Will Muschamp calls out newspaper after South Carolina players cleared

Will Muschamp led South Carolina to a 6-7 record in his first season. (Getty)

There’s been quite a bit of drama unfolding in Columbia, South Carolina, over the last week. It involves a police department, a newspaper and South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp.

Last week, The State, the daily newspaper in Columbia, was the first of multiple outlets to report that South Carolina players Deebo Samuel and Skai Moore and former player Jalen Dread were named as suspects (but not charged) in a May 2 assault. Muschamp quickly came out in defense of his players and said The State’s report was “irresponsible journalism.”

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Police subsequently cleared both Samuel, who was not present at the time of the incident, and Moore, who was present but “did not participate in the assault” and charged Dread with assault. After Samuel and Moore were cleared, Muschamp unloaded on The State, comparing it to the National Enquirer.

“The gross inaccuracies of The State newspaper sickens me,” Muschamp said.

“I think it’s sickening to me that these two young men have been put through this. They’ve done nothing wrong. It’s not about getting the story right or the factual information, it’s about running the story first. That’s really what it boils down to. I look at The State newspaper like the National Enquirer now. Isn’t that the magazine that, like, they date aliens and stuff? They come up with these sensational stories that aren’t true and they don’t back up anything with factual evidence. It’s gross what they’ve done to these two young men. We expect an apology or a retraction.”

Muschamp also said on Monday that Steve Fink, South Carolina’s director of media relations, heard from Columbia police about the alleged incident, but a police spokesperson disputed Muschamp’s account of the interaction (which you can see at the :40 mark of the video above) to the Columbia Free Times.

Here’s how Muschamp described it:

“(Fink) had heard from a police spokesman from the Columbia Police Department that said they had told The State newspaper, ‘You really don’t need to run this because this was the account of one person in the bar that night, one person’s opinion of what happened. It was totally incorrect.’”

Columbia police described it another way, via the Free Times:

Columbia police spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons told Free Times that Muschamp’s account is inaccurate.

“I mentioned to The State reporter that we had to verify whether the listed ‘suspects’ were actual ‘suspects,’” she says. “I spoke with [the] USC [spokesperson] and provided him with the same information. I did not ask The State not to run the story.”

Fink told Free Times that he got his information from USC spokesman Wes Hickman — that he never spoke directly to Columbia police. Hickman did not return calls seeking comment.

Muschamp also said he reached out to Mark Lett, the executive editor of The State, to express his concerns.

“He wanted to stand by his story. He wanted to stand by the incident report,” Muschamp said.

There’s a lot going on with this situation. For one, the players were named in a police report, a public record. It’s hard to fault The State for publishing the details as presented in the report, but incident reports are often very, very preliminary. When it turns out the version of events presented by the witness in the report is inaccurate, Samuel and Moore have already been put in an unfair position and painted in a negative light.

That’s part of the problem with the 24-hour news cycle and where Muschamp’s argument holds some water. It could certainly be argued that The State should have done some further investigating with other sources, especially those close to the players for their side of the story, before publishing. There are always ways to further contextualize a situation instead of publishing something just for the sake of publishing.

Muschamp has been in the game long enough that he knows media will report on issues associated with his players. But when it is determined fairly quickly that two of his guys were not involved, he is always going to stick up for them.

For more South Carolina news, visit GamecockCentral.com.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!