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Editor's column: Sympathy for Souhan … sort of

September 21, 2013
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

When Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan penned a column about Gophers football coach Jerry Kill after the wildly popular coach suffered another seizure at halftime of Saturday's game, he did what any columnist worth his salt would've done: He wrote something controversial. It's his job.

But in doing so, not only did he raise eyebrows, he ticked off just about everyone and, in the process, started in motion a chain of events that led up to something few editors ever do: issue a public apology.

Souhan intimated the Gophers should move on without coach Kill - who suffers from epilepsy - questioning how a school can "continue to employ a football coach who has had four seizures during or after the 16 home games he has coached at the school "

If you read his column, you get the idea that his main target - and all good columnists have targets - was athletic director Norwood Teague. Kill got caught in Souhan's crossfire, which has happened to others before him, only Souhan really tried to finish him off throughout his column. Perhaps he figured the better of a case he built against Kill, the worse he would make Teague look for not answering questions the day of the game. If that's what he was thinking, it backfired.

I'll defend Souhan, because I know how it works, and I think I know how his mind was working the day he wrote the controversial piece. It wasn't that he was looking for a story just because he had to come up with something, he just took it out on the wrong guy.

Souhan knows what his job is at the Trib. He gets paid to stir the pot. Only this time, he tipped it over and left a mess that his boss had to clean up. After the initial mopping up concluded, Souhan came in to scrub the floor with a toothbrush to make sure nothing was missed, explaining to the readers that it was not his intent to demean Kill or his illness.

It takes a big man to apologize in public. Double that if you're a columnist with an ego, who painted himself into a no-win corner.

I think what Souhan failed to realize as he was writing his column was that he wasn't just targeting the face of the biggest sport on campus, he was, without intention, going after a whole population of epileptics who are trying to live as normal a life as possible. Sometimes those things get lost in a columnist's mind when they're tickling the keys.

Souhan took it too far and gouged a nerve, but don't hate him for it. Don't stop reading him because he screwed up. Being a journalist whose job it is to offer opinions every week to the public might look easy from the outside, but there are times when columnists take on the canary-in-the-coal mine role. This time, Souhan came out alive, but not before he took a beating in the public eye. Then the canary ended up eating crow.

The Internet trolls had a field day with Souhan, as they do with any journalist who opines about newsmakers, but I hope he doesn't let the negativity prevent him from pulling punches in the future. He made a mistake and owned up to it.

Let's move on.



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