June 26, 2013 10:31:10 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
I'm probably the only person in Mississippi that feels sort of sorry for ESPN commentator Mike Patrick today.
I doubt the ESPN commentator meant any offense with an off-the-cuff remark about Mississippi State's enormous following at the College World Series made during the broadcast of Monday's Mississippi State-UCLA game.
Yet by Tuesday morning, Mississippians from Aberdeen to Yazoo City (there are no towns that start with "Z" in the state) were brandishing their figurative pitchforks and torches on social media, demanding that Patrick either be forced to apologize, be fired or be subjected to "advanced interrogation techniques."
The frenzy was so intense that by the end of Tuesday, just about everybody had forgotten what it was, exactly, that Patrick had said. Whatever it was, it was pretty insulting and embarrassing to our state.
Well, we Mississippians don't take kindly to "outsiders" making embarrassing comments about our state. We grow our own embarrassments in these parts. When it comes to stupid comments, observations and actions, we are exporters, not importers. In fact, we have a governor and state legislators whose main functions seem to be saying and doing stuff that holds us up to ridicule.
So Patrick is in a hot spot these days, at least as far as Mississippians are concerned.
That's too bad.
For one thing, Patrick is not exactly on the "A-list" of ESPN's collection of broadcasters. The College World Series is about as good a gig as he is likely to get. After the CWS, he'll be off to his next assignment, something along the lines of the National Lumberjack Championships. At 65, he is in the twilight of a lackluster career.
Second, there appears to be a large and growing disconnect between what Patrick actually said and what he is perceived to have said. That is often a natural progression of the word-of-mouth phenomenon -- every subsequent telling of a story is adorned with a few fresh embellishments.
So in the interest of accuracy, here is what Patrick actually said:
"The (Mississippi State) coaches told us this morning a lot of people came here from Mississippi ... that can't afford the trip, but they came here to support their kids. They are so proud of them and everybody is waiting for this team to explode."
OK. That is what he said.
By Tuesday afternoon, here is what a lot of Mississippians were absolutely convinced he said:
"You have to marvel at these pitiful Mississippi State fans, Kyle. I mean, for these people, the College World Series is like a modern version of The Grapes of Wrath.'
"I can only imagine what the highways between Mississippi and Omaha looked like Sunday -- whole clans of ragged women, beat-down men and dirty little half-naked children piled in the back of an old flatbed Ford truck, sputtering over the Ozarks into the Heartland.
"They probably had to sell their few remaining chickens for gas money, probably ate cold biscuits smeared with lard for breakfast, lunch and supper all the way to Nebraska. I'm sure a few of 'em had to bury grandmaw on the side of the road along the way, probably putting a crude sign next to her shallow grave explaining they had no money to bury grandmaw proper; that they had to get to Omaha to support the kids."
So I ask you: What's more embarrassing, really: Mike Patrick's comments or the reactions they have evoked?
I suspect the prickly posture of offended MSU fans had more to do with the outcome of the game--UCLA won, 3-1 -- than the comments. Being in a bad mood often makes folks a little more sensitive to slights, both real and perceived.
But even taken at its worst, the comments seem benign. If Patrick did mean to imply that Mississippi is a poor state, as some have suggested, all the facts are on his side. But I don't think it was his intention to portray Mississippi as three million members of the Joad family.
I just think he meant that some Mississippi State fans sacrificed much to make it to Omaha. That's probably true for some of the thousands of Bulldogs fans who made the trip.
So I just can't summon enough outrage to be genuinely offended.
Besides, if I hadn't sold my last few chickens to make the rent last month, I'd probably have gone to Omaha, too.
So please tell Grandmaw to git outa the back of that flatbed. We ain't a-goin' nowheres.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]