September 5th, 2018

Saban rant shows power of social media to shape news

Alabama Coach Nick Saban created controversy beyond his quarterback change when he snapped at ESPN reporter Maria Taylor for asking him about the move.

In the digital era, news organizations don’t simply cover the center ring. They cover the entire circus. Never was that more evident than in the aftermath of No. 1 Alabama’s season-opening 51-14 victory over the Louisville Cardinals in Orlando, Fla.

Yes, the defending national champions looked dominant as ever.

Yes, Alabama’s defense shut down a Louisville offense breaking in a new QB to replace Heisman winner Lamar Jackson.

Oh, and there was this minor story about the Crimson Tide switching to a new quarterback with sophomore Tua Tagovailoa supplanting two-year starter Jalen Hurts, a junior with a 26-2 career record. The QB debate has dominated discussion of the Crimson Tide throughout the offseason after Tagovailoa came on in relief to lead Alabama past Georgia in last season’s national championship game.

Tagovailoa was spectacular in his first career start, so naturally the first postgame question of Alabama Coach Nick Saban was about the decision to make the change.

When Saban got testy with ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor, it became a social media story that extended through the Labor Day weekend.

“Well, I still like both guys,” Saban said. “I think both guys are good players. I think both guys can help our team, all right? So why do you continually try to get me to say something that doesn’t respect one of them? I’m not going to. So quit asking.”

Saban’s irritated answer shifted all the conversation instantaneously.

Suddenly, there was little talk of Alabama’s performance as the debate raged on both traditional and social media: Was Saban justified? Was he being a bully? Was Taylor’s question a fair one? Should the coach apologize?

ESPN’s Paul Finebaum called the comment, “totally classless,” and it seemed as if every talking head or scribe in media, from Stephen A. Smith to Sports Illustrated, to the Washington Post, had a quick take on the “controversy,”

Saban reportedly called Taylor to apologize, but it showed how quickly a story can spin out of control when driven by media and fan conversation. No amount of scolding reporters could ever put that Twitter bird back into the cage. If Saban wanted to minimize the talk about his QBs, making himself part of the story probably wasn’t the best way to do so.

Of course, there there is the perspective of those who cover Saban on a regular basis, such as veteran Alabama beat writer Aaron Suttles. For those on the Crimson Tide beat, it’s something of a badge of honor to have caught the coach’s ire at some point.

For her part, Taylor didn’t make much of the entire brouhaha and seemed more than ready to move on.

More #SMSports highlights from Week 1.

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