Nothing off-limits for sports gossip Web sites - East Valley Tribune: News

Nothing off-limits for sports gossip Web sites

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Posted: Saturday, July 26, 2008 11:10 pm | Updated: 9:14 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The summer after his senior year in high school, Derek Glasser and a friend took a trip to Spain.

They traveled to Barcelona and Ibiza, and when Glasser returned home, he downloaded some of the photos he had taken onto his Facebook page.

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One is of Glasser and his buddy, Mick, hanging out at the beach. Another shows them having lunch together. In a third, they’re at a nightclub.

Glasser, Arizona State’s junior point guard, forgot about the photos until he started receiving text messages from friends a few weeks later telling him that someone had downloaded the pictures from his Facebook page and sent them to a Web site called thedirty.com.

Included with the photos was an e-mail that questioned Glasser’s sexual preference.

The site’s creator, who goes by the pseudonym Nik Richie, wrote, “I honestly think they make a great couple. ... They look good together.”

At first, Glasser thought the speculation was funny. He even told his dad, Michael, to check out the site.

But then, someone pretending to be Glasser went onto the Internet and said he wanted to have sex with gay men.

Glasser started receiving pornographic text messages. A couple of men showed up unannounced at his Tempe apartment.

Eventually, Glasser changed his phone number and took all the photos off his Facebook page.

“I had some stalkers,” Glasser said. “It got a little weird. I mean, I’m not gay, and everybody who knows me knows I’m not.”

The truth is irrelevant.

The gossip page has gone digital, and athletes are fair game.

• • •

The private lives of athletes used to be off-limits, as long as their behavior didn’t break the law or influence their performance on the field.

But the advent of cell phone cameras and Web sites like deadspin.com, the

biglead.com and Scottsdale-based thedirty.com have changed the landscape.

Last April, thedirty.com published photos of Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart partying with girls in a hot tub and holding a beer bong while a woman drank from it. Recently, the Web site ran an item that accused a local professional athlete of adultery.

National sites relish in peeling back the layers of an athlete’s private life, as well.

Nothing, it seems, is off-limits.

“We’re just glad Charles (Barkley) wasn’t in his heyday in this day and age,” Suns spokesperson Julie Fie said.

Gossip long has been a media staple. New York newspaper columnist Walter Winchell was dishing dirt about celebrities in the 1920s. Paparazzi have been stalking movie and TV stars for decades.

But the focus on athletes is relatively new. It’s a byproduct of how big sports have become in this country and a function of the advancements in technology.

Ten years ago, Suns guard Steve Nash could have a few drinks at a nightclub and no one would care. Today, anyone with a cell phone camera can plaster pictures of Nash all over the Internet.

“Make no mistake, professional athletes are a target,” Cardinals broadcaster and former special-teams standout Ron Wolfley said.

Some players and coaches accept the intrusion even as they lament the loss of privacy.

“Anytime you have success, there comes with it a certain price to pay,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Now, I think they have taken it to a whole new level as far as looking for the negative aspects of things. They don’t follow people around doing charity work.

“But I recognize the fact there are a lot of people who are interested in what we do and what our athletes do and that’s the reason it’s such a popular sport. It kind of comes with the territory.”

Richie doesn’t understand why anyone would object to his Web site. He said thedirty.com isn’t to be taken seriously.

“It’s about gossip and satire,” he said. “Read the disclaimer on the site. Nothing we say is 100 percent legitimate. We’re just having fun.”

Diamondbacks left fielder Conor Jackson disputes Richie’s contention that no harm is being done. His belief: Once an accusation is made, whether true or not, an athlete’s reputation is damaged.

“When your name is out there, it’s hard to retract from people’s minds,” Jackson said. “It’s definitely a breach of privacy.”

AJ Daulerio, editor of Deadspin, calls his site an outlet for the fan’s voice. Like Richie, he admits that what he publishes isn’t always true.

“There is a journalism aspect to all of this, but at the same time, we enjoy the games and the players and either root for them or slam them,” Daulerio said. “We do make calls and try to get things right as much as humanly possible, but there is a little more wiggle room.”

That wiggle room is what bothers many athletes. Photos often are taken out of context, as was the case with Glasser’s pictures. Reader comments are solicited and rarely, if ever, checked for accuracy. Often, those comments are profane and potentially slanderous.

Last year, thedirty.com published a picture of a local pro athlete with a blonde hanging off each arm and, in his accompanying comment, Richie said that the athlete liked underage women.

“You can’t take a moment in time and all of a sudden start drawing all these conclusions,” Wolfley said. “That’s not fair, but that’s what people do.”

Professional sports teams now warn athletes about their growing celebrity and the changes in technology.

Cardinals spokesman Mark Dalton said that the team tells its players, “Know that things you do in seemingly private moments are often fair game for public consumption.”

Glasser won’t be seen in public with a drink in his hand. Jackson goes out at night, but he refuses to pose for pictures and tries to be cognizant of cell phones pointed in his direction.

“You just have to be careful,” Jackson said. “If you’ve got to be a jerk, you’ve got to be a jerk. Reputation is everything. Once something gets out, you’re guilty until proven innocent.”

Athletes aren’t out of the public eye even in the privacy of their home. The pictures of Leinart, for example, were taken in his backyard.

“You have to be careful with the type of people you let in your house,” Cardinals defensive end Bertrand Berry said. “You have to make sure everybody who’s there has best intentions for you and are there for the right reasons.”

Wolfley has a more practical solution.

“You need to put a metal detector at the front door with a big guy who’s going to frisk everybody for cell phones,” he said.

Sites like Deadspin and thedirty.com aren’t going away. They’re riding a pop culture wave that has seen the celebrity-oriented Us Weekly magazine experience a 10 percent circulation gain from 2006 to 2007, while more serious publications like Time and Newsweek lost readers.

Perhaps, then, the best thing an athlete can do is share Berry’s philosophical view of the new media.

“My mom always taught me,” Berry said, “that if they could talk bad about Jesus, they’re going to talk bad about you, too.”

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