Let's get this out of the way first... Johnny Football can only blame himself for his decisions. This post isn't really about him, The U or Manti. It's about what sports journalism has become.
On August 16th, 2011, Yahoo.com released an investigative expose on Miami’s football program. The story cited a booster that was able to provide receipts, dates, pictures, and various other pieces of evidence that proved his story. It was thorough and well-written and damning to the program.
On January 16th, 2013, Deadspin.com released their Manti Te'o's Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax story that now has more than 4 million views.
I remember seeing the scrolling bar on the bottom of ESPN that credited the websites for breaking the story. I pictured the ESPN brass gritting their teeth as they gave free publicity to sports websites that had no connection to the World Wide Leader in Sports. I thought about the flame sprays that ESPN reporters must have received in Bristol as they were asked how they were duped about the whole Te’o fiasco and why a website that notoriously embarrasses ESPN was able to break the story.
More importantly, they were asking what we need to do at the Mothership to ensure this never happens again...
So, we fast-forward to August 6th. ESPN breaks the story that Johnny was paid $7,500 for signing memorabilia. Their source is "An East Coast autograph broker...." The story continued... "The broker played two cell phone videos for ESPN showing Manziel signing white Texas A&M helmets and footballs laid out on a bed in a hotel room. The video does not show Manziel accepting any money. The broker said the room was at The Omni in New Haven, Conn., during the Camp event. He said the signing took place at three different times on Jan. 11-12, totaling about an hour. The broker said the videos, approximately nine minutes in length in total, were initially shot only to be used as proof with authenticating company PSA/DNA."
Let's all take a step back and look at the big picture... The largest, most profitable sports news organization in the world released a damning story based on an unnamed source and cell phone video. No investigation. Just a single source, with a cell phone video.
I'm sure autograph brokers are all class-acts and can be trusted completely. I am confident this particular one had no motive when he called up Joe Shad to make the report.
It all seems too sketch for my taste, personally. It seems that ESPN, still reeling from the Miami & Te'o stories, jumped to releasing this as soon as possible with fear that another outlet would get to it first. It's amateur. It's embarrassing.
Whether or not he did it is besides the point. It's merely the fact that ESPN took one source, and released a story as quickly as they could. It seems they were more concerned with timing than accuracy. So, now instead of an in-depth investigative report by a reputable news outlet. ESPN just throws out a story and lets the NCAA, SEC, and College Station figure it out.
So, is Joe Shad sweating bullets now? What does it mean if the NCAA clears Johnny’s name?
Why didn’t ESPN do some actual WORK, instead of regurgitating what a source told them.
You won’t hear this side of the story on Finebaum, because of affiliation now. However, if this was one year ago I believe this would be a much-discussed point on WJOX.
ESPN should take responsibility for their reporting. If you are going to indict a player or school, at least give the story the courtesy of some time and effort into verifying and validating facts.
ESPN should be embarrassed, and there’s no Tom Rinaldi 3-minute expose, 30 for 30 film, or OTL that can save them from that.