Louisville newspaper depicts John Calipari as a crying baby

The Dagger
The cover of Friday's Louisville Courier-Journal sports page (via Reddit)
The cover of Friday's Louisville Courier-Journal sports page (via Reddit)

Any Kentucky fans who turned to the front of the Louisville Courier-Journal sports page Friday morning likely weren't pleased with what they saw.

The photo illustration that ran alongside an otherwise fair column by Tim Sullivan looked like something a Louisville fan would have posted to a Cardinals messageboard.

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Since Sullivan's piece focused on the perceived advantages of coaching USA Basketball and the tendency of coaches to complain when a competitor gains even the slightest edge, someone at the newspaper chose to accompany it with a photoshopped picture of John Calipari's face atop a baby's body. Yes, the image of Calipari in diapers is pretty hilarious. However, it's also a terrible decision from a journalistic or business standpoint. 

Most importantly, it's not fair to Calipari. Though Jim Boeheim accused Calipari on Wednesday of complaining to both him and USA Basketball about the extra access to prospects that Duke and Syracuse coaches receive, the Kentucky coach has never publicly made any such statement. In fact, he handled Boeheim's comments with class on Thursday in a string of tweets.

"Jim's comments were brought to my attention & I called him," Calipari wrote. "We are friends. I have unbelievable respect for him & how he runs his program. Any concerns that college coaches have had in the past have always been addressed by USA basketball. ..."The job that Coach K and Coach Boeheim have done to turn around USA Basketball, to make it what it is today is truly amazing. ... If – and I emphasize if – they gained any advantage, because of that work, I don't begrudge them in the least."

The Calipari-baby illustration also simply isn't good business. Louisville is a city with split allegiances, one with nearly as many Cats fans as Cardinals supporters. Reporters and editors are taught to prioritize good journalism over everything, but given the struggling financial state of most newspapers, you probably want to have a good reason to anger half your subscriber base, and this certainly wasn't it.

Lastly, the illustration is a disservice to both Sullivan and the Courier-Journal's Kentucky beat writer Kyle Tucker as well.

What Sullivan wrote was a fair examination of the topic. It didn't merit the inflammatory "It's whiny at the top, too" headline, nor did it require such a needlessly polarizing illustration. That headline and illustration will surely lead to backlash against Sullivan from Kentucky fans who see his byline and don't understand he was only responsible for the column itself.

This dust-up also won't help Sullivan, Tucker or any other Courier-Journal staffers as they attempt to seek access or build trust with Kentucky players, coaches and administrators.

It's unclear how the illustration made it to print, but Tucker tweeted that the Courier-Journal's sports editor was as blindsided as he was. That means this was probably the decision of a designer or copy editor that doesn't understand the tenor of the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry and didn't think to run the illustration up the chain of command to see if it was printable.

It also could be a product of many newspaper chains going to a centralized copy desk outside their coverage area in order to save money. Someone who lives out of state may not have the same understanding of the rivalry dynamics as a copy editor or designer based in Louisville.

Regardless, there's no good excuse. There will be plenty of Louisville fans and Calipari haters who find the illustration funny, but it still was unfair and unwarranted.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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