The U of M Gopher football coaching staff, in photo, is striving for a turnaround in their team's fortunes.
Is public relations important for the University of Minnesota? First we have the "troubled waters" surrounding the documentary "Troubled Waters," initially pulled by the U and then restored after the tempest over this apparent case of corporate special interest intimidation.
Coupled with that mess is the U of M's football program. I realize that football is the "toy department" of an institution like the U, but it's deemed important enough that a brand new palace called TCF Stadium (named for a bank, which somehow correlates with the corporate intimidation episode) got built.
Would U of M football be doing any worse if it were still in the Metrodome? At the very least, this time of year we'd be insulated from the sometimes-unpleasant fall weather. How much incentive are fans going to feel to attend, when it's cold and/or windy and when the U cannot beat the likes of University of South Dakota or University of Northern Illinois?
The loss to Northern Illinois (the Huskies) happened Saturday. These are supposed to be tune-up games for the Big 10 schedule. The season is effectively done now. There is no way to prop up enthusiasm. The "what if?" talk has disappeared.
My waitress Felicia at DeToy's Restaurant in Morris reminds me that Northern Illinois is the alma mater of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. So we should respect them more? I thought the University of Illinois, not Northern Illinois, was the big-time program we had to have in our sights.
I'm not sure how "Gopher Nation" can even take seriously the upcoming Big 10 schedule. I think the early "creampuff" part of the schedule is becoming problematic because the U seems to increasingly be "playing down" to those foes. To the point we can't even beat them.
Poor Tim Brewster. He's a fine gentleman as coach of our "Beloved Rodents" (name bestowed by Patrick Reusse). I agree with Arne Carlson who said the Gophers' current weaknesses are not to be laid at coach Brewster's doorstep at all. Brewster "didn't hire himself," the sage Carlson, a pre-wingnut Republican, said last week.
Yes, the U Gophers are in the midst of "troubled waters" but let's get back to that term as a proper noun, i.e. as a film name. The U denies the corporate intimidation - I at first wrote "bullying" (but let's calm down) - but what do you expect them to say in the wake of a tempest breaking out?
It may come down to your definition of "intimidation," remindful of how Bill Clinton gave us headaches doing gymnastics with the English language. You might say it takes a lawyer. "Veiled intimidation" or "implied intimidation" are terms that I could trot out in attempting a more rapier-like description of what happened.
Karen Himle is the "heavy" who seems to have initially put the wheels in motion for the film getting axed. The Twin Cities Daily Planet sprang into action. It could just as well have been the Daily Planet of "Superman" lore. Because it wielded its journalistic prowess from its website to give us this story.
Other journalists followed that lead like by buddy at Minnpost, David Brauer. Brauer of "Braublog" wrote that the U's explanation of the initial cancellation "morphed several times." Translation: "damage control."
Himle is a PR person and it's a family calling. Her husband John runs the PR and crisis management firm Himle-Horner, which represents the Agri-Growth Council.
"But he denies any involvement," Brauer wrote.
OK, when the word "denies" starts getting tossed around, we have to begin scratching below the surface. There's usually something messy there.
"Troubled Waters" is a documentary on Mississippi River pollution. Corporate interests with a maniacal focus on the bottom line probably feared this film would add eggbeater to troubled waters.
The by-products of industry and profit can be troubling. It's been true through time. But the makers of the film claim no confrontational stance with anybody. It's basically all about truth-telling. It's about society and ag interests knowing the consequences of ag activity and ensuring that those consequences aren't onerous. That's where the University of Minnesota can serve a huge helpful purpose.
I realize how profits can apply a blinder in the year 2010. And how these "private" partnerships with public institutions can seem so very practical while at the same time obstructing the noble purposes of the institutions (potentially anyway).
At its most grotesque extreme, which I don't really think we're flirting with yet, it could mirror a scene I can recall from the movie "Mississippi Burning." A G-man tells his supervisor (Gene Hackman) that "the motel won't rent to us." (The G-men were fighting racial oppression in the Jim Crow days.) The Hackman character, without missing a beat, said "buy the motel."
Again I could quote my friend Glen Helberg with whom I have breakfast most mornings at McDonald's. Glen says "money talks and bulls--t walks."
But heaven help us if it becomes the true sacred cow. Boomers grew up with the image of "Iron Eyes Cody" developing a tear at the sight of litter. We're supposed to be vigilant on this. We should be chomping at the bit to see "Troubled Waters." It should be enlightening and not an invitation to confrontation.
We learn that the film is now set for its original premiere date of October 3. A fellow named Dean Carlson wrote online that "what's ironic is that now ten times more people are interested and will want to see this film."
It's just like that Katy Perry music video for Sesame Street. The odds of me seeing this minus the controversy (over her dress, which I saw as no issue at all) would be like, well, "astronomical," as the late Willie Martin of Morris would put it.
But now? I see clips on the cable news shows all the time.
Karen Himle has done much to ensure that "Troubled Waters, a Mississippi River Story," will be seen by a great many Minnesotans, which I guess now is a good thing.
Now if she can just cancel the rest of the Gophers' football schedule.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org