Let me preface this column by saying I love Sports Illustrated. I won’t deny it. If you’re looking for someone with more of an objective view on the matter, I suggest you look somewhere else. Maybe Sports Illustrated? I heard they’re pretty good.
Suffice it to say, plenty of articles and blurbs in between the magazine’s pages are must-read material, but one in particular in the latest issue jumped out at me.
In the January 28th issue, hidden between articles with bold, attention-grabbing headlines like ‘There Will Be Blood’ and ‘Aussie Rules Tennis’ was the regular editor letter. Nine times out of ten, admittedly, this little note isn’t much; so imagine my surprise when I skim over it to find that the Managing Editor of Sports Illustrated, Christian Stone, was apologizing for the magazine’s involvement in the Lennay Kekua hoax.
What? Is this some new twist? Is Time, Inc. behind this whole mess?! Conspiracy theorists, consider yourself validated!
Actually, no. Stone was apologizing that the magazine, like all of us, had been duped into believing the story was real. More to the point, though, he was admitting that the publication was wrong for printing the story as truth.
If it looks like Catfish and smells like Catfish, it might just be Catfish. Hindsight is a wonderful, horrible thing. A story like this calls for an honest acknowledgement of our failure and a rigorous self-examination, but it also yields an opportunity. … And to borrow from Steve Rushin, we will do it with our collective eyebrow a little more arched, the antennae of our b.s. detector more finely tuned.
If someone had slammed the weekly for deceiving the American people (aside from the mentioning that the magazine did run a feature story on the Notre Dame linebacker in which Lennay Kekua was a significant part), I hadn’t heard about it. And yet, here was one of the big swinging you-know-what’s of one of the biggest sports publications in the country publicly crying out “our bad” without provocation.
You see, if you compiled a list of 200 people or organizations responsible for fostering and spreading the hoax, Sports Illustrated, as an entity, would be somewhere well in the bottom quarter. Sure people were mad that they were deceived, but they were mad at Manti Te’o or Ronaiah Touiasosopo or Notre Dame or Te’o's dad. No one wanted the magazine’s head on a platter.
And that’s what makes Sports Illustrated’s apology even better. The magazine’s leadership didn’t come out and say sorry because they were pressured to, they did it simply because it was the right thing to do. This wasn’t Lance crawling to Oprah to save his image or Te’o crying to Katie Couric about what a victim he is, this is about some decent people displaying a little thing called journalistic integrity. Somewhere in the 24-hour news cycle, we forgot about that.
If Te’o or Armstrong had half the moral compass Sports Illustrated has demonstrated, they would not only be much better people, they wouldn’t be in nearly as much hot water with sports fans as they are now. Think about it. SI didn’t perpetuate a lie that they didn’t start simply because it was more convenient than coming clean and they didn’t hide the truth for upwards of 14 years. As soon as they realized the error of their ways, they called “foul” on themselves.
Over the years, the magazine has unearthed so many great sports stories. But here, with this admission of guilt, they have manufactured one internally. Sports fans are going through a tough time right now as they wonder aloud, “who the bleep can we trust?” After all, the greatest feel-good story of 2012 was nothing but a sick joke, can you blame them for being pessimistic and paranoid?
But Sports Illustrated has answered the fans’ question. Us, they have said, you can trust us. Not with words — they have plenty of those — but with one simple action.
So, yeah, I love SI. If I didn’t before, I sure as hell do now. Christian Stone’s apology letter wasn’t some well-timed PR stunt. If that were the case, it wouldn’t have been stashed on the usual page next to the credits. No, this was something our skeptical, untrusting society may have believed no longer existed: an enterprise actually trying to do right by its customers.
The rest of the world of sports could learn a thing or two from them.
NOTE: This story was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure to give him a follow @bclienesch for sports updates and other shenanigans!