South Carolina Calls Ryan Hilinski Headline 'Unacceptable'

The story about the game appeared in print editions Sunday, carrying the headline, "Hilinski Hope Sinks."
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South Carolina says an apology from The State newspaper is not "enough" for a headline connecting the Hilinski's Hope foundation to South Carolina's 34-14 loss Saturday at Missouri where Ryan Hilinski was the Gamecocks quarterback. 

The story about the game appeared in print editions Sunday, carrying the headline, "Hilinski Hope Sinks." Hilinski's Hope is a foundation set up by the Hilinski family after Tyler Hilinski, Ryan's older brother, committed suicide in 2018 while he was a quarterback at Washington State.

The headline received criticism on social media and from the university, which issued a statement Sunday afternoon from head coach Will Muschamp, athletics director Ray Tanner and university president Bob Caslen.

"Hilinski's Hope means so much to the Hilinski family, their friends, Gamecock Nation, college football fans across the country and those who have been affected by someone suffering from mental illness," the statement said. "We were appalled to see this morning's headline in The State newspaper that seemed cavalier about the seriousness of the mental health issue. It demonstrated a level of unprofessional and irresponsible journalism, and we find it unacceptable that the major daily newspaper in the hometown of our University would use such a headline in their game story. "We don't believe their apology is enough. We urge The State to be a leader in advocating and destigmatizing mental illness by making a very public effort to help fund and provide educational awareness to this very real problem."

The paper issued an apology on Twitter earlier in the day. 

"Our sincerest apologies to the Hilinski family today for the unfortunate headline in our print edition today. Hilinski’s Hope works to raise awareness about mental health issues, especially for student-athletes. Although the connection between the headline and the foundation was unintentional, there is no excuse for such poor wording and we have reached out to the family and university to express our regrets."

The State also explained how headlines are written and the editorial process behind them:

"A followup because we are getting questions about how our headlines are written: All of our local content is of course generated by staff writers based in Columbia and edited by local editors. The headlines that appear online are written by either the reporter or editor. The print editions of our company’s newspapers in both South Carolina and North Carolina are put together by copy editors based in Charlotte. They handle duties such as trimming stories to available space, editing photo captions and rewording long headlines into the space made available by the design of the page. In this situation, the copy editor chose to highlight in the headline the reporter’s wording in the first paragraph about the renewed hope Ryan Hilinski’s performance had brought to the team."

Ryan is a true freshman from Orange, California, and was a top-100 prospect. He became the Gamecocks starter when Jake Bentley suffered a season-ending injury. SportsIllustrated's Greg Bishop profiled the Hilinski family's journey for answers following his death and how they've wrestled with emotions surrounding football.

At South Carolina's game against Alabama on Sept. 14, fans honored Tyler at Williams-Brice Stadium.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.