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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Column: Open letter to The Gator Grind: Your site can be game-changing

To the 36 University of Florida student-athletes currently grinding,

Before we get started, I’ll admit I didn’t realize until I was already writing this column that I should be correctly addressing you almost as colleagues and not just people I regularly write about.

So, here it goes. Welcome to sports journalism, Greg Larson, Elizabeth Beisel and Frankie Hammond.

You see, as I scanned Twitter yesterday morning for the umpteenth time looking for a fresh controversy in college athletics or an interesting angle to opine about, I came across a well-produced YouTube promo and link to your newly unveiled blog: The Gator Grind.

Immediately, I thought, “Aha! I found it.”

Who do these 36 Florida athletes think they are? They’ve started their own sports site that gives notable Gators like Patric Young and Matt Patchan a chance to write about their team and talk about what the daily life of a Division-I basketball or football player is like.

“But that’s what I’m trying to do every day at this paper,” I continued to ramble. “These guys might as well be stealing the beer money right out of my wallet and the junk food off my rarely used kitchen table.”

Your YouTube video was also misleading. At nearly two minutes long, the clip correctly showed Young dunking a basketball and Michelle Moultrie diving for a fly softball, but I know for a fact that Trey Burton does not complete passes.

Eventually, though, I got over my insecure whining.

After taking a moment to catch my breath and think about what this site could actually mean for UF sports coverage, I realized that an interesting and progressive idea was brewing over at The Gator Grind.

You might be a new step in sports journalism.

Currently there are four sources of information interested readers can visit to learn about Gators sports at any time: the fan-run blogs, pay sites, traditional print media like the Gainesville Sun and the Alligator and, of course, the University Athletic Association’s GatorZone.com.

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All of these outlets offer ranging perspectives but some can definitely harbor biased coverage.

While The Gator Grind will definitely be written in a first-person bias, it has the potential to expand the impact we’re seeing each day with Florida athletes’ Twitter profiles — except now they won’t be limited to 140 characters.

It’s an exciting prospective to think these players can add to the spectrum of UF sports coverage through their own unfiltered analysis. Some are certainly qualified. Several of the athletes who have leadership or writing positions at the site are also working on degrees from the College of Journalism and Communications.

The only hesitation I have as an interested and concerned reader, however, is the question of oversight.

Is this site truly your own or will its stories be tempered and tamed by the UAA’s administration and its public relations staff?

If the latter is true, it’s a shame. The Gator Grind has a chance to not only make a fan out of me, but potentially thousands of readers. It can be much more than a cute project with brief blog posts.

I’d love to read an athlete’s fleshed out thoughts and reactions to individual games, coaching changes and NCAA rules and issues. It would also be great to see them responding to any inaccuracies in media coverage of their teams.

So here’s me saying good luck to everyone involved at The Gator Grind. I can’t wait to read about Florida sports through your perspective.

Contact John Boothe at jboothe@alligator.org.

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