A Deadspin reader described “Is An ESPN Columnist Scamming People On The Internet?” as thus: “Exposing some broad and her buddies for being scam artists on the internet and not getting caught immediately is not surprising (or that interesting). This ain’t Woodward and Bernstein and ESPN isn’t the Washington Post. Peace.”
I disagree. This unraveling Sarah Phillips story is one of the best things I’ve read on Deadspin in a while (maybe ever?). Sure, uncovering the possible grifter nature of an ESPN columnist who was apparently in cahoots with a partner to swindle teenage sports meme writers and gambling enthusiasts isn’t exactly the highbrow investigative story that Pulitzers are made of. However, the story raises a lot of questions for me.
I don’t particularly care for gambling; I like sport for sport’s sake. I understand that gambling and sports have an intertwined culture and I get the necessity for ESPN to have columnists that report/write on this. Was Phillips writing anything particularly heavy-hitting, any real “Woodward and Bernstein” stuff? No. Phillips and her cohort Nilesh Prasad misrepresented and lied about their ties to ESPN to con money out of individuals is troubling to me, sure. But what troubles me more is that as her story unravels it becomes less and less clear whether she possessed the sports knowledge and gambling expertise to write those columns herself. Did she write them? Was Prasad the “brains” and Phillips the “face” that allowed them the ability to carry this out? After all, this kind of writing appeals to a certain segment of sports fans, and I can assure you, it isn’t me:
“Reflecting on my day, I have a greater understanding that sports betting doesn’t change from a man to a woman. It’s a procedural understanding of numbers, statistical trends, and the ability to utilize these factors in order to determine the potential outcome of a match.
Sure, after a long day of sports betting, I enjoy getting a pedicure and massage, instead of slamming back shots and watching porn. But in the end, we all cheer when we win, pout when we lose and, apparently, use a lot of lotion in between.”
Everyone seems interested in the grifter element, or the sadder storyline of “How could a reputable media conglomerate let such a person represent their brand?” However, all I can really think about are her readers. Did her column have fans? Do they feel lied to? Again, this isn’t the New York Times and she isn’t Jayson Blair (although her deception is no less disappointing to me as a person who abides journalism ethics). But her pathetic attempts to apologize away her culpability and the Deadspin commenterati’s take on whether or not she was a victim of Prasad’s scheming leads me to ask this question: what do we expect of online writers and journalists? Are we willing to accept less from sports writers and even less from female sports writers?
She tweeted, “I never wanted to be in sports media.” I write about sports from time to time. Do I want to be a part of sports media? I don’t know. However, I know that by writing and publishing pieces in a medium where virtually anyone can read them, I accept that I could be. Female writers are trying to break into writing about sports, music and other topics that are traditionally and predominantly covered by males every day, so her words are hollow to me. Is she a victim of a controlling man or is she a sports-savvy woman who made exceptionally poor choices? It’s for Phillips to control her own narrative now, but I feel as if her fuck-up has blemished the hard work that so many female writers do every day. Why do I say that? Because I spent the previous 629 words discussing her and not a single word about the amazing pieces about sports and music I read by amazing women, some of whom I am proud to call my contemporaries.
ESPN will no doubt revisit its hiring policies because of this and move on, but for the women who work so hard to break into these roles, the struggle will continue.
I really hope it was worth it, Sarah Phillips, or whoever you are.
This is really smart and important writing about one of the problems sports writing faces — caused by, it should be noted, far too many white dudes looking for things that satisfy but don’t challenge them, like pretty faces writing about spreads (cf. Clay Travis’ cynical, embittered dispatch from the hinterlands that gets as many things wrong as it gets right) — but specifically about how women won’t be given the benefit of the doubt because of one sad hoax. Read it.
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