In a 2004 questionnaire, the New York Times asked its readers what bothered them most about the publication’s reporting. The Times’ National Security consultant Eric Schmitt said, “The No. 1 complaint, far and away, was anonymous sources. It goes to the heart of our credibility.”
Amen to that.
In this era of new media where anyone with a Twitter account can “break” news about his favorite sports, teams, and players, the proliferation of stories with “insider information” from individuals known simply and cryptically as “sources” is no longer just mildly annoying; it’s downright obnoxious. The problem? Anyone, I repeat, anyone, can vomit something out onto the internet and claim that its validity has been legitimized by a “source” without ever having to reveal who (and how credible) that source is.
One of the more recent and abominable examples of “Sources Gone Wild” was the LeBron James free agency circus that took place this past summer. Sources were certain that he’d stay in Miami, until other sources said that James’s agent, Rich Paul, was set to meet with the Suns, Rockets, Mavericks, and Cavaliers. Some sources had LeBron pairing with Carmelo Anthony in Phoenix, but those sources were out-sourced by another source who had Carmelo meeting at the home of Mavs owner Mark Cuban, “proving” that the Mavs clearly had the upper hand with Melo (who ended up re-signing with the Knicks). Another source trumped them all by revealing that (*gasp*) the Lakers were getting involved, with those sources reporting that Mitch Kupchak was on his way to Cleveland to discuss bringing LeBron to L.A.
Of course, James ended up returning to Cleveland, where the ink on his new contract with the Cavs wasn’t even dry before sources had already begun to speculate that LeBron could opt out of the deal next summer, potentially subjecting us all to yet another insufferable source-a-thon.
Sources also conveniently chime in to offer the “real” reasons behind anything from injury statuses to blockbuster trades. Texans rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney sat out Monday’s game in Pittsburgh, but the decision appears to have had little to do with his physical health. Sources were quoted as early as last Friday saying that Clowney didn’t want to play and was acting like a “diva” with regard to his dealings with Houston trainers and other staff members.
Nevermind the fact (remember those?) that Texans’ head coach Bill O’Brien stated publicly that “on Monday, [Clowney will] tell us what he can do,” seemingly suggesting that he was comfortable with letting the first overall pick decide whether or not to play. Then there were reports on the field that Clowney was all but begging for the coaching staff to let him suit up and start.
On Clowney — MT @BrettKollmann I heard Clowney say with his own mouth that he wanted to go. Said it multiple times. Asked to play. #Texans
— Chris Spisak (@ChrisSpisak) October 21, 2014
If you’re wondering how Clowney can be portrayed as a “diva” when his coach seemed content to leave the decision up to him, or how sources somehow “knew” that Clowney didn’t want to play three days before the game despite his saying aloud on game day that he did – well, you’re not the only one.
ESPN has even begun poking fun at themselves for the absurdity of it all. During last night’s Monday Night Football broadcast, they debuted a commercial where NFL insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter receive a series of text messages about various happenings around the league. When Mortensen asks where a particular text came from, Schefter shows him his phone, which has a series of contacts listed simply as “Anonymous Source #31, Anonymous Source #32,” and so on.
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that if there wasn’t an audience for this type of “As the Sports World Turns” journalism, it wouldn’t exist. But somewhere along the way, getting the story first became more glamorous than getting it right, opening the door for anyone and everyone to offer up their “sources” for social media approval, and leaving those who prefer to leave the guesswork up to the weathermen out in the cold.
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