,” including NFL-bust Charles Rogers and former Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham who became the butt of many a joke after he turned Washington into a 0-12 team.
Treadwell had coached the Spartans under the interim tag to wins in their previous two games while head coach Mark Dantonio was recovering from a heart attack and blood clot. Clearly, Dodd thought Treadwell was dangerous.
But then, as if that wasn't enough, he told Dantonio to watch out.
“Treadwell is good, sneaky good,” Dodd wrote. “Coach D knows what's at stake. It's a lot bigger than a trip to the Big House. It's a lot bigger than Sparty being 5-0 for the first time since Nick Saban was coach. It's about that interim coach trying to remove more than the interim label."
“Watch your back, Coach D. Watch your back.”
Dodd furthered that by an unsubstantiated claim that people, referred to only as “they,” were speaking in “hushed tones around the Spartan football offices.”
“'Watch your back,' they say. 'He's taking credit for Little Giants, they whisper.”
In the harshest line of an otherwise insensitive article, Dodd wrote, “Yes, it's a power play and it's been ugly as Dantonio tries to reclaim his job.”
While some at CBSSports.com tried to pass off this article as speculation, there was nothing speculative about it. Dodd was openly asserting that Treadwell was trying to steal Dantonio's job and that unnamed and undefined people at the school were warning Dantonio as such.
There was only one problem: Absolutely nothing Dodd wrote about Treadwell's motives were true.
As was later revealed when Gregg Doyel, one of Dodd's colleagues at CBSSports.com, posted on the article's message board, Dodd's entire article was tongue-in-cheek.
Treadwell trying to steal a sick man's job? Made-up. Dantonio fighting to save his? Made-up. People sneaking around the Michigan State offices? Made-up.
Nothing was factual.
I understand that tongue-in-cheek articles are fun to write. Hell, the most-read article I've ever written was a satire on Charlie Weis's job security at the end of last season. But it was clearly satire, even labeled as such.
But there was nothing in Dodd's article to tip us off that this was satire. Everything, except for the quotes, was believable, and the purported quotes seemed like nothing other than a 19th-century trick to bring evidence to a point-of-view that had no real proof.
Dodd's article appeared serious to everyone who read it except Dodd himself, fooling in the process even many of his own colleagues in the journalism world. And what he fooled us to believe for more than 36 hours before Doyel broke that the article was satire is incomprehensible.
Dodd inadvertently tried to convince us than Don Treadwell was a jackass. The article painted the offensive coordinator as a bad person who saw Dantonio's health problems as the key he needed to further his career.
Those that weren't convinced, myself included, thought Dodd was using his pen to settle some score with Treadwell. I thought Dodd was viciously trying to create a rumor, to stir the pot, maybe even to get Treadwell fired. It reeked of that low quality of journalistic standards usually reserved for sensationalistic tabloids and ESPN.com. It certainly did not meet CBSSports.com's normally high standards of output.
When I found out the article was tongue-in-cheek, more than a day after I first read it, I was shocked. Nothing had tipped me off; nothing was there to tip anyone off.
Then it dawned on me just how few people would actually see the message board post revealing the article was tongue-in-cheek.
The fact of the matter is an apology is in store. Thousands of readers were offended by the tone and message of Dodd's article, and most of those never found out that the article was in jest.
Many normally level-headed members of the CBSSports.com viewer community, people who always reply civilly to even the most outrageous claims by other CBSSports.com writers, were calling for Dodd's head. This article was that disgusting.
I'm sure if Dodd offended anyone at Michigan State, he has already apologized. But they're not the only ones who felt attacked by this article.
I've been coming to CBSSports.com since before CBS got involved in the site, back when it was Sportsline.com. The CBS part? I'm still having trouble drilling it into my mind. The site is my first-stop source for news in all four major sports, as well as golf and tennis. Even if I wanted to, I'm not sure I would be able to stay away.
There are many, many people who hold CBSSports.com in that same regard.
Dodd's article was a slap in all of our faces. The quality of the writing was nothing shy of abysmal, and the message in its most overt reading was vindictive, cruel, insensitive, and disgusting. It was unprofessional and indefensible. That an editor, no matter how low down the CBSSports.com staff, approved this article, is shocking to say the least.
But Dodd still has a chance to make it all right.
All he needs to do is write and publish and apology on the CBSSports.com website and post it to the site's front page. All he needs to do is admit the article was in poor judgment and say he's sorry for those who were offended.
I know many writers offend people, whether by choice or by fact; that's part of the profession. But Dodd's Weekend Watch List article about Don Treadwell is not journalism, at least not by today's standards.
Anything less than an apology will be just as unacceptable as the words Dennis Dodd has already written.