Even for a week in which there were consequential mid-term elections held, ones that will have controversial repercussions on policy and messaging heading into crucial 2022 races, it’s been a wild for the type of news that throws social media into chaos — more specifically, for the type of sports-adjacent news that throws social media into chaos. These news items are mostly, in one way or another, dispiriting; many of them are controversial. Such is the nature of conversation-generating headlines. There is a bright side, though: none of these developments have to change the way you thought of their various moving parts before they hit your news feed.
This Murderer’s Row of stories was kicked off as the nation slept on Tuesday night as an intoxicated Henry Ruggs crashed his Corvette into an oncoming car, managing to slow down to “just” 127 mph after slamming on the brakes at 156 mph, killing the other car’s passenger and her dog, injuring himself and severely injuring his girlfriend. While libertarians would quibble over whether driving drunk should be a crime and there are legitimate questions about the best course of treatment for addicts (prison vs. rehab), there has not as of yet been any indication that Ruggs is anything but a shithead who would rather drive drunk than use the free services provided to him by the league to prevent just this sort of tragedy. A crazy story, to be sure, but one almost everyone can agree on.
The next was Aaron Rodgers testing positive for COVID and the related news that he was not, as he coyly lead both reporters and Jeopardy contestants to believe, vaccinated. Instead, he had gone to Canada and believed himself to have been “immunized” by homeopathic treatments. He did not specify what those treatments were so it’s safe to propose that they included going through a carwash once every three days strapped naked to the top of his car, allowing the soap to seep into every pore; eating clay; and breathing in fresh air-conditioned air indoors while not wearing a mask (Update: after a truly hilarious interview with Pat McAfee in which Rodgers compared himself to Martin Luther King, Jr., said he consulted Joe Rogan on COVID recovery tactics, and called himself a “free thinker” in the crosshairs of the “woke mob” while saying everything a Fox News talking head would say about “my body, my choice” and the weird thing about all Democrats hating vaccines when Trump was president, we STILL don’t know what the homeopathic treatments are, but we do know he’s an ivermectin guy).
One might draw two conclusions from this: the first being that homeopathic nonsense doesn’t work, not getting vaccinated endangers yourself and those around you, and pretending to be vaccinated while not actually coming out and saying it makes you a coward; the second being that this is more proof that if you’re young and healthy, COVID isn’t actually a big deal and all this fuss was nothing more than a government power grab. If you already believed one or the other of these conclusions, has this incident changed your mind to the other’s way of thinking? No? What a relief.
The next piece of news was written by Julia Black for Business Insider (non-paywalled link here) on Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy in which several women accessed him of intimidating them into letting him engage in nonconsensual acts during what began as consensual sex — acts like choking, filming, and spitting into their mouths — leaving them feeling humiliated, traumatized, and in at least one case contemplating self-harm. There are also eyebrow-raising details such as Portnoy asking women their age and what grade they were in and showing interest in a 19 year old and not any of her older (22 year old) friends, details that aren’t illegal but to a certain way of thinking display a predatory tendency.
If you already didn’t like Portnoy, none of this comes as a surprise — he’s a Trumpian figure (having made several appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show to talk about cancel culture and literally interviewed Donald Trump) with similarly toxic cult of personality happy to harass any and everyone for him, the fight its own reward. Online intimidation and harassment is his whole thing, why wouldn’t that extend to the personal realm?
If the idea that your favorite funny man from online being a legitimately bad guy and not just a brash provocateur who says what everyone’s thinking is anathema to you, guess what? He was set up! Due to cancel culture run amok! This chick reporter asked people about him for 8 MONTHS (note: this is called reporting but whatever) trying to get information for this hit piece! One of the girls was a stalker! And it was consensual sex with girls who were of age anyway, not his fault if the girls regretted it afterwards. And why go to reporter and not police if any of these stories were true? Dave is actually the victim here. At least both sides can agree that this story shouldn’t have been paywalled, though whether that’s because stories like these need to be available to everyone or because it proves this is just vindictive nonsense for clicks isn’t something both sides will likely come together on.
