JEFF PEARLMAN

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The demonization of Selena Roberts

amd_butch

Ten years ago this December, Sports Illustrated ran my profile of John Rocker. The story sort of put me on the map as a journalist (which is funny, because it really wasn’t all that well written), but it also earned me a ton of scorn. In the days … months … years after the piece initially ran, I received myriad calls and letters, wondering when I would step up and apologize. In some quarters, the belief was that I had taken advantage of a young man. That, while his beliefs were certainly off, he was just a bumpkin, naive to the ways of the media.

Alas, I never apologized. Never felt I should, even though the outcry was pretty damn loud.

Three years ago, Selena Roberts wrote a piece for the New York Times that called out those Duke lacrosse players accused of sexual assault. Her column was unambiguously strong, and, many believed, took the young men to task for a crime it turns out they didn’t commit. In the days … months … years after the piece initially ran, the belief was that Roberts had taken advantage of young men. That, while she certainly had a right to an opinion, she hung these guys without proof.

Alas, Selena Roberts never apologized, either. Never felt she should, even though the outcry was pretty damn loud.

Being completely forthright, I don’t think Selena handled it 100-percent righteously. The column was, in hindsight, too accusatory, and when the innocence was proven, she probably owed an “I was wrong” follow-up piece.

That being said, for my money Selena is one of America’s best writer/reporters. She was years ago, when she covered Tate George and the New Jersey Nyets for the Times, and she is now. Show me a big-time columnist who doesn’t wish he/she could take back some things that made ink, and I’ll show you a big-time columnist who doesn’t belong in the biz. Columnist go out on limbs. They take sides. The oftentimes leap before they look. Do you think, looking back, I’m happy I called for Joe Torre’s dismissal
in May, 2007? Hell, no. It was boneheaded, rash, moronic. I was wrong, but my pen (well, keyboard) never stopped me.

What truly bothers me right now are the growing legions of media sorts taking Selena to task; gleefully evoking Duke lacrosse—as if they’d never made a blunder themselves. Here in New York, Boomer and Carton of WFAN’s morning show seemed to take special pleasure in slamming away. But they’re not alone. Jason Whitlock, a columnist I greatly admire, has made Selena thrashing a sport. (Several years ago, Whitlock was embarrassed nationally after it was learned that, during a Chiefs game against the Patriots in Foxboro, he taunted fans by writing a sign reading BLEDSOE. GAY? I thought it was just a stupid, silly mistake—but one that bothered many people. We all do things we regret). Others have followed suit.

I’m not sure what the point here is, except that I hate the old Republican strategy of shifting the focus from the subject to the messenger. Yes, Selena’s Duke takes were off. But that does not, in my mind, wipe out the merits of an insanely excellent career. And it doesn’t deny her the benefit of the doubt …