Like a lot of you, I’ve been watching the Steve Phillips business from afar. Between the almost complete lack of any real baseball angle whatsoever, and the fact that, unlike a lot of scandalous stories, this one has an innocent wife and children being dragged through it all, I really don’t see the percentage in writing about it. I’ll gawk like the rest of you, but it doesn’t exactly scream out for coverage.
Of greater interest to me is one of the things that has spun out of the Phillips story, and that’s Deadspin’s crazy-even-for-Deadspin assault on ESPN yesterday. If you missed it, Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio, apparently pissed that he missed out on the Steve Phillips scoop due to ESPN stonewalling him when he sought comment on the affair last month, decided to let loose with multiple rumors he’s been sitting on regarding the sexploits of ESPN employees. He reported on a sexual harassment complaint against radio guy Eric Kuselias, as well as his divorce. He went after Katie Lacey, ESPN’s Executive Vice President for marketing, accusing her of sleeping her way to the top. In his last post he went on about the overall culture of ESPN, about how everyone there allegedly has sex with everyone else and how, somehow, the town of Bristol, Connecticut is to blame. These descriptions do not do it justice. He really pulled no punches.
I read these with my mouth agape, not because of the allegations contained in them, but because of Daulerio’s decision to actually write about them, and Nick Denton’s presumed approval of them to begin with. Yes, the Gawker empire is well known for trafficking in scandal, but this seems above and beyond their usual brand of muck. As AOL’s Clay Travis — lawyer, and, it just so happens, former Deadspin assistant editor — notes, this may not amount to a meritorious defamation suit by ESPN, but it’s certainly closer to the line than Deadspin normally treads. I actually think ESPN would ultimately lose any lawsuit here simply because defamation is so hard to win, but I could see Disney and ESPN making the decision that, after all of the hell Deadspin has caused them, this is a decent enough place to draw the line, file the suit, and cause Nick Denton to have to pay a bunch of money in legal fees. Whether any suit is brought would likely hinge on the cooperation of either Kuselias or Lacey, whose lives would become open books in such a suit, but if one of them were pissed off enough and/or close enough to retirement to say sure, go ahead, it would be game-on.
Maybe there are long odds against that happening, but are they so long that it was worth Daulerio taking such a risk? Moreover, is this really where the original promise of Deadspin and the sports blogosphere in general was meant to lead us? I’m not Buzz Bissinger when it comes to these matters, but as I sit here today and reflect on all of this, I am far from inspired.