By Tushar Dwivedi
In the modern day era, sports events oftentimes incite a wide variety of journalistic pieces, ranging from ESPN’s live, explicitly factual injury and score updates to reactions and commentary both in and post-game on major media outlets. Simultaneously, social media provides an open and widespread outlet for any individual to entertain others while gathering and spreading information. This exchange of information, however, is oftentimes immediate and reactionary, appealing to those who want to comment on events that happen live, and contains little proof or verification. Speculation, gossip, misinformation and prediction are rampant across platforms such as Twitter during sporting events.
A typical example would be a sports injury. In the case of Kerryon Johnson, an NFL Running Back from the Detroit Lions who injured his leg mid-game, Twitter was alive with discussion mere seconds after the injury occured. While the discussion may have sparked happiness or sadness within the reader, the core satisfaction was derived from reading instant news. As with all sports injuries, for the true information, an individual would wait for the post-game interview and the subsequent ESPN or Yahoo Sports article to provide the final, accurate statement. Such outlets, therefore, distinguish themselves from social media by providing a level of certainty and therefore carrying a level of responsibility to readers.
Issues of injury, however, are highly distinct from in-game situations that call into question an individual’s reputation. During this Harvard-Yale game, Devin Darrington, a Harvard Sophomore Running Back, was shown on video wagging his finger at a Yale defender as he decelerated towards the right pylon. The consequence was a media frenzy, with headlines such as “Harvard RB Gives Middle Finger to Yale Defender on TD” from CBS Sports. The fact that this was a rivalry game only fueled the fire for such headlines.
Darrington went on to score 2 more TD’s and received social redemption once a Harvard student published a picture proving that it was his index finger and not his middle finger that was raised. Publications such as Deadspin, which had originally reported on the raised middle finger, went on to publish retractions and corrections. More interesting, however, is exploring the nature of why the potential raised finger was so inflammatory across a number of media outlets and social media platforms.
After studying numerous Twitter posts, sports articles, and comments on sports articles, there emerged a few clear, common ideas that seemed to persist through commentary. The first was simply the fact that this was a rivalry game, one of many that would occur in late November; this immediately adds intensity to any potentially villainous act. A second reason, however, is significantly more interesting; there was something inherently special about ivy league conflict and drama during the game. As Deadspin put it in their retraction, “with nothing but juicy Ivy League beef on the brain, I joined in the frenzy and quickly blogged the clip.” Comments on the article supported this idea, either condemning Harvard and Yale graduates for their entitlement or claiming that only the Yale individuals were true gentlemen. Given the public perception of Harvard and Yale students, any hint of inappropriate behavior is quick to gather negative attention, highlighting the microscope these and similar institutions around the country exist under.
The fairness of the above can be debated to no end; the potential damage that can be caused is endless. If it were not for the timely release of the photograph proving Darrington’s innocence, the only remnant of the debacle would be the sophomore’s word against a mountain of media and social media discussion. This, combined with the fact that most individuals hold published articles as truth as well as the immediate-gratification nature of modern news, forces newspapers and journalists to ponder how to best balance the need for accuracy, speed, differentiated content, and views. We at the Independent are grateful for the resolution of Darrington’s case, and hope this moment serves as a necessary reminder of the human stakes at hand with every article published.
Tushar Dwivedi ’20 (email@example.com)