Tom Osborne's Lap Dog? Steve Sipple Speaks

In 2008, CN was two years old. There weren't a lot of people that had heard of the site, and I had yet to start using my real name on the site. Maple Street Press gave me the opportunity to write my first yearbook, A Sea of Red. One of the first things I realized was that I would need to find some established journalists to gain credibility.

I sent emails around to several Nebraska sportswriters, asking if they'd be willing to write for me. I got one response. It was from Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star. He not only wrote for me the first year, but for the next three years for Cornhusker Kickoff. He was always professional, always approachable, and didn't treat me like a pariah. Given my "blogger" status, the pariah thing was pretty common. It still is, I guess. Anyway, I appreciated working with him.

Last week I contacted Sipple, asking him if he'd be willing to do an interview about his reputation, you know, that one in which many Husker fans see him as an athletic department shill, Tom Osborne's lap dog, Bo Pellini's pal, or perhaps a combination of the three.

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After a couple of missed phone calls, we finally connected. I didn't spend a lot of time on small talk. I figured he was busy, so I got straight to the point. How did he feel about that reputation, you know, the shill, the lap dog Nebraska athletic department buddy-buddy relationship he had going?

Sipple admitted that he takes a little bit of an offense that fans feel that way about him, pointed out there are too many examples to the contrary. He offered as example an article he did last week regarding Barney Cotton, saying that fans who think he's a shill aren't privy to the heated discussion he had with Bo Pelini after the article came out.

Another such example - two years ago after the 2010 Texas A&M game Sipple wrote that Pelini was an embarrassment to the university. (No link for that one since the LJS's new paywall doesn't allow us to search and link to a specific article.) Again, Sipple referenced a tense discussion with Nebraska's head coach.

There are other articles, and other heated discussions with the head coach. He has a point; it's easy for us as fans to complain about the questions journalists ask Pelini when we're safe writing away in our mother's basement. It has to be a lot more intimidating in person.

What's his approach to a story about Husker athletics, then? And aren't Husker fans constantly asking for fluff anyway?

I just try to be fair. To me the whole thing is I think people want us to be fair. I'm going to be fair to both sides, and I'm going to try to be objective. I don't think it's all fluff. I think they [Husker fans] want a fair, accurate portrayal of what's going on.

The key words are fair, accurate and truthful. We do not strive for fluff, nor do we bend over backwards to show we're objective because when you do that, you're really not being objective.

I brought up the Tyler Moore situation, noting that the way it was handled had gotten under Pelini's skin. I posted an article last Friday regarding Moore's departure as a rumor, and I explained to Sipple that I posted it as a rumor because it bugs me how rumors take on a life of their own.

Twitter, in particular, is like a prairie fire waiting to happen. It's constantly dry, and there are constant sparks. Nowadays a rumor explodes and before the media has the time to track the story down the player might as well be branded as a serial killer.

So why Nebraska's media didn't address the Moore rumor more expediently?

"Pelini was going talk [to the media] on Saturday, so I decided to wait until then. I was fine with that. I didn't sense any great urgency to know exactly what was going on with Moore."

Sipple mentioned he'd heard one radio personality refer to Moore as "a cornerstone of the program".

"That's someone who doesn't know what's going on with the program."

Sipple explained that Moore wasn't a lock to be starter this year, but was neck and neck at the time with Brent Qvale. If the rumor was about a higher profile guy like Taylor Martinez or Rex Burkhead, then they might have gone after it a little differently.

We talked for a bit about the restraint required in covering college athletics:

"People can criticize us for not jumping into the rumor fray about not going after that, but this isn't the New York Jets. This is a 18-year old kid that had some personal issues. I have to ask myself, do I really want to be the guy who needs to be first to report on a 18-year old kid having a personal issue?"

I noted that "speed" wasn't included amongst his key words for dealing with a story.

His response?

Well, it is, but you have to be careful with speed.

Do you remember when Harrison Beck left?

We went over to practice and Beck was missing. Bill Callahan said he didn't know where he was. I rushed back to the Lincoln Journal Star and called Harrison's mom to see what was going on.

She went on a tangent, saying some things and threw some guys under the bus. If it weren't for me making that phone call, Harrison Beck might have been back on the Nebraska football team.

I've learned from that incident.

I am not a journalist, nor do I refer to myself a journalist.

Journalishy?

Maybe.

If there's one thing that separates me from Steve Sipple, it's that I don't get calls from the head coach when I write something nasty about the Husker program. (I don't hide beyond anonymity, either, and in fact changed the site a few years ago to use my real name.)

As fans it's easy to forget that there are real people behind the rumors, and that it would be best to show restraint. And fairness. Perhaps like Sipple we could all do a better job in learning that lesson.

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