ESPN aired a segment on College Gameday that focused on Heisman-favorite Tua Tagovailoa. The video began as a celebration of the Alabama quarterback’s cultural roots in Hawaii and his family, with images of the state’s beaches and the word “ohana” flashing across the screen. But the profile quickly soured as Tagovailoa described the ways his father, Galu Tagovailoa, would try to help him become a better athlete. The first thing he describes is how his father trained him to become a left-handed quarterback.
Tua: “I’m right-dominant. I write with my right, I eat with my right. My dad switched me to throw with my left hand.”
Galu: “Because I’m the only lefty in the family, I felt like ‘okay, I’m going to make my son a lefty.’”
Not a great start, but the puritan style of discipline didn’t stop there. After reporter Tom Rinaldi called Tua’s father the quarterback’s “most demanding audience,” the segment cut to a clip of Tua referencing the corporal punishment he’d face if he performed poorly on the field, or at school.
Both parents go on to somewhat defend the approach, citing their faith and discipline as two of the main pillars of the family’s household. Tua’s mother, Diane, referred to it as “the bible and the belt,” and his father chuckled in the middle of saying his part on the subject.
There were other tidbits that became troubling in context of the piece. Tua began working out at the beach at 3 years old, Galu had the final decision on where his son went to school and when Tua got an offer to go to Alabama, the whole family picked up and left Hawaii to move with him. Nick Saban even had a sound bite where he said his quarterback had an “almost uncommon” respect for his dad.
There isn’t a single moment where Rinaldi pushes back on any of the problematic issues that the Tagovailoa raised. Instead, the calming island-inspired music plays on in the background throughout it all, and it ends on a “positive” note with Tua saying he hopes he represents “a sense of not only humility, but, I guess, family.”
It’s not like the moment should have been lost on anyone either. Plenty of Twitter users noticed and Gameday host Desmond Howard even joked about the segment live on air.
Beating your kid for not performing up to high athletic standards is shitty parenting, and elevating that abuse as the centerpiece for a profile about the virtues of family is shitty reporting. The only thing this puff piece succeeded in was getting people to talk about Tua and his family—just not in the intended way.