It’s time for a break from politics to discuss the sports media entrée of the past month: that Brett Favre is a Dirty Old Grandfather.
Unless you’ve had your head under a misguided Rand Paul supporter’s foot for the last 40 days, you’ve likely heard the story that Deadspin broke about the NFL’s Brett Favre allegedly sending suggestive voicemails and cell phone pictures of his manparts to a girl named Jenn Sterger in 2008. At the time, Favre was quarterbacking for the New York Jets and Sterger was working for the team as a sort of in-house sideline reporter/hostess. Due to that, the accusations bring issues of workplace sexual harassment to the fore.
There’s been a lack of major public developments since this whole ugly business was exposed. Favre has been terse or evasive with the press, the NFL has conducted its own investigation, and Sterger, with her manager and lawyer, has considered her legal options.
Of course, that hasn’t prevented a media melee, where outlets sliced and diced each party to the scandal. First Favre was slammed, and Sterger was given the benefit of the doubt. Now some are even sympathizing with Favre, while others hurl accusations that Sterger is just another attention-grabbing opportunist.
Favre is of course a 41-year-old married grandfather who now plays for the Minnesota Vikings as part of his league-wide “Refuse to Retire” tour. He’s been pretty boneheaded in his handling of this, such as when he spoke to the NFL Network’s Steve Mariucci last week. He said that “the whole scandal has been ‘Not that difficult’ ” and went on to say that what has been difficult is that the Vikings are 3-5. Really? Infidelity and sexual harassment allegations are not that difficult? I’m sure your wife took comfort hearing that, especially since this is probably merely the only time you’ve been caught. Favre has also called the matter a “league issue.” I think it’s actually “your issue,” slick. Man, he really is just an old jock.
After some unexplained stalling and jockeying, just at the end of last week, Sterger and her team finally met with NFL officials for several hours on the matter. The New York Post says it “learned that Sterger and her legal team gave the NFL ‘a substantial amount’ of material and information beyond what was previously reported about Favre’s pursuit of her” in this meeting with Milt Ahlerich, the NFL’s top security official. To evaluate her options and solidify her case, Sterger’s lawyer also reports bringing in “former FBI investigators and computer forensic people.”
For his part, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says he isn’t adhering to a timetable in resolving this ordeal, though he must be cognizant that the story’s unencumbered speculative growth is a blemish on the league. Even if the NFL does not acknowledge and discipline Favre, Sterger still appears to have options, but an official reprimand would bolster her case. Nonetheless, there’s a huge contingent of spectators who surmise this has all been some deviously orchestrated scheme to catapult Sterger into the highest elevations of the celebro-sphere.
As the web rhetoric has become hostile to Jenn, I feel I need to point a few things out. Without further ado: in defense of Jenn Sterger.
First, let me say, I have the slightest of connections to her. I’ve actually met Jenn Sterger, though I didn’t quite realize it until afterwards. So, consider me a minor character witness.
It was about a year ago, and I remember it quite clearly. I was out for a group dinner downtown at the Fraunces Tavern, and we decided on postprandial drinks around the corner at Stone Street Tavern. The waitress was talkative and inviting, and this was after we had started in on a round of drinks. She kept stopping by to chat since it was not too crowded (maybe she was bored), and we got to talking.
She started telling us about herself: Florida State, Sports Illustrated, Maxim, Playboy, the Jets, this new show coming up on the sports channel Versus; all things I would later realize fit into the last five years of Jenn Sterger’s life. (Tending bar was a holdover job between gigs.) And she pointed out this regular at the bar to me, apparently a local news weatherman, whom she called Creepy O’Brien, based on his eerie silence and resemblance to Conan.
I sensed this wasn’t just some typical cute waitress. What caught my attention first was that she was really quick and funny, in addition to being refreshingly forthcoming. And she was actually quite beautiful.
Now, I should say, when I go to a bar, I never have the mentality that I should have a chance with the bartender/waitress. They get hit on all day and they are already in a vague position of power over a patron. In this instance, I had to take exception, and since everyone else I was with was married or otherwise spoken for, it fell on me alone.
“It’s not my M.O. but you seem really cool, and I was hoping we could get coffee some time?” I asked. She said she was flattered, but she was seeing someone and it wouln’t be fair to him. We talked and joked for a few more minutes anyway. Maybe she was letting me off easy, but I’d like to think not. As I left, she said it was really nice to meet me. So, that’s my anticlimactic encounter. People may have many sides, but through my prism I gleaned that Jenn Sterger is smart, kind, and principled.
The next area that fosters sympathy for Sterger is how this story was reported. As Stefan Fatsis laid out a few weeks ago on Slate‘s highly enjoyable Hang Up and Listen podcast, Deadspin practiced shoddy, if not unethical journalism here. You really don’t need to read other accounts to see that: editor AJ Daulerio’s posts on the scandal depict his shortcuts and questionable calls in pursuit of a salacious story quite well on their own.
