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Commentary: So, Urban Meyer, Woody Hayes and a turtle walk into a bar

Andrew Holleran / Photo editor

Nothing causes controversy or grabs headlines around Ohio State nation like someone associated with the football team doing, or saying, something stupid.

If you put the words ‘Woody Hayes’ and ‘penis’ in the same headline, even a small-time blogger can get an avalanche of web traffic and create an uproar.

At a recent convention for Ohio football coaches, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer told a joke about physical and mental toughness that involved the legendary Hayes, his unmentionables and a biting turtle.

You do the math.

Sports news outlets and bloggers went nuts with the story (no pun intended), spewing dozens of ridiculous articles and headlines that made no mention of the fact that the story was obviously a joke, complete with a highly inappropriate (read, hilarious) punch line.

Sports writers of outlets all shapes and sizes across the nation jumped on the story without realizing that it was told in jest.

The situation got so out of hand that OSU team spokesman Jerry Emig was forced to send out a tweet and a news release email stating unequivocally that the story was, in fact, a joke.

Emig’s statement read as such (his emphasis, not ours):

“This note is in response to the headlines that are running on the internet that don’t seem to take into consideration that Coach Meyer told a JOKE to a crowd of high school coaches last week. He was telling a story about toughness and he exaggerated a story about toughness. It is the same story he has told numerous times before, including last year at this same convention; only the coach he talked about last year wasn’t Coach Hayes, but Coach Bruce.

“So please know: the story about toughness that Coach Meyer shared with a crowd last week and the year before and numerous times before was a joke and only a joke.”

Emig’s communications were a direct response to the stories and headlines that were running rampant on the internet.

Here are the best and worst of the headlines.

BestBloguin: “Urban Meyer tells a story of Woody Hayes getting weird. Really weird” 

The story’s author, Aaron Torres, a blogger on a site, managed to both cash in on the kitsch of this unique story and portray the joke for what it was.

WorstUSA Today: “How Woody Hayes used a turtle to motivate Ohio State’s staff”

The article treats Meyer’s story as straight news, including information about Hayes, the circumstances of his dismissal, his replacement Earl Bruce and caps it off by stating that the alleged incident must have worked because the Buckeyes went 10-3 following ‘turtle-gate’ and beat Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, 28-12, that year.

The author even presents Hayes’ visit to the team meeting as though it really happened.

He later attempted to correct his mistake by tweeting that Meyer was “exaggerating in a joking fashion, per OSU.” The story on USA Today‘s website has yet to be corrected as of five hours after the author’s tweet.

Do professional journalists and bloggers alike seriously need to be told that this is a joke?

Has our society become so completely bereft of common sense that people honestly believe that a football coach would risk having his manhood removed by an omnivorous reptile just to prove a point?

Yes, I realize that Meyer said several times that this was a true story. Of course nobody has ever uttered those words while telling a joke before.

Immediately before beginning the story Meyer stated to those in attendance, “We’re gonna have some fun here today.”

That statement, combined with the utterly unbelievable punch line, should be enough for an experienced journalist to figure out that this story might not be entirely factual.

While I can almost forgive bloggers that are trying to cash in on the clout of the Woody Hayes legend, this complete lack of sense by a professional genuinely disturbs me. Any journalist worth their salt should at least mention that it wasn’t fully clear whether or not Meyer was joking.

I’m sure that if I have a long enough career in journalism some brilliant, up-and-coming college kid will write an equally scathing commentary about one of my stories.

Hopefully that story will not contain the words ‘turtle’ or ‘penis.’

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