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Stuck in the middle: How OSU's handling of McCleskey's transfer started an avoidable media storm

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Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy threatened reporters not to ask about Jalen McCleskey's transfer at media availability Tuesday.

A group of media members stood in a circle inside the gates of Boone Pickens Stadium.

Dark storm clouds formed above, and a breeze blew across the adjacent parking lot. The impending rain was the storm of least concern, for within the next day, a threat and frenzy of accusations would dominate the minds and columns of those in the circle and those who read their work.

After Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy announced Monday at his weekly press conference that senior receiver Jalen McCleskey has chosen to redshirt and transfer, the biggest news in Stillwater was simple: What did OSU football players think about the surprising situation?

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, media members gathered in the west concourse of the stadium for weekly player availability after practice. Players are usually made available at about 5:30 p.m., but before the first player reached the waiting reporters, the ethical dilemma began.

Gavin Lang, Gundy’s media relations coordinator, gathered the group of reporters and said Gundy threatened that if any reporter asks a player a question about McCleskey, then players would no longer be available to any media for the rest of the season.

Reporters immediately took to the phones, calling editors and supervisors about what to do.

The four O'Colly football beat writers, who have all contributed to this story, stood among the frantic reporters trying to decide how to handle the situation.

For us, there was no boss or adviser to call. Our previous adviser took a job in Florida, and we are still in the search process for her replacement. We stood together and focused on making a collective decision.

A majority of the present media members were apprehensive and decided it was not worth losing the insider access audiences tune in for, especially because one reporter's actions could cause repercussions for every reporter who covers the program. Once the first player arrived, it was evident no one was going to ask.

Had someone asked about McCleskey, it likely wouldn’t have warranted anything more than “no comment.”

Gundy could have simply told players if they were asked about McCleskey to say, "no comment." However, he didn't; he gave reporters an ultimatum.

Later, a smaller group of reporters stood in a circle outside the northwest side of Boone Pickens Stadium.

The players had come and gone without McCleskey’s name arising in anyone’s questions.

It was time to decide what to do next.

Represented in the circle were the O’Colly, The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World and Pistols Firing.

The original decision that we all came to agreement on was that we would put a disclaimer in our story explaining the threat and why we didn’t ask players about McCleskey’s transfer.

Then we were notified there could be repercussions for reporting on Gundy’s threat.

We then contacted Lang, who urged media members to leave the threat out of the story to avoid possible consequences. However, if anyone asked why we didn’t ask players about McCleskey, we could choose to cite Gundy’s threat as our reasoning.

As student journalists, that is not what concerns us. We recognize the importance of our jobs. We strive to be the best sports reporters and students we can be.

We spoke to certain professors at our school about what happened in exchange for advice. However, no O’Colly reporter approached the professor who broke the news on Twitter on Wednesday about the incident.

In the tweet, the professor said, "An OSU SID, on behalf of coach Mike Gundy, threatened the press corps with the loss of player availability for the rest of the season if any one of them asked players Tuesday about a player's departure this week.”

We never encouraged any professor to break the news or tweet criticisms about the journalists present. We have no control over what our professors tweet on their personal accounts. We did not go to our professors with the intention of having them leak the story and criticize the actions of those who were there.

We simply wanted advice about how to handle the brewing storm going forward.

We are student journalists. We made our decision in the best interest of our futures. The beat reporters, editors and professionals associated with the OSU Athletic Department are people we respect. People we want as references. People we might one day work alongside.

To stand among our peers, most of whom are veterans in the business, and break the trust we developed during the few minutes before players arrived was not in our best interest.

sports.ed@ocolly.com