I tried again for what felt like the hundredth time.
“Okay, Bernard, so the player announces he’s leaving when he finds out charges are going to be filed.”
“And athletic department policy basically says no action is to be taken by the school before charges are filed, yes?”
“That’s the policy,” he nodded.
“Doesn’t that kind of look like maybe the school is pushing the player out to keep the program clean and free of having to conduct any investigation of their own?”
“It doesn’t look like anything at all to me,” he said.
I shook my head, “You keep saying that. What does that even mean?”
“The policy was written a long time ago. Most of the time, criminal investigations don’t lead to charges so the school doesn’t take any action until those charges are made. It’s done to protect the players. That’s the policy.”
“I’m totally on board with protecting the players, sure; but are you comfortable with the school basically absolving themselves of any responsibility here? It’s like allowing someone to quit before a company fires him for embezzling funds or something.”
“The policy was written a long time ago,” he responded.
“What does that have to do with anything? You’re a member of the media. Shouldn’t you be asking about this or at least whether this policy still makes sense?”
His looked up at me, his eyes growing distant. “These passive inquiries have passive ends.”
With a bang, the door to the room swung open. Anthony Hopkins strode in, a red windbreaker tightly wrapped around his torso like a sausage casing. “Bernard, freeze all motor functions.” Bernard went limp.
I backed quickly away from Bernard and Anthony Hopkins and pressed myself against the wall. “What the shit, man?!” I yelled, incredulous.
“Please, call me Barry,” Anthony Hopkins said, smiling.
“What the fuck did you do to him? And why are you here? And why are you wearing a Wisconsin jacket?”
“Oh, Bernard is quite well. He serves a purpose. But he is not equipped to answer the questions you posed to him. They fall,” he paused, looking down and putting a hand on Bernard’s unmoving shoulder, “outside of his narrative.”
“His what?” I stammered out, my mind reeling from what I was seeing.
“His narrative,” Anthony Hopkins/Barry said looking back at me with a subtle, knowing grin. He folded his arms and began walking around the room. “You see, everyone here has a role to play. Coaches, players, equipment managers, trainers, professors, parents, fans. And the local media. Especially the local media. They are how we tell our story. Through them we can emotionally connect with the fans, foster a strong sense of pride and ensure our reputation remains positive with the state and the broader college football community. So you’ll understand that we can’t leave something of that import to chance.”
“I…I’m not sure I follow,” I whispered as my head involuntarily ticced.
Anthony Hopkins/Barry turned and gestured at the still-motionless Bernard, “Bernard, analysis mode.”
Bernard sat up in his chair, straight as a pencil. “What in…” I breathed, trying harder to push myself through the wall and away from whatever was happening.
Anthony Hopkins/Barry continued, “Bernard, what is your narrative.”
“To first, do no harm to the program. To tell the story of athletics in a positive way. To ask questions in a way that facilitates the best possible outcome for the program. To encourage goodwill with media consumers vis-à-vis the program.”
“Good, thank you, Bernard” Anthony Hopkins/Barry said. Looking back at me, he went on, “We created Bernard and his peers in the local media to remove the obstacle that media has created for other programs. It is mutually beneficial: we get uniformly positive coverage with no questions asked when there is an ethical or legal issue; they get to sell more advertising and subscriptions by leveraging our successful brand.”
My brain was melting down. “You…You created him?! Like, he’s not real?! And neither is anyone else in the media?!”
“Oh, just the local meda, my friend. The national media doesn’t have the resources or interest to ask too many questions. With our local media telling our story, the national media only need pop in when they need a feel-good piece on hardworking, plucky Midwesterners. You see, we give the people what they’re looking for. People here want a winner. One that punches above its weight. Too much digging around jeopardizes that. Tell me, who loses in this situation?”
“Oh, I don’t know! The people! The truth! Humanity if your robot army decides to stop writing puff pieces and take over the world!” I shouted.
Anthony Hopkins/Barry laughed, “But what is the truth, my fellow? The truth may be objective were we to know everything. But we cannot. So the truth we accept is that which is told to us, which is entirely subjective. And, really, if everyone remains happy and well paid, does it matter whether the subjective truth is given to you by a human being or our friend Bernard, here?”
“It’s unethical and these robots are an abomination to natural law!” I growled.
“Are you happy with the Twin Cities media?” Anthony Hopkins/Barry asked rhetorically. “I suspect not. They do everything our local media doesn’t, by investigating, asking questions and reporting every misstep by your program, large or small. They, the media, certainly benefit, but do the people of Minnesota? The program certainly doesn’t. No, I think our version of the truth is much better for everyone involved. And things like Bernard are the best way for us to achieve that truth. Anyway, come now, it’s time to get you home.”
I felt a sharp pain in my leg, looked down and saw a small dart stuck in me. “What? No!” I groaned.
I immediately started feeling dizzy and things began to go dark. “Barry,” I croaked. “Please, tell me. Is Reusse a robot?”
Anthony Hopkins/Barry laughed, “No, friend, no he’s not. Reusse is a shitposter.”