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July 10, 2008

Spoof article stirs controversy in Norman

The popularity of the Internet has come a long way since I started my career in this business more than 10 years ago.

In the early days of the Internet, I started a little website called boomersooner.net. But I wasn't the first website out there devoted to Oklahoma sports fans. The weather dudes (wx dudes) with Gary Mac, Deke, Justin, and others I should probably remember, were the first ones with the foresight to start an Oklahoma message board.

I actually ran into Deke at a 7-11 about a month ago. Had that meeting happened 10 years ago, it probably would have ended with hair pulling and punches that had no intentions of landing.

Maybe you've heard, but there was a little bit of a rivalry back in those days.

But the fact of the matter is I wanted to start something more than just a fan message board in the early days.

I wanted to start a publication, like any other, that was delivered over the Internet. I wanted to cover practices, interview coaches and players, give recruiting updates, etc.

But there were massive obstacles for a website to gain that type of access back in the late 90's. Credibility and access were major stumbling blocks.

But I always found a way to work through it. Hiring credentialed journalists was the first step, then selling out to a traditional media outlet was the next step, now Rivals.com and everything we do here is where I am now.

Along the way, newspapers like The Oklahoman have followed suit making more and more of their operations focused on the Internet.

And along the way, Internet publications have gained a strong foothold in the mainstream media.

That realization was never more evident yesterday when James W. Conradt, a 36-year old Nebraska fan from Austin, Texas, spoofed newsok.com and placed a fictitious article about Sam Bradford and Landry Jones on the web.

It's not the first time Internet veterans have seen this type of prank on the Internet. It used to happen quite frequently.

But when radio stations in Texas started running with the information contained in the spoof as fact, it signaled how much traditional media has come to rely on Internet sites for information.

And it obviously sparked a serious reaction from Kevin Jones, the father of Landry Jones.

"I'm going to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law," Kevin Jones told The Oklahoman. "I've got deep enough pockets to do it."

Warning to all who post on the SoonerScoop.com message boards, I'd keep any criticism of Landry to a minimum in the future.

But this also brings up an interesting topic of conversation for all of us who use the Internet, it's a question of integrity and responsibility.

Did James W. Conradt expect his name to be splashed all over the Internet when he decided to publish the spoof? Obviously not.

Would the criticisms you levy against OU coaches and players be so easily typed if your reputation and identity were on the line? I don't think so.

That's not to say criticism is wrong. If you ask anyone who's known me throughout my career, they'll tell you that I have consistently defended fans and their right to criticize constructively.

Heck, I've heard people call in to Bob Stoops' weekly call-in show over the years and get in fights with Bob over the way his team is playing. That's good stuff if you've never heard it.

But there is always a line that can be crossed. It's the line crossed by Conradt and countless others over the years.

And when that line is crossed, I take it personally, because I've spent my entire career trying to advance the legitimacy of the Internet.

And these incidents, along with unbridled criticisms of players and coaches remain the biggest stumbling block to Internet legitimacy for places like SoonerScoop.com.

At least in the eyes of OU administrators.

The anonymity of message board posters is something that has been discussed for years between myself and OU Associate Athletics Director Kenny Mossman.

His message to The Oklahoman is something I've heard verbatim from Mossman in the past.

"Coaches and players are berated, and nobody attaches a name to it," Mossman said. "The Internet has enabled a lot of this kind of thing to happen, and it's really disappointing."

Kenny Mossman and I do differ on several aspects of the Internet. For the negatives of anonymity and the lack of culpability, the Internet also offers plenty of exposure and information for fans of Sooner athletics.

And many people, including OU administrators, don't realize the majority of our subscribers aren't active participants on the message boards.

But just like news channels latching on to stories about players being arrested, OU tends to focus only on the negatives of what comes out of the Internet.

And from that standpoint, I am disappointed.

As long as people continue to take advantage of the anonymity the Internet provides, those who have been trying to keep us on the outside will continue to use the negatives for ammunition against the legitimate services we provide.

In short, you have to ask yourself this question: If I were to be held accountable for my conduct online, would I have anything to worry about?

And for those of you who will continue to use the Internet to hide behind a username or IP address, we'll still be here taking the bullets for your actions.


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