We Are All Sarah Phillips
By now you’ve no doubt heard the story of the meteoric rise and fall of sports blogger Sarah Phillips. If you are unfamiliar, Deadspin ran an exposé yesterday that is a riveting read. The piece questioned the authenticity of Phillips and her writing. It featured extensive quotes from two individuals, Ben and Matt, that felt they had been scammed by Phillips (and her supposed business partner Nilesh Prasad) in two very different ways. Phillips asked for money from one and, it seems, used that money to pay another to prove that she actually worked at ESPN.
Deadspin did a far better job than I ever could, but anecdotally, the idea that Sarah Phillips was a fabrication made sense. She, and her column, seemed to arrive out of nowhere one day. Someone had retweeted her in my timeline and, seeing a very attractive girl with a tweet about sports will always get me to click on her profile. It was at that point that I saw she had some crazy number of Twitter followers (upwards of 60,000). Although I rarely read ESPN these days and haven’t visited Page 2 (now called ESPN Playbook) since it featured the Daily Quickie, I found it odd that I had never heard of this person. I’m on the Internet all day – I’ve lost Twitter followers due to my excessive tweeting – and yet she was a mystery to me. However, there she was with an ESPN column and thousands of followers.
Apparently, I’m not the only one that found it odd. The Deadspin story features many people questioning her veracity. The story hit yesterday afternoon and everyone read it. There were too many strange coincidences between Prasad and Phillips for it to be an accident. By early evening last night, Sarah Phillips had been fired from ESPN. (Her response? A frowny emoticon. Well said.) As the night continued, more and more information began to pile up and, again, Deadspin collected it and put it all together, including the possible proof that the same person also runs the popular “Condescending Wonka” Twitter account. (They’ve since claimed that their account had been stolen.)
A few Deadspin commenters speculated that the original “Sarah Phillps” was probably a guy posing as a hot girl. It makes sense. There are millions of us that are fat, sloppy, lazy male sports fans that write whatever comes into our stupid brains, but a sexy girl that knows about sports betting? That’s a winner. And that’s where ESPN comes in.
ESPN approached Sarah Phillips based on her work at Covers.com. It seems that ESPN hired her without ever meeting her in person. Many have questioned the intelligence of ESPN hiring someone they never met face-to-face, but in today’s day and age, is it really necessary to meet people? I know it was over a decade ago, but I wonder if Bill Simmons met with ESPN executives before being hired by the Worldwide Leader. Anyone with a laptop and a WiFi signal has the same access to everyone else anywhere in the world. Why bring them in for an interview if you’re never going to see them again?
I’m sure the suits at ESPN never imagined that a person would pretend to be someone they’re not. They would never even consider such a thing. Go look up any parody account on Twitter and you’ll see people engaging with that account as if it’s the real person. People are stupid. They’ll believe anything you tell them. If you tell them you’re Sarah Phillips and you attach a picture of a hot girl, they’ll believe you. Why? Because they want to believe you. I’m sure the executives at ESPN had the following equation in their head:
Hot Girl + Popular Blog + Sports Betting = $$$$$$$$$$$$$
Who was the last unattractive woman ESPN hired? The days of Linda Cohn are dying. I’m not ragging on Linda Cohn, but she’s not the Michele Beadle/Erin Andrews/Charissa Thompson style of woman that is becoming ESPN’s bread and butter. I’m sure they wanted to add Sarah Phillips to that list.
I’m sure heads will roll at ESPN for bringing such negative publicity to the network. Much like a reporter that runs with a story without confirmation for fear of being scooped, ESPN probably wanted to snatch her up before someone else did. The Internet moves at light speed and old companies are dinosaurs, failing to keep up. Sometimes they do desperate things in their attempts to stay one step ahead.
Full disclosure: I didn’t meet Phil (the EIC of this site) until long after I started writing here. Granted, this is a slightly different operation from ESPN, but the concept is the same. Why meet someone in person if they’re going to write their columns from their local Starbucks and just upload it to your site? One could make the argument that ESPN is such a large entity that they should be more careful with whom they hire, but at what point is that line crossed? Does SB Nation meet every one of their contributors in person? Does Bleacher Report? Yes, ESPN should have done their due diligence, but if Sarah Phillips had been real, none of this would have become an issue.
Now, flip it – let’s say you’re a guy that starts writing things posing as a hot girl to get Twitter followers and page views. It’s all good until ESPN contacts you. What do you do? Do you come clean? Probably not. Had the “Sarah Phillips” account not looked like Sarah Phillips, it’s doubtful ESPN would be interested. There are thousands of sports sites out there, all fighting for the same readers, so you need a hook, especially if ESPN is going to grab you. Nilesh Prasad, or whomever was behind the account, was just another blogger like the rest of us. Sarah Phillips was not.
In those terms, we’re all Sarah Phillips. We’re all looking for an angle.
The Internet has provided a level of anonymity that wasn’t possible 20 years ago. It’s far easier to say something, both positive and negative, through a keyboard than it is to a person’s face. People talk shit to celebrities online but would never utter a word in their presence in real life. Likewise, guys get all sexy online and then clam up when in the presence of a real woman. It’s far easier to say something to a screen than it is to a person.
There are millions of us out here on Facebook and Twitter and our blogs dying to be heard. How do you separate yourself? You could run a funny parody account of a famous person. You could just tweet quotes of favorite movie or TV characters. You could name your site something funny and inflammatory to get more page views. Or you could create virtually every man’s dream – a woman that bets on sports and writes about it. However, most of us probably wouldn’t scam people for money with this newfound popularity and that’s where this story stops being relatable.
There’s another side to this story.
Not only are we all Sarah Phillips. We’re all also Ben.
Yes, we do this because we enjoy it but, let’s be honest, we do it for the attention. There’s a reason Facebook notifies you when someone likes your status and Twitter keeps track of how many people retweeted or favorited your tweet. If we didn’t want readership and attention, we wouldn’t write stuff on the Web and then promote it on our Twitter feeds. Instead, we would just write a journal on our computers like Doogie Howser and keep it to ourselves. But that’s not what we want. We bag on the Kardashians for being rich and famous for nothing, but it’s because most of us want what they have. We’re petty and jealous. We just see ourselves as being far more talented and far more important than Kim, Khloé, and Kourtney, so we should be the ones with the fame, money, and adulation. This is why it’s not tough to feel empathy for Ben, even if you think he was a bit naïve. If any one of us received an email informing us that ESPN or Deadspin or Grantland were interested in our talents, we would lose our shit. Much like the suits at ESPN wanted to believe that Sarah Phillips was real, Ben wanted to believe that ESPN really wanted him to join them.
This is how the world operates in 2012.
We’re all Sarah and we’re all Ben.
Pierzy writes a weekly NBA column during the season, as well as columns revolving around other sports, hip-hop, movies, TV shows, food, beer, marriage, (impending) fatherhood, and a variety of other topics. You can follow him on Twitter here.