Facts matter. Providing them matters more.

I promise this will be the last sports-related post today, but I want to comment on this column by Michael Wilbon in today’s Washington Post. Mr. Wilbon is one of two sports columnists I look forward to reading when any significant topic (to me) occurs in the sports world. I can always count on Mr. Wilbon to offer an insightful, well-written editorial. Reading today’s column on Redskins safety Sean Taylor spitting in the face of Michael Pittman, I figured I’d get the same, since a $17,000 fine is ridiculously low. The column started out well, comparing Taylor’s fine with the $20,000 fine running back Clinton Portis received for wearing non-regulation socks. So far, so good. It’s when Mr. Wilbon got to the example of Marcus Vick as further proof. I agree that Vick is a useful comparison, but there are two serious issues I have with how far Mr. Wilbon takes the argument. Both exist in this paragraph. Consider:

So you’ll pardon me if I’m not going to give school and athletic department officials a standing ovation for throwing his butt out of school . . . eventually. He should have been thrown out months earlier. And university officials, if they have the guts, ought to be taking a serious look at the entire football program because there’s way too much trouble involving the football players on that campus.

As for Virginia Tech “throwing his butt out of school,” this is the second time Mr. Wilbon mentioned this. Unfortunately, it’s not true. Virginia Tech dismissed Marcus Vick from the football team, not from Virginia Tech. Vick did nothing to help himself in the last week, but there’s a difference. But that’s more a trivial complaint than anything.

More disturbing is the last part of that paragraph. With the phrase “way too much trouble involving the football players on that campus,” Mr. Wilbon presents the Virginia Tech football team as a troubled program, one that coddles thugs and criminals while putting only money as a priority. Maybe that’s true; I’ve heard such statements in abundance over the last week, so I’m not surprised. I expect proof with a statement like that, though. Simply stating something does not make it true.

Without facts, it diminishes our reputation with people who are paying only marginal attention to our program. It implies that we care only about athletics and victories, with academics of little consequence. If that’s true, Mr. Wilbon should provide support for statements like that. If it’s not, he should understand that making such throwaway lines for hyperbole hurts Virginia Tech unfairly with potential students, as well as athletic recruits, because his words have influence. Whichever impression the facts support, I can accept it. I can’t accept that Marcus Vick alone is an indictment of the entire program, not without more proof.