Why I Was Wrong on the Clay Helton Story
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Clay Helton would be dismissed by USC. Below is a retraction from the author.
I was wrong, and I am sorry.
Those seven words cannot exonerate me from the mistake I made this week -- incorrectly reporting Clay Helton would be fired -- but I felt they were the first that belonged in this statement.
I know many are wondering how I came to write my initial story Sunday that Helton would be dismissed. If you’ve followed my work, you know it’s a situation I’ve been tracking the entire season. Fast forward to this past weekend and I was told by multiple sources that USC had decided to make a coaching change. These same sources had alerted me to three developments in the past -- athletic director Mike Bohn’s hiring, Bru McCoy’s transfer back to USC, and Graham Harrell becoming the offensive coordinator.
I’m not going to out my sources -- this is my sword to fall on -- but essentially there was a misunderstanding on their end as it pertained to Helton’s status. They confused certain actions by Bohn and their superiors at USC, particularly in the previous week or so, to mean Helton was definitely being fired, when in actuality keeping him was still under consideration.
As a result, a coaching change was inaccurately characterized to me as being a formality rather than, as was later explained to me, conditional. If I had known the latter, I would not have filed my report in such terms. Given my sources’ track record, I had no reason to think their intel in this instance was incomplete. I fully believed in what I reported, which is why I was so definitive. Alas, I made a major error that assuredly caused great pain to a coach I couldn't respect more as a person, and his family.
I deeply regret not being much more thorough and careful, especially because of how sensitive this news was -- at my alma mater, no less.
Again, I feel great remorse over my story, and thus have apologized to Helton and USC, as well as Sports Illustrated. I want to apologize to you, the readers, as well. Thank you to the many who have expressed your support. At the end of the day, I want to be clear that my intentions as a journalist were pure -- my ultimate drive is to simply provide for my family. Meanwhile, my professional objectives remain the same: to cover USC accurately and with integrity, and to the best of my ability.
I inexcusably missed the mark here.