The Shame of Disreputable Sports Reporting
Creepy people are everywhere in this world, and, unfortunately, too many of them gravitate to disreputable sports web sites. They face no repercussions from unscrupulous, traffic-hungry bosses, so they openly lie about anything and everything, showing no remorse when they’re caught. One such freak show, A.J. Daulerio, dared me to sue his site years ago because he said his company had more money than I did, which probably wasn’t true, considering I rarely saw advertising on the site before the guy allegedly was fired for ax-murdering eight people and eating their dead flesh (both being the kind of lies he would tell, though I wouldn’t put any of it past him).
I usually ignore the site, Deadspin, just as I ignore unflushed toilets and non-deodorized armpits. But every so often, these creeps must be reminded that they’re epic failures who make no money and are doomed to a future of living with their parents.
Thursday, the site openly lied about Magic Johnson. Either listening to a bad source or completely making it up, the site said he was leaving ESPN’s “NBA Countdown” program because he wasn’t fond of another panelist, Bill Simmons, and felt Simmons was accruing too much power in the show’s creative process. In fact, Johnson and Simmons are good friends, and Johnson is leaving the gig because he’s just a little busy these days as part-owner and frontman of the potential World Series champion Dodgers, a prominent southern California businessman, a continuing advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness and the one person who galvanizes a sprawling, socially complicated region in which people seem to come from everywhere but Los Angeles itself.
“I love ESPN. Unfortunately, due to the nature of my schedule and other commitments, I don’t feel confident that I can continue to devote the time needed to thrive in my role,” Johnson said in a statement.
The guy doesn’t have time to do the show. Period. Next panelist.
That meant Johnson’s agent and fellow Dodgers executive, Lon Rosen, had to waste part of his day in stench-removal mode. “Magic and Bill Simmons got to be very close and continue to be close,” Rosen told USA Today. “Bill Simmons and Earvin Johnson are friends. Earvin’s close to Bill. We called Bill before the (ESPN) release went out. Bill has been to parties at Earvin’s house. He’s been to Dodgers game with Bill. He likes Bill a lot.”
Wrote Simmons in an e-mail to USA Today: “I loved getting to know Magic these past 12 months and was saddened to hear about his decision. We genuinely liked working with one another. Last night Lon Rosen and I were already talking about other possible projects that Magic and I could do together down the road. He’s my friend. And a GREAT guy.”
As for Michael Wilbon, who is leaving the show, ever see how hard he works and how much he travels? He does “Pardon the Interruption” five times a week. He writes a column for ESPN.com. He has a family. If he happens to have a problem with Simmons for the same reason a lot of us have a problem with Simmons — he’s a stream-of-consciousness fan/blogger who masturbates to his own prose and wouldn’t know how to break a story if Deep Throat typed it for him — let me also say I’ve never met anyone in a cannibalistic profession who doesn’t like Wilbon.
When crappy web sites constantly screw up stories about my craft, I’m left to wonder how often they screw up stories about sports. Another hot media story involved ESPN’s Rick Reilly, who was accused by his father-in-law — are you sitting down? — of misquoting him in a recent column about the Washington Redskins and whether the team should change its nickname out of respect to Native Americans. Reilly’s father-in-law, Bob Burns, is a member of the Blackfoot Nation tribe and was quoted in Reilly’s piece as saying: “… the whole issue is so silly to me. The name just doesn’t bother me much. It’s an issue that shouldn’t be an issue, not with all the problems we’ve got in this country.”
Burns said he asked Reilly to correct the quote on an ESPN platform. When that didn’t happen, the father-in-law responded with an essay on the Indian Country Today Media Network website. Wrote Burns:
“When Rick’s article came out, it upset me to be portrayed as an `Uncle Tom’ in support of this racial slur.
“What I actually said is that `it’s silly in this day and age that this should even be a battle — if the name offends someone, change it.’ He failed to include my comments that the term `redskins’ demeans Indians, and historically [sic] is insulting and offensive, and that I firmly believe the Washington Redskins should change their name.
“Let me be clear: The racial slur `redskins’ is not okay with me. It’s never going to be okay with me. It’s inappropriate, damaging and racist. In the memory of our Blackfeet relatives, it’s time to change the name. That would honor us.”
I know Rick Reilly. He has written probably 5,000 columns and feature stories in a brilliant career, and not once have I heard anyone else accuse him of a misquote — this in a sports world where people routinely cry misquote when they regret something they’ve said. I’m not sure what happened in the disconnect with his father-in-law — might Burns have been criticized by fellow Native Americans after his original quotes and changed his stance? — but I believe Reilly when he says he quoted the man correctly. On Twitter, Reilly wrote: “While I stand by the reporting in my Sept. 18 column about the Washington Redskins nickname controversy, and felt I accurately quoted my father-in-law in the piece, clearly he feels differently. This is an incredibly sensitive issue, and Bob felt he had more to say on the subject after that column was posted on ESPN.com. We’ve spoken and cleared this up. I admire Bob and respect his opinions, and he’s welcome to express them. Bob and I are good and I’m looking forward to my next steak with him.”
Of course, the crappy web sites howled, demanding that Reilly be fired. They didn’t investigate. They didn’t call Reilly to see if something else was underlying. No, they just assumed the worst and took glee in his misfortune. It’s the equivalent of a Class A slap-hitter ridiculing Miguel Cabrera. The guy who started Deadspin, a weasel named Will Leitch, once wrote he was “80 percent” certain that Albert Pujols had used steroids. Had Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein told Ben Bradlee, their editor at the Washington Post, that they were 80 percent certain about Watergate, Bradlee would have thrown them into the Potomac River, and Richard Nixon would have remained in office. Today, Leitch cripples a site, Sports On Earth, that fortunately has enough quality writers to overcome his trash, which has included a column on why Reilly is overpaid. I don’t read the guy, but yesterday, I looked out of curiosity. He wrote something embarrassingly bad titled, “In Honor of Fat Ballplayers.”
Which is why I titled this, “The Shame of Disreputable Sports Reporting.”