2020-03-20 sp-emigcolumn leaders

OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione talked about the pandemic on statewide sports talk radio recently. 

Bryan Terry/ The Oklahoman, file

When the world gets thrown out of whack, we depend on leaders to do two things – inform and reassure. In order for this to occur, leaders must be seen and heard.

This is non-negotiable when COVID-19 has disrupted our lives to the point we use wine bottles as weapons inside grocery stores. At times like this, governors, mayors and presidents must remind themselves they act gubernatorial, mayoral or presidential out of necessity, not convenience.

They should appear at press conferences or on social media channels, even if it’s long enough to say “I know it’s tough, but we’re going to be OK. This is what I’m doing right now to make it so. Here’s something you can be doing...”

It feels like everything is in stasis right now. Our leaders, with their presence and influence, remind us the world is going about its business.

In the corner of the world where games are played, coaches, athletic directors and commissioners are the leaders. There is disorder here as well since the games, in fact, aren’t being played.

The NCAA Tournament is being simulated by algorithms. Spring football has vanished. Trae Young is arching socks into a laundry basket, not balls through a hoop.

Sports encourage us to get out among each other. Right now we’re being told to shutter in and maintain six feet of distance. This is as unsettling as empty shelves of toilet paper.

This is where leaders come in.

This is where LSU football coach Ed Orgeron shoots a 60-second public service announcement where he shows us how to cough into our arms to keep from spreading the coronavirus. Orgeron agreed to help after he was reportedly asked to do so by the Louisiana governor’s office.

Kevin Stitt is a visible Oklahoma State sports fan. He is an OSU alum. His communications people should call Mike Gundy’s. Gundy should demonstrate social distancing in his own PSA.

The Cowboys’ football coach would be a natural, comfortable as he is in front of a camera.

More important, he would be essential at a time folks still must be convinced this is a serious crisis.

Lincoln Riley taped a brief message last Friday encouraging his social media followers to take care to prevent the virus' spread. He should air a new PSA this week. Philip Montgomery should air one. Billy Donovan should. Bill Blankenship.

They can inform, yes, but mostly they can reassure, coaches being such prominent figures in our sports-saturated state. Many of us will listen to them tell us to stay home before we’ll listen to our mayors, governors or presidents.

I’m not sure how many of us will listen to athletic directors and commissioners for COVID-19 guidance, but we will listen to their updates on the effects of the virus. It is important to us, since we want so badly for the games to return so our lives will feel more normal again.

In this vein, ADs and commissioners can reassure, yes, but mostly they can inform.

Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione did just that last Wednesday by appearing on statewide sports talk radio networks The Sports Animal and The Franchise. We knew Castiglione was communicating with his OU coaches and his fellow Big 12 Conference athletic directors regularly because he told us. We knew OU’s spring game was being postponed.

We knew Castiglione was struggling to manage the hourly changes in his updated life. We knew he was like us that way. It was comforting to learn.

OSU deputy athletic director Chad Weiberg went on statewide radio shows last week as well. All ADs should volunteer for similar public appearances. They can go on radio or Skype an interview for television or social media. Anything to be visible and informative at a time they must be both.

This goes for their conference commissioners, as well as commissioners of all pro sports leagues currently on hold.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby issued a statement through social media last Friday. That’s a start, but he needs to do more. He needs to borrow from SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, whose 40-minute teleconference with SEC media last week allowed media to help update SEC fans, which allowed SEC fans to help update the SEC public.

“I know it’s tough, but we’re going to be OK. This is what I’m doing right now to make it so. Here’s something you can be doing...”

If commissioners don’t wish to teleconference, they can still interview as the NBA’s Adam Silver did with ESPN last Wednesday. Folks watched and learned how the league was managing the spread of COVID-19, coping with an upended schedule and considering options such as a single game to raise money and/or offer a diversion for fans in a rut.

Hopefully the NFL’s Roger Goodell watched and learned. The commissioner of the most influencing sport of them all issued a statement last Thursday after Saints coach Sean Payton tested positive for the coronavirus, but he must be more authoritative moving forward. He must be more visible.

He, like those in his field, must be informative and reassuring.

The sporting public, like the general one, is depending on it. We are depending on leaders to lead.

Guerin Emig



Twitter: @GuerinEmig



Sports Columnist

Proud father of Gretchen and Holden. Devoted husband to Christy, who has been my best friend since biology class at Booker T. Washington. I covered the Oklahoma Sooners for 15 years. That was both challenging and rewarding. Now I get to write columns.