The last story broke soon after the Portnoy piece, and it regards Suns owner Robert Sarver. Sarver is already something of a joke among fans of the league, best exemplified by his having put a live goat in GM Ryan McDononough’s office as a metaphor — a goat that proceeded to shit all over the office. Sarver is also a famous skinflint, often undermining his team’s on-court product to save money. The reporting done by ESPN’s Baxter Holmes paints a portrait of a man who isn’t just cheap and incompetent but casually racist and fostering of a toxic, racist and misogynistic culture, including Server himself loosely using the N-word in relation to players and coaches, women being subjected to Andrew Cuomo-esque questions about their sex lives, and solving the problem of one woman who was assaulted by a male co-worker by moving her from the desk next to his to a desk one row away from his.
While there are obviously going to be disagreements about what makes a work environment toxic rather than challenging when it comes to performance, the more interesting issue at hand here is the defenses issued by people who know Sarver but wouldn’t have any first hand knowledge of the incidents detailed in this piece. Suns GM James Jones, former player and current Twitter video re-poster Rex Chapman, and, within the article, Warriors coach Steve Kerr all say that the Robert Sarver they know couldn’t have done and said what’s described in the piece.
That can be entirely true, but also closes the door to the very real possibility that the Robert Server they know isn’t the Robert Sarver other people know, that among some crowds he is in control, seemingly liberal, a nice guy — while in crowds that he sees as beneath him he is a racist and misogynistic and an asshole, and inspires others working beneath him to behave in a similar manner to their boss. In this case, the other side to the story isn’t that someone had a vendetta and was chasing clicks, or that science is nonsense, it’s just that X person’s interpersonal experience with Y person encompasses all of the Y’s multitudes as a human.
Lena Dunham did the same thing in claiming someone falsely accused her friend of rape, because her friend couldn’t do that. Barstool employees who all came out with a suspiciously similar message of support because “Dave’s just such a n honest transparent guy” may be falling into the same trap (although it’s possible that Portnoy’s success has come in exchange for living with the Liar, Liar curse). Most average people just never have to confront this sort of thing because not as many people care about the bad actions of an everyday individual as care about the bad actions of someone famous or influential.
It’s not a novel concept to say that we live in a post-truth world. The term was coined for Trump-era politics but it applies to literally everything. Any story that makes anyone uncomfortable has an easy to find-and-digest counter-narrative, be it vaccinations, relative risk or ivermectin when it comes to COVID; victims truly sharing their story in hopes that it will prevent others from becoming victims and vindictive whores looking for their 15 minutes of fame by pretending to have been misused by a famous man; or just a friend or acquaintance’s anecdotal kindness ruling them out from behaving badly to and with others.
This extends to whether you think the presidency was stolen from Donald Trump; whether the events of January 6th, 2021 were a violent insurrection or a peaceful gathering freedom loving patriots taking a leisurely stroll through the Capitol; whether Russia worked with Trump to steal the 2016 election or people just hated Hillary Clinton and like to believe whatever they read on Facebook; whether the Democrats lost ground in this past Tuesdays elections because CRT is being taught to kids, parents incorrectly think CRT is being taught to kids, parents are uncomfortable with what their kids are actually learning, or because Democrats would just rather lose than do anything; whether your pets love you or are just responding to stimuli; literally everything.
Having judged something or someone incorrectly feels bad; it’s much easier to simply determine you didn’t judge it or them incorrectly than to update your opinion based on new information. Everyone hates being wrong. The only difference is that now it’s easier than ever to find someone who can fill in the backstory for why you’re right and the people who disagree with you are wrong in a way that sounds credible and the average person can’t disprove off the top of their head. In the event that the position I’ve taken on any of the above subjects turns out to be wrong, there’s a good chance that it won’t be big enough news to make me actively re-asses what lead me to my wrong opinion, the same way that the stories themselves won’t have made anyone who already liked Portnoy or Sarver and who was already a vaccine skeptic still haven’t seen anything to make them re-asses theirs. At least we all agree Henry Ruggs is an asshole.