Gardner case shows how sports commentary changed

Cal Poly blah

Cal Poly kicker Andrew Gardner, right, kicks during the Mustangs' 29-27 win at San Diego State on Aug. 30. He kicked a 21-yard field goal as time expired to win the game. — Josh Ayers, Mustang Daily file photo

In the days following Andrew Gardner’s three missed extra points during the Cal Poly football team’s 36-35 loss to Wisconsin, he’s become a topic of some local and national negative attention.

There’s nothing too surprising about that. It was bound to happen.

But what’s interesting is to see what the reaction has revealed about today’s sports fan.

As opposed to years past, when most profane, harsh or over-the-line comments and attitudes would be voiced behind closed doors, they’re now spewed forth over the Internet, regardless of how uncalled for.

And there certainly have been some uncalled-for ones.

On Facebook, two groups have been started: “1,000 Strong for Cutting Andrew Gardner” and “ANDREW GARDNER IS MY HERO,” a facetious entitlement if there ever were one. There are about 45 members between the two.

The mostly profanity-laced comments — from Cal Poly students, even — range from calling him the worst kicker ever to insinuating he took a dive to joking about him committing suicide, and often sink to a level so personal e-fights have broken out.

Juicy Campus, as well, contains a similar entry.

His harshest critics defend the ridicule by comparing their comments to those of a Jim Rome.

Rome, though, at least when dealing in a personally mocking tone, only does so with regard to professional athletes — unless an amateur athlete committed a crime or didn’t put forth his full effort. I tend to agree with that distinction.

A pro athlete can avoid the public eye and common criticisms of those offering them. Gardner, or any other college athlete, for that matter, has to go to class and continually be surrounded by his peers (several of them who bashed him in the aforementioned postings). He doesn’t have a choice.

That makes their cases different.

By all indications, Gardner couldn’t try harder.

And his reputation as an all-around nice guy seems to be well known, based on what I’ve heard in passing from colleagues and classmates.

Prior to this year’s Montana game, I posted a few ads for this very blog around Alex G. Spanos Stadium. After taping one to a railing, I accidentally dropped the tape dispenser onto the field and it shattered into a few dissonant pieces.

Andrew Gardner came over, put it back together and handed it to me over the railing. A few hours later he missed the potentially game-winning field goal from 27 yards out with 38 seconds left in a 30-28 loss.

As reporters, we’re not allowed to root for anyone. But I do root for being civil, having respect and treating others with professional dignity and understanding when they’re going through tough times.

Prior to the Wisconsin game, Cal Poly booster Al Moriarty spoke a lot about all he’s seen at the school since his days as a member of the 9-0 1953 team. In praising Mustangs head coach Rich Ellerson’s recruiting philosophy, he drove home the point that the program seeks players who are poised, repeatedly even conversationally asking, “Are they mentally tough?”

If he can get through this, Gardner certainly is.

As for those who may have wondered if a college kicker had ever missed three extra points in one game, the answer is yes. Oregon State’s Alexis Serna did in 2004 before winning the Lou Groza Award the very next year.

Check back with the Mustang Daily online later this week for a full preview of the Mustangs’ playoff opener against Weber State.

For those who couldn’t be there, here’s a YouTube video of the jump around at the Wisconsin game. And yes, it felt like a good old-fashioned California earthquake.