On October 8, 2011, Texas Tech and Texas A&M football teams met on the field for the last time. The Aggies (21) were expected to blow unranked Tech out the water but the Red Raiders fought to the end, losing the heated rivalry 45-40. That should have been enough to make headlines across the sports world, but a tweet from Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne became the headline instead.
The controversy came when Byrne took to his Twitter account to make the world aware of what Texas Tech fans had done early Saturday morning.
The news of this disgusting act of vandalism spread like wildfire, even making national headlines
with CBS Sports
. In an interview with the Washington Post, Byrne claimed that manure (reports ranged from dog to cow to human feces) was spread “from one end to the other” inside one of the buses. He also claimed that all four buses had been spray painted with vulgarities that were “not something you want repeated.” Brent Zwerneman, a Texas A&M beat reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle, continued to spread the reports on his Twitter account.
The problem came when it was revealed that most of the story was inaccurate. While it was true that a prank was played against Texas A&M involving one of their buses, there was no report of manure of any kind being used, nor was there any spray paint. Instead, it turns out that small balls of fish bait were dropped on the floor of one bus. The outside of that same bus was shoe polished with “Wreck’em Tech” and reports of an unknown vulgarity. The bus drivers who discovered it reportedly cleaned up the bus before Bill Byrne ever saw it.
For most, the tweet by Byrne clearly implicated that Texas Tech fans were responsible. To date though, no one has been caught and no one has been charged with vandalism. Despite Zwerneman’s claims on Twitter that Byrnes turned the matter over to state police, no reports have been filed with either state or local authorities.
While strongly condemning the actions, Texas Tech officials fired off a statement that read in part, “Many of you are aware of a tweet from a Texas A&M official that their team buses were spray painted and animal feces were spread inside of the buses early Saturday morning.”
According to Texas Tech’s investigation, “Washable shoe polish was used on… one of the buses. No feces were found either in or on the buses. The alleged ‘vandalism’ was cleaned by the bus drivers and Holiday Inn staff before it was seen by the A&M official who tweeted the information.”
They concluded their statement saying, “While incidents such as the ones alleged are inappropriate and strongly condemned by Texas Tech, it is no less wrong to condemn the entirety of our university students and supporters by posting inaccurate information on the internet for the purpose of sensationalizing the actions of one of a very few. We are disturbed by the careless use of social media to share these inaccuracies.”
Now we get to the heart of the matter: the “careless use of social media.” Byrne was quick to use Twitter to his advantage, making sure that Texas Tech was smeared in the media before Tech officials could even be reached, and Zwerneman was too eager to help in that campaign. Zwerneman, in his desperation to get the scoop, blindly tweeted everything that Byrne shared with him without investigating the facts for himself. But why did Byrne tweet anything at all, especially about something which he had no firsthand knowledge of?
Social media has changed the way we share information and news, but in our rush to be the first to report a story, it is important that we not forget to do our research. Facts are still facts. Just as we would not write a news story without investigating the matter and interviewing sources, so must we remember that this rule applies to social media as well. Having a Twitter account or a blog should not be an excuse for irresponsible journalism, and it seems that Zwerneman had to eat his words when he reported the facts of the story three days later.
As a high ranking official and representative of Texas A&M athletics, Bill Byrne should have known better and should be subjected to internal scrutiny for starting an unnecessary social media war between the two universities.
None of this excuses the behavior of the Texas Tech fans or students who were responsible, and I certainly do not condone this disgusting display of poor sportsmanship. But unlike many of the pranks played by A&M fans over the years, including butchering a live mascot, cutting out part of an on-field logo, and sticking Aggie bumper stickers on the cars of opposing team fans, this prank is not a crime. Had those involved use spray paint or feces, it certainly would’ve become one and then Byrne’s actions would have been more justified. Instead, Byrne’s committed an act libel against Texas Tech by using Twitter to defame the university over a petty prank.
Despite that, Byrne isn’t finished with Texas Tech. He took to his personal blog on the Texas A&M website where he further addressed his disdain for Red Raider fans. Is this the appropriate way for a university representative, or a representative for any organization for that matter, to behave? It seems surprising that Texas A&M is willing to allow him to continue to embarrass their school in the media.
No matter how much Byrne wants to play it, the facts speak for themselves. Texas Tech fans played a prank that was in poor taste and Texas A&M’s athletic director used social media to defame and spread lies in return. Now the actions of both universities will forever leave a fishy taste in fans’ mouths. Classy.
Tech students react to fish bait found on bus.