Woo Pigs: Flirty Hogs Have a TV Teammate

Woo Pigs: Flirty Hogs Have a TV Teammate
D.J. Williams (File)

D.J. Williams, the former star tight end for the Arkansas Razorbacks now at KARK-TV in Little Rock, found himself on opposing teams as the football season wound down, torn between his “Razorback family” and Channel 4’s news audience.

In that particular contest, the Razorbacks won.

Williams, co-anchor of “KARK 4 Today” and a fixture in the Little Rock NBC affiliate’s “Pig Trail Nation” coverage, saw two UA football players flirting and exchanging data with women on the Mississippi State spirit squad in warmups before the Hogs’ 52-6 loss to the Bulldogs two weeks ago in Starkville. It was a humbling loss, and evidence of distractions beforehand didn’t sit well.

In a news conference, Williams asked head coach Chad Morris about the episode, but Williams apparently had no intention of fully reporting what he had seen — at least not to his KARK audience.

He favored taking the names of those involved to the coach privately later so that the matter might be handled discreetly. Williams wouldn’t name the players publicly. He also told his boss, KARK News Director Austin Kellerman, that he wouldn’t hand over cellphone pictures he’d taken of the pregame flirtation.

The players’ names emerged, of course, when starting defensive backs Kamren Curl and Ryan Pulley were suspended from the Hogs’ final game against Missouri. That game, another pummeling, ended one of the Razorbacks’ worst seasons ever, a 2-10 debacle.

“Those players’ actions didn’t look bad; they were horrible,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Wally Hall opined about the flirting. But to many news pros and Hog fans, Williams’ peculiar journalistic behavior was worse.

“D.J. was trying to have it both ways,” one said. “He brought up the subject at a press conference, but then didn’t report what he knew. He even complained that ‘media’ had revealed the players’ names to the detriment of the football program. But D.J. is the media.”

Kellerman defended Williams in a blog post Nov. 20, saying the former Hog had hoped “the situation could be worked out internally and not be made public.” Kellerman told Williams to turn over his photos to KARK, but was rebuffed.

“As his boss, I asked him to hand them over,” Kellerman wrote. “And you know what, he won’t.”

Williams feared the photos would “hang over the players for the rest of their careers,” Kellerman said. For the purposes of this article, Williams indicated to Kellerman that he had spoken his piece on the matter and moved on.

It’s not a journalist’s job to protect a sports team’s interests, though star athletes-turned-broadcasters have long traded on their insider status, all the way back to the days of Dizzy Dean, the Hall of Fame pitcher from Lucas (Logan County) who started calling games for his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, in 1941.

D.J. Williams’ dilemma spurred a comment on Kellerman’s blog post: “If he is a journalist, he should operate with the best interest of the story in mind, not the best interest of the university. This notion is antithetical to journalism. If this is a legitimate story, it should have been handled as just that … and that means presenting the facts you have.”

So I pressed Kellerman, who generally shows a keen sense of journalistic ethics, about departing from norms requiring some distance between reporters and the subjects they cover, in order to avoid conflicts of interest. What about Williams’ duty to KARK’s viewers? Shouldn’t his first obligation be to them?

“When D.J. came in, he wasn’t a traditionally trained journalist who knew the rules of the road, so to speak,” Kellerman told Arkansas Business. (Williams has a mass communications degree from UA but not a journalism diploma.) “When we talked about a full-time job, he brought up his relationship with the Razorback football program and how there were certain aspects he didn’t want to put in jeopardy coming into our world.”

Kellerman said that from the beginning, Williams “wasn’t signing up to do what everyone else did. … We accepted that because D.J. brings something special to the table.”

Williams is appealing and accomplished, chosen as one of Arkansas Business’ 20 in Their 20s in 2016 and as a cover subject in our sister publication Arkansas Next. But aren’t his special qualities diminished by refusing to report on topics negative to the Razorbacks?

“I think if D.J. was the only person we had covering the games, it would be more of a concern,” Kellerman said. “We usually have 4-5 people there.”