Bias Against Texas A&M Football Shown Clearly by Media’s Response to Comments by Evan Stewart
I was planning on doing another piece on a similar subject today (though through the lens of recounting 2020’s playoff snub), but Evan Stewart’s comments and the subsequent reaction by the college football public has actually provided a much more present and relevant example.
The media, and the college football public in general, have a skewed perception of Texas A&M football. Their reaction to Evan Stewart’s clear words evince this. Their presuppositions regarding the program are out of touch with reality.
Let me use an example to illustrate what I mean.
Imagine, for a moment, that you are unable to find your car keys one morning. You tell someone—your mom, dad, wife, husband, whoever—that you are having trouble finding them. This person then says, “I guess the car key gnome took them!”
I’d bet a fair amount of money that your instinctual response would not be to question them about this new mystical creature called “the car key gnome,” its habits, diet, provenance, etc., but to understand that this is a weak attempt at a joke. That is because you understand enough about the world to know that there is no such thing as “the car key gnome.” Your presuppositions have ruled out that possibility, and so you interpret that person’s words in a certain way—namely, that they are trying to make a joke.
That’s an example of a good, true presupposition and the effect it may have on interpretation. When working correctly, these kinds of presuppositions are necessary heuristics for navigating the world. If you had to give active thought to every single piece of every single interaction, you would be impossible to carry on a conversation with and simply never get anything done.
But what if you have a bad presupposition? One that is false or flawed?
Well, equal yet opposite of good presuppositions, these can lead to instinctual misunderstandings. If you, for example, believe that the only things that can be known as facts are the things that can be scientifically proven, then you may struggle justifying the existence of metaphysical concepts, as science deals with the material world.
We all have a set of presuppositions. Every person believes certain things that must be taken as axiomatic; principles that just have to be true without seeking proof on some more fundamental basis or higher authority. These principles are those out of which a person can operate and reason within the world: principles like I can trust my own sense perception, the laws of logic are valid, or the College Football Playoff won’t leave out an undefeated Power 5 Champion.
The problem is that sometimes those axiomatic, bedrock beliefs—our presuppositions—are flawed. As we work our way through the world, we sometimes encounter realities that are at odds with those presuppositions: whether about ourselves, how the world works, or what goes on in everyone’s favorite sport. This leads to an uncomfortable sensation known as cognitive dissonance, where a person has trouble reconciling two competing ideas.
All too often, though, the resolution to this discomfort is for the one competing idea to be reinterpreted or subsumed under the presupposition, as the latter is far more important to a person’s continued ability to function as normal than the former is. An overly simplistic example is the atheist who prayed “God, if you are real, prove it to me by knocking down that tree.” The tree fell, and the atheist thought to himself, “must have been the wind.”
I promise I’m bringing this back around to what Evan Stewart said.
When Texas A&M football began to land all of the highly-touted prospects that were committing to them in the 2022 class, rumors began to crop up quickly. They must be offering them exorbitant amounts to commit, people said—but why? After all, it is entirely unremarkable in the abstract for a given high school football prospect to commit to play at a given college that has extended a scholarship offer. It is something that happens nearly every day in the sport.
The issue is one of presuppositions: those spreading the rumors considered Texas A&M football to be a place where prospects of that level just plainly did not go, except for maybe once in a blue moon. The fact that so many of them were committing—an unprecedented level, even—was inconceivable to those watching from afar. They found a convenient explanation in the recent changes to NIL compensation; after all, this is a rich school! It must be the case that tons of money is being offered to these guys.
This became such a talking point that the assertion, after a while, became axiomatic. It didn’t need proof—in people’s minds it was just simply, self-evidently true. As axiomatic, all later data would be interpreted in light of this truth. Importantly, too, all later data would be treated as confirmation of it. Players have trouble in the locker room? This is what you get for paying a roster rather than organically building it through relationships or whatever! Someone transfers out? Guess that NIL bag wasn’t enough to keep him around for too long now, was it? And so on, and so on.
The events of yesterday showed a clear pressure point. Evan Stewart’s comment on Instagram had a clear meaning: that the misconceptions around NIL and that 2022 class were patently false but so blown out of proportion that they became a strain on the locker room. Unfortunately, the idea that the Aggies lured credulous high school football stars to campus with promises of untold wealth had become so interwoven into the collective consciousness of fans who follow this dumb sport that it could not be contradicted in their minds. So what could they do with what he said? Simple! Act like he said something different; namely, that he’s really mad that A&M didn’t pay him what they said they would!
This is staggeringly far from the substance of his original comment, but that is almost universally how it was spun. Evan himself has tweeted several times since then to try and clear up his intent, but it doesn’t matter to those who were pouncing on the original post.
Unsurprisingly, none of these received any media coverage. Unless you count this outlet!
The media can be a vicious cycle. Preconceptions dictate coverage; coverage dictates perception; perception creates further preconceptions. Somewhere in there, the substance of the matter is supposed to fit.
Donovan Green really said it best.
The sad fact of the matter is that this—the way people view your program, culture, fans—doesn’t change easily. Clemson was a really good team for quite a while until they finally shrugged off “Clemsoning,” and it took three or four national championship appearances for that to totally go away. Aggies felt like they were on their way after the 2020 season and the 2022 recruiting class. Evan Stewart is a guy who represents that hope, in a way. Mike Elko is now, too. Can these two lead the Aggies to the mountaintop and change the narrative? That remains to be seen. It’s not an easy task, but it’s the one ahead.