Muschamp (copy)

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp

“Hilinski Hope Sinks” — headline in The State (print edition), Sept. 22

That was not a good headline. 

But I also have no doubt that it was not intended by The State to have anything to do with the Hilinski’s Hope foundation or anything else other than the outcome of the USC football game against Missouri. 

Further, I have a question for anyone who believes The State wrote the headline intending to imply, infer, insinuate or in any way tie the game or Ryan Hilinski’s performance in it to the sad and tragic suicide of his brother and fellow quarterback Tyler Hilinski (Washington State) in 2018. 

That question is this: Are you out of your mind? 

The idea that The State would purposefully play off the Hilinski family’s pain for a sensational headline in the paper is not just ridiculous on its face, but also ridiculous when one examines the facts of the paper’s coverage of the Hilinski family and its foundation.

Here are a few of the headlines from stories by The State on that subject:

“How loss of brother shapes future USC QB’s life and spirit” — Jun 27, 2018

“Helping others keeps Tyler Hilinski’s memory alive” — July 9, 2019 

“Through tragedy, the Hilinski family came to South Carolina to start something new” — July. 31

“The plan to honor Ryan Hilinski’s late brother Tyler at the Alabama game” — Sept. 11

“Gamecock QB Ryan Hilinski: ‘I am wearing Tyler on my jersey’” — Sept. 14

I’ll stop there, but the list goes on. The very plain truth is The State has given broad, deep and supportive coverage to everything having to do with the Hilinski family, their foundation and the laudable efforts they are making to help other families in similar situations and prevent suicide among young people. 

Moreover, when the paper was published and complaints began about the headline, The State immediately apologized, issuing an online statement: 

Our sincerest apologies to the Hilinski family 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. 

Further, the paper explained how the unfortunate wording occurred: 

The print editions of our company’s [McClatchy] papers in both North and South Carolina are put together by copy editors based in Charlotte. … 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. 

Both the apology and the explanation ring true and sincere.  And that should have been the end of it. But of course it wasn’t.

I’ll set aside any backlash The State received from rabid Gamecock fans, as they are rabid Gamecock fans. Enough said. 

But the juvenile and vacuous statement from the University of South Carolina administration is an embarrassment to the school.

In the news release issued by President Bob Caslen, Athletics Director Ray Tanner and head football coach Will Muschamp, USC offered a response to The State that was worthy of junior high school social media. 

And being on that level, it rejected the paper’s mea culpa. Here’s what those university leaders had to say:

We were appalled to see this morning’s headline in The State. … It demonstrated a level of unprofessional and irresponsible journalism. … We don’t believe their apology is enough. 

Actually, it demonstrated that mistakes can happen. That’s something Caslen, Tanner and Muschamp might want to think about in their own jobs. 

At any rate, having talked tough the three then urged The State to “be a leader in advocating and de-stigmatizing mental illness.” 

Guess they either forgot about or didn’t see all those earlier stories in The State on that subject. They should read up.  

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

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