Monday, March 11, 2013

Te'o, Tia and sports journalism today

When Deadspin reported that Manti Te'o's deceased girlfriend never existed, some high profile sports journalists scrambled to quickly offer an explanation for why they wrote the emotional story of his loss without first confirming she was real.

No such mea culpa took place last week when it was reported that
Tia Norfleet's record as a racecar driver was almost equally nonexistent. The Washington Post, ESPN, the Sporting News, Huffington Post and numerous other newspapers and web sites had all hailed Norfleet, who billed herself as the first African-American female licensed to race in Nascar.

Turns out Norfleet had raced only one lap in her entire Nascar career, and the license she boasted about was simply bought, not earned through racing.

There haven't been any explanations from writers and editors this time about why
the misinformation from her press releases was never checked or challenged before it was written verbatim. And a quick google search shows many of the incorrect stories on Norfleet over the last two years weren't even pulled from the archives or at minimum amended. So in cased you missed it, you can still read all about Norfleet's breakthrough racing career. Even if most of it isn't true.

Why the double-standard? Why was one story an egregious failure of the media that was quickly corrected, and the other a non-event?

In part, it's because Norfleet isn't as famous as Te'o. Her story wasn't played so prominently, didn't matter as much and therefore, perhaps, didn't demand an apology or explanation.

And in truth, an imaginary girlfriend is far more bizarre and newsworthy nationally than anything Norfleet ever said or didn't do.

But maybe, too, the reality is that sports journalism isn't always journalism anymore. Many of the stories about Norfleet appeared to be nothing more than rewrites of what had been erroneously reported before. Too many of us have become just like the content providers, forced to feed the internet new material as often as we can to generate clicks and likes and retweets without taking the time, or even having the time, to make sure the material is accurate. The assumption is that somebody must have checked it along the way.

In retrospect, the Te'o story was handled a bit old-school. Maybe the Norfleet reaction is closer to the rule in sports journalism today.

If so, that says as much about the media as it does about Te'o and Tia.


  1. When Danica Patrick came to NASCAR she submitted her resume, bought a license, tested on a track and was approved by NASCAR to drive at the highest level. She did not spend years of driving lower ranks because the NASCAR system does not require it. You license, test and get cleared to run on whatever track size you shoot for. It took a month for Danica to get through it and seven days to go from ARCA to Nationwide (Daytona 2010). She is an awesome driver, however the day she received her license, she was a "NASCAR Driver", and so was Tia Norfleet. Nothing else needed to be proved, only to what level she would be approved for, pay additional money and license up. Tia intentionally drove one lap (Start and Park) in a sanctioned race (Motor Mile) in order to make history as the first black female to do so. Mr. Lemons says she was slow; Sherman Carter was there and said she was in the top five speeds during practice. She went on to test at Homestead and attempted to test at Talladega but was rained out in February this year. Her intention was the same as Danica...test sessions, move through testing and get from ARCA to Nationwide, without the distinguished race history, however there have been many who have showed up out of nowhere and impressed. If Tia was NOT the first African America female to be licensed by NASCAR, NASCAR would have shut that mess down a long time ago. NASCAR fans and the American public are not dumb, if she was TRUELY claiming to be a "Nationwide" driver...she would have been in the races and obviously she hasn't. She has been in front of too many knowledgeable industry people. She is a wonderful person and has inspired young people because she HAS made wrong decisions. Manti Te'o and Tia Norfleet are completely different and although it may be taking her longer to get there than Danica Patrick, she will get there. She IS a licensed driver and like everyone else who processes this licensed, she has the opportunity to go straight to the top as fast as she can, lots of drivers have chosen to forgo the development process. It is interesting that Tia has had a license (at any level) for going on four years and NASCAR has not mentioned it, let alone helped support it, especially when diversity is the new mandate. Why, or did you bother to ask?

  2. Thank you for taking the time to comment. My response:

    1. If Tia Norfleet intentionally drove one lap only to make history, that is further evidence she is more interested in generating publicity than becoming a racecar driver.

    2. You lost credibility with me when you said she was among the top five in speed at Motor Mile. I talked to two drivers in that race. Both said she was dangerously slow and put other drivers at risk by being out there.

    3. I asked Nascar officials if Norfleet ever applied to be considered for the Drive for Diversity program. I was told she never did, even though that would have been her best opportunity to gain seat time and develop as a driver. To me, that was further evidence she was more interested in calling herself a Nascar driver than in doing the hard work needed to develop as one.

  3. Anonymous said...

    1. She is a NASCAR driver. There is no way for you to know how interested she is in becoming a better one as this was not the focus of your article.

    2. I did not say she was among the top five, Sherman Carter did, I'm sure he can be reached through the Norfleet camp.

    3. Tia Norfleet turned down the opportunity to join the Drive for Diversity (which Marcus Jadotte heads up) and is her right. She wants to be considered for her racing ability and not her color. Furthermore, she calls herself a licensed driver because that's what she is. Finally, you do not know what hard work she has or has not done...again, not the focus of your article.

  4. Comparing Norfleet to Patrick HAHAHA. Patrick WON an IRL race and led the Indianapolis 500 before she raced NASCAR.

  5. My last words:

    If Tia Norfleet wants to be considered for her racing ability, then she needs to race more than one lap in three years in sanctioned events.

    If she wants to be considered for her racing ability instead of her color, then she needs to stop advertising breaking the color barrier as her only achievement in racing.

  6. To Anonymous... Ignorance is blind, if you actually read the words, the ONLY comparison was the right to fast track IF NASCAR approves not to say she is equal to Danica.

  7. To Ms. Bernstein,

    1. I agree.

    2. Others have coined the term "breaking barriers", not her and the fact that she is brave enough to enter a sport that is white male dominated is an achievement in itself.

    Thank you for responding.

  8. To the anonymous person who submitted a comment at 3:38 a.m. I would be happy to allow your post except for the name you mentioned at the bottom. Please resubmit.