Ole Miss suffered a stunning, heart-breaking loss on Saturday night, as Rebels wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was charging toward the goal line with what would have been the game-winning touchdown. Auburn defender Kris Frost grabbed Treadwell from behind, inadvertently crumpling his leg underneath him. The play was initially ruled a touchdown but was ruled a fumble upon review, meaning the Rebels lost their best offensive skill player, the game and their (realistic) shot at an SEC championship in one horrific moment.
In its Saturday edition, the Opelika-Auburn News used a photo of that fateful moment on the cover of its sports page. Here's a blacked-out version for the squeamish among us:
The paper received lots of negative feedback for that choice of photograph, so much so that it felt the need to issue a statement apologizing to those offended while defending the choice to run the shot.
The picture is gut-wrenching. It also tells the story. That’s why we chose to run it. As journalists, our primary job is to report what happens – whether by words or photos. Often, what we write or publish is unpleasant. Regarding the photo, this was one of those instances. We did not intend to glorify Treadwell’s injury or offend any reader. To any person hurt by our editorial decision, we apologize.
And now, Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork has weighed in with his displeasure:
After careful thought and consideration, I feel compelled to express my disappointment in the way you reported the outcome of the Auburn vs. Ole Miss game. Specifically, the way you sensationalized a moment with a grossly depicted image that affects a young man’s life. Furthermore, your response to criticism from readers could be described as nothing short of digging your heels in. Quite simply and most disappointing, you showed no signs of remorse for the incredible lapse of judgment.
We run our athletics department with a well-defined purpose, and we operate daily using seven core values to guide us. Together, those core values comprise our “line in the sand,” and we will defend them when attacked. It is our belief that your actions are at odds with those of those core values: Student-Athlete Welfare and Social Responsibility. So, it is for that reason that I have written to you.
In closing, we know of no other newspaper that has used such a graphic image of a student-athlete’s injury in such a sensationalist way and sincerely hope you have not created a precedent for this type of crass journalism.
Director of Athletics
University of Mississippi
The paper argued it is simply doing its job by running the photo, and Bjork is doing his job by defending his student-athlete.
Here's hoping Bjork wrote the letter while wearing his heavyweight champion belt.