While this story gained momentum in earnest in October, Deadspin had been prodding it for months before that. Daulerio got a whiff of Favre’s contact with Sterger when they met about a separate project early this year, and she let slip that she had received some crazy stuff rom athletes, including crotch shots from a certain QB a while back. From there, he kept hounding her (in February, April, August, and October) about the ordeal and wanted to publish it, but Sterger had said that she did not want to go on the record. Daulerio even says at one point, “[I] still persisted because I’m a dick and it’s an incredibly funny story.”
Daulerio had pieced together many elements of the story, but Sterger would not come out publicly or provide the offending images. So, he found someone else who possessed them, and pushed that informant over the edge by literally stuffing “a large amount of cash” in an envelope to pay for the pictures in a shady back alley deal.
He had the material and the emails Sterger and he had exchanged which was everything he needed, save her permission. Sterger was inching closer to revealing all in her name, but was not quite there yet when Daulerio just made his own decision. Her last note to him was that she might agree, but that her Blackberry was on the fritz. He ended up deciding to “shrug off his obligations to his source” because he then ran the story against her wishes.
The traffic practically crashed servers at Deadspin. This all makes for uncomfortably successful, unscrupulous journalism. Sounds like maybe Jenn should sue Deadspin. Even if you are okay with Daulerio’s methods, there is still some lingering sympathy for their effect on her.
As the last line of defense, let me try to put to rest the notion that Sterger wanted this scandal to come out and has been planning to capitalize on it publicly and financially the whole time.
Let’s start with the fact that the events and communication in question occurred two years ago, in 2008. Jenn put them aside, kept the offense and disgust mostly to herself, and then went on pursuing her career. She didn’t want a lawsuit or to send the Favres to marriage counseling. If she had wanted to have the greatest impact, she would have brought this up then, while Favre was still a Jet and the iron was still hot. Why wait two years? Scandal and wrongdoing are always less viscerally outrageous when time has passed. This is not a con job. Indeed, my impression is that despite the stereotype that she is some superficial fame-monger, she actually has class, and was going to let this one lie.
Yet, as you can tell from Daulerio’s choices, this story was more or less forced on Jenn. Was she naïve to think that an upstart web operation like Deadspin would adhere to ethical standards in journalism? Perhaps. Does that mean she asked for this? No.
Nonetheless, once the word broke out, what would you do? The damage was already done. She arguably suffered more than Favre in the public spotlight. She had to figure out how she wanted to respond. It’s a confrontation she didn’t seek, but she reluctantly decided to fight. On principle. And yes, for money. She is the victim here and all the potential defendants (Favre, the Jets, the NFL) have unsympathetically deep pockets. In other words, if it’s happening anyway, let’s do this thing.
Why the delay in speaking to the NFL? Well, when something gets thrust upon you, it takes time to get your case in order, in order to make your case.
Further, at the outset, it seemed supremely far-fetched that A) Jenn perpetrated this massive hoax against herself to gain exposure, or B) that someone hates her enough to do it to her and impersonate Favre.
This leaves us with C) that, as reported, a then-employee in Jets PR allegedly leaked Sterger’s phone number, Favre did leave her the voicemails, and yes, that he sent her pictures of his junk, in some asinine attempt to entice her.
Well, guess what, Favre has since confessed that he did leave Sterger the voicemails in question. In doing so, he also essentially admitted that those pictures are of the organ right next to his groin. Why? Because the voicemails and pictures came from the same phone number with a 601 Mississippi area code.
“Conduct unbecoming” from Favre is also corroborated by other Deadspin reports from two other women, both Jets’ massage therapists, of unwanted advances.
There is an additional distinction to note here. Sterger hasn’t tried to exploit this by going on Today or the The Early Show or The View. If she were truly an attention hoarder, wouldn’t she go on those shows (who would definitely book her)?
The new assumption in today’s society is that a pretty young girl is always ambitiously trying to extort an older, powered man. The widely accepted mantra of the new millennium is that any publicity is good publicity, but maybe not everyone believes that. While this scandal obviously and unavoidably grew Sterger’s name recognition (Google Trends had her as the #1 search in the US an hour after the story broke), she had a lot going for her already.
She serendipitously gained attention at Florida State University for being a hot college girl. There’s nothing wrong with that. And she cannily sensed a moment to capitalize on that and see where it took her. Wouldn’t you?
Thus, by the beginning of this summer, Sterger had already written for Sports Illustrated (she’s actually a pretty good writer), modeled a fair amount, and was a co-host on a sports highlight and talk show on Versus, The Daily Line, which was just canceled (unrelated to this scandal) due to mediocre ratings. Yes, she did do Maxim and Playboy, which some will frown upon, but probably served their purpose. Besides if Avril Lavigne can be on the cover of Maxim, I think Sterger may be overqualified.
Honestly, she probably would have become a pretty big sports media personality anyway, not just because she is good-looking, but because she actually appears to know a ton about sports.
Listen, I don’t know the truth. But I have a hard time believing that, as her career had the potential to take off of its own volition, Sterger would want this story.
Maybe I’m a little biased, or maybe I’m right. Bottom line: I believe Jenn.