Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Jeff Passan Owes Baseball Fans an