Mike Gundy is probably not the only college football coach who watches One America News Network, the right-wing conspiracy factory that is in favor with America’s sitting president. But he’s certainly the most proudly public about his OAN allegiance, and that tone-deaf decision is becoming increasingly problematic.
On Monday, the Oklahoma State coach’s OAN fanboy stance earned himself a player revolt that unfolded in real time on social media. It was stunning to watch—starting at 2:48 p.m. ET, cresting a couple of hours later and then dissipating (for now) at 7:34 with a hastily arranged video that ended with a hug. How sweet.
Gundy and his star player, running back Chuba Hubbard, hugged it out less than five hours after Hubbard rebuked his coach on Twitter. The firestarter was a photograph of Gundy from a fishing trip that wound up on Twitter, and it showed the coach wearing an OAN T-shirt. It didn’t take long for Hubbard—the nation’s leading rusher in 2019—to send out a work stoppage notification in response:
“I will not stand for this.. This is completely insensitive to everything going on in society, and it’s unacceptable. I will not be doing anything with Oklahoma State until things CHANGE.”
A player going after his coach on Twitter and demanding action from the school? That kind of ultimatum would have been unheard of as recently as, oh, May. But here we are, in a new reality—one to which Gundy seems only loosely tethered. Aligning himself with a sham news organization that, among other incendiary stances, has labeled Black Lives Matter “a farce” is, at best, dismissive of many Oklahoma State players. Embracing a network that also champions a president who is wildly unpopular with most Blacks only invites locker-room strife during these contentious times.
Hubbard and his teammates accepted the invitation Monday. Armed with a louder voice and less fear than ever, the protest movement is rolling from city streets to college locker rooms. It happened (briefly) at Florida State. It happened (with repercussions) at Iowa. And now it’s happening at Oklahoma State, where we’ll see if the tumult really was dealt with and dispensed after a meeting with some players.
The language was interesting in the Gundy-Hubbard peace video. Hubbard was the more contrite of the two. Gundy, who has never been terribly self-aware and rarely taken a step back in anything, was mostly on-brand.
Gundy: “… I realized it’s a very sensitive issue with what’s going on in today’s society. … I’m looking forward to making some changes, that starts at the top with me, and we’ve got good days ahead.”
Hubbard: “I went about it the wrong way by tweeting. … I could have went to him as a man … That was bad on my part.”
But 28 minutes later, Hubbard fired off one more warning shot by tweeting this: “No don’t get it twisted. Foots (sic) still on the gas. Results are coming. It’s not over.”
Hubbard received a wave of support from his teammates after his original tweet. Standout Cowboys linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga, who led the team with 15.5 tackles for loss last season, quickly followed in support of Hubbard on Twitter: “I stand with him!”
Senior offensive lineman Teven Jenkins, who started 25 games the past two seasons and received multiple team awards, chimed in: “As an O-line we stand and support Chuba.”
Hubbard’s predecessor as Oklahoma State’s top running back, Justice Hill of the Baltimore Ravens, also weighed in: “OSU Athletics and University need major change. 100% support brotha,” he tweeted.
Then this from former Cowboys defensive back A.J. Green III, a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist and now a free agent with the Cleveland Browns: “Can’t stay Silent Anymore! Call a Spade a Spade!!” And on it went, similar to the torrent of social-media revelations that led to Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle being forced out of his job earlier Monday.
But Gundy is no strength coach. He’s a $5 million-a-year head coach with a cocksure attitude—about everything. And now he’s planted himself in front of a speeding locomotive of player empowerment. Good luck withstanding this impact, Coach Mullet.
Some people quickly asserted that the Oklahoma State insurrection is an overreaction to a simple T-shirt. But keep in mind how Gundy feels about messages on T-shirts: he once fired a carpenter who was working on his house for showing up wearing an Oklahoma baseball T-shirt.
Yeah, Mike. T-shirt karma is coming back at you hard.
Oklahoma State has put up with plenty from Gundy during his 15-year tenure, mostly because he wins at a place where that isn’t terribly easy. His record is 129–64, with six seasons of 10 or more wins. The only thing he hasn’t done well is beat rival Oklahoma (just 2–13 against the Sooners).
That record has given Gundy the latitude to rip reporters (the infamous “I’m a man! I’m 40!” meltdown), rip players, flirt with other jobs and periodically say preposterous things. The school did (timidly) call him on his most recent headline-grabbing comment, in April, an OAN-fueled soliloquy about the COVID-19 pandemic.
In that one, amidst calling OAN a "refreshing" news station that "just report the news" with "no opinions," Gundy declared that he wanted his staff back in the football facility by May 1 and players shortly thereafter. Beyond his loose grasp of the science of the situation, Gundy’s reason for wanting this to happen was this: “We need to continue and budget and run money through the state of Oklahoma.”
Credit Gundy for being blunt about the way many college coaches and administrators view their players: as revenue-generating chattel. I mean, Gundy’s $5 million salary has to come from the sweat equity of someone, right?
Oklahoma State walked Gundy back a bit from that ledge with a statement that it would not be rushing its players back on campus. Then the coach issued a classic Gundy apology:
“I have been made aware that comments from my press conference have offended some. It was never my intention to offend anyone, and I apologize. My first priority is and will always be the student-athletes and doing what is best for the program and the university.”
Fast-forward two months from that apology, and those very student-athletes are gunning for Gundy.
There is an interesting compare/contrast to another recent T-shirt controversy, when Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was photographed wearing one that read “Football Matters.” In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, it was a poor fashion choice from another football coach who has been, at best, slow to grasp what’s going on in America. But Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence came to Swinney’s defense on social media, noting that the coach had been wearing that shirt for months as a statement on the importance of their sport.
Monday? You couldn’t find any Oklahoma State Cowboys coming to the defense of their coach. Quite the contrary. Which makes you wonder what they thought of him before now.