Libel

Libel, n –a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation

 

We live in a world where it’s all too apparent that lots of people do bad things. It’s sad, but never more so than when the perpetrator is a friend or someone we look up to. It’s hard to put a finger on when, exactly, our world collectively came of age together, but we have. It’s probably not one individual incident, anyway. All the child kidnappings, sexual assaults, and murders have forever changed how our generation acts and perceives things. It’s one of the few universal things in our country, regardless of race or creed. Gone is the age of innocence where doors were unlocked and a stranger was simply a friend you hadn’t met yet. Absent is the comforting knowledge that our children will be okay if we can’t see them. Gone too, is benefit of the doubt. 

 

I don’t know if there is a #deztape. Like The Weather Channel used to do local forecasts on the 8s of the hour, so often does my opinion of the veracity of the claims cycle. 

 

There might be a tape. First of all, in the world we live in, there’s barely privacy anymore. It’s not out of the question that there is a video of someone doing something deplorable in existence. You need not get out a mat to jump to the conclusion that a person being recorded taking deplorable action would catch a lot of touchdowns for America’s Team. Sadly, in this world, that’s easy to swallow. Dez Bryant has lived a life most can only glimpse in their worst nightmares, so it’s likely that he made  some bad decisions to go along with those unthinkable circumstances. It doesn’t excuse anything, but we can see how it would happen. 

 

If there is a recording of Dez doing something bad, I think we can all understand that it’s not surprising for it to come to light. Sports fans don’t know everything about their favorite players’ personal lives, but thanks to social media, we have a larger window into the “real” them than ever before. So, it’s not surprising that a recording that exists would be published in some way for the world to see. And, I would argue, that it’s better when a light is shed on these actions. The motives for the recording surfacing are legion–extortion, negotiating ploy, victim advocacy, or just because someone can. When you grow up as Bryant did, you have a lot of people around you that might not always have your back if they’re not receiving a paycheck from you. We don’t know. 

 

All of that is easy to wrap my head around. He’s one of my all time favorite Cowboys, but that doesn’t mean anything in this context. What I have a hard time wrapping my head around is how this is playing out. 

 

An abbreviated timeline. 

 

Mike Florio got the ball rolling with his mention of a mythical tape. When I heard this, I was comforted because I generally take the exact opposite if what he says as truth. 

 

The Terez Owens website purported Tuesday that the video was real and was being shopped to media outlets to facilitate a bidding process for the rights to air the tape. This would be accomplished, and the video published, by the end of Wednesday. We’re coming up on the last few hours for that to be true. Once it does, I have a hard time placing even a little trust in that site’s comments. I know nothing about the site, but if I haven’t heard of them by now, I have a hard time understanding how they’d have a scoop.

 

This morning, on ESPN Chicago, Adam Schefter acknowledged that he had known about the tape since September, and was also familiar with the subject matter. Schefter was mum on any further details. Well, crap. Schefter is money on rumors. 

 

It seems like the event was a long time ago, which should preclude him from being subject to the new CBA domestic violence sanctions. 

 

But here are the things that make me wonder. 

 

No one has seen the tape. All reports are second hand, full of “someone familiar with the tape”. 

 

No information has surfaced about the screenshots either. 

 

It’s hard to believe that no hint about what it is has surfaced. The closest is that it’s being compare to the Ray Rice video–but no comparison that I’ve seen makes clear whether the comparison is due to the subject or the subject matter. I understand people wanting to keep it quiet until their publication has the rights, but more often than not, someone talks. 

 

Adam Schefter has been working on this since September, and hasn’t even seen the video?

 

Deadspin hasn’t been approached with the video. If I had any type of damaging video about a sports figure, Deadspin is my first call. So, the leader in candid athlete video not aware of the video is odd. Even if just as a bargaining chip against TMZ, I don’t understand that not happening. 

 

The Cowboys have said that they don’t know anything about the video. I take back my previous point, the athlete’s team is my first call. If it was damaging, I like the idea of Jerry Jones’s bargaining prices over a website’s. 

 

We likely won’t know if there’s a video until it comes out. Unfortunately for Dez, it’s almost impossible to prove a negative. He can’t prove that there isn’t a tape. He can only deny it, and I think that his PR team has advised him to not comment–a sound strategy for either case. 

 

What’s worrisome is the rush to judgment. We don’t even know what we’re judging him for. Someone says they recorded him doing something bad. The public is taking these unnamed persons at their word, for no apparent reason. The Cowboys, and NFL Network, implied that there had been off the field incidents that gave the team pause regarding a huge contract. There hasn’t been much fire to go with that smoke, either. That seems to be the entire basis of this current acceptance of unseen wrongdoing by the public. 

 

Because of previous unnamed incidents to go along with incidents that only tangentially apply to Bryant as a person, we should believe another unnamed and unproven report?

 

Especially when the reporting is…lacking. I haven’t seen many reporters reference an investigative piece before it was finished. I’m not a journalist, but that doesn’t seem responsible. 

 

And what if in six months no video has surfaced? Because of these (possibly) irresponsible reports, Bryant’s name and image has been sullied. I’m not a lawyer, but Schefter and Florio could have opened ESPN and NBC Sports to lawsuits. 

 

If the Cowboys don’t give him the big money contract that he wants, suing two TV networks can be great supplemental income.  

UPDATE (2/26/15 8:45am)

Mike Florio was on 105.3 The Fan this morning to talk about the video. I didn’t hear the entire interview, but heard the last half or so. The part I heard was full of “if”s and “possible”s when regarding the video’s existence, and whether Dez Bryant actually played a part in the incident. Again, I’m not a journalist (and don’t even play one on TV), but it’s interesting to see reporters backtrack once the heat of the spotlight is on them.

Subsequently, I read the latest Pro Football Talk entry with some actual details about the incident. It happened at Wal-Mart in Lancaster. Police were called when people saw an African American female having an argument and being dragged from her Mercedes to another car.

I read the original police report which was obtained via a Texas Freedom of Information Act request by Ian Rappaport. It says that an officer was called to the scene at Wal-Mart where people reported a disturbance. The officer talked to the onsite security guard, and he reported that he’d been told that a female had been dragged from her Mercedes to another car by an African American male. The officer went out to the car, and found it unoccupied with the driver’s door open. While investigating the vehicle, a black Escalade arrived at the scene with two men. These men said that they had been called by the woman in question to pick up her car from the Wal-Mart parking lot. While officers talked to these men, a white Bentley arrived, with Dez Bryant and the woman in question. She told police that she was in the parking lot with Alex Pinson, had an argument with him, and got in a vehicle with him and left. Then, called the two men to pick up the Mercedes that she had left. She told officers that she had not been assaulted or injured in any way, that it was simply an argument. She was dropped off at a friend’s house, and asked Bryant to pick her up. She talked with one of the men already on the scene, and they advised her to return. Officers spoke with Bryant who said that the woman had asked him to pick her up, and he came with her to Wal-Mart for support. After talking with each party, officers decided that no assault or offense had taken place. Each member was questioned/interviewed separately, so officers could confirm that the stories corroborated.

I know that victims frequently take the side of their attacker and tell law enforcement that nothing happened. But I also know that officers are trained to have an idea about when that’s happening, and have been known to include subtle clues in their reports about their suspicions. However, if someone is dragged in a parking lot, even a short distance, there would be physical evidence on their face. Or, more damning, signs of an attempt to cover up the evidence. Even if there was an altercation, there was no indication that Bryant was involved besides his cars being used. The report does not contain information from the initial call the police fielded regarding the type of vehicle the woman was dragged into. I would think the officer would have asked about it, but it wasn’t included in the report. We can’t assume.

So, in summary, the sports media world is in a tizzy because three and a half years ago a woman (possibly Bryant’s girlfriend) got in an argument with a friend, and left a store with him. It became a story because all the vehicles involved were registered to Bryant, and Bryant is a polarizing figure. If there is a surveillance tape, it is likely going to be low quality due to the venue and time of the occurrence. Notice, also, the men in the report are African American, and if they are friends with Bryant from his Lufkin football days, are likely to be athletic as well. Not unquestionable that all the men involved could have a similar build. This could easily be a case of mistaken identity broadcast on every sports station in the country. One African American with muscles looks just like another.

Dez, tell ’em Ryan sent you.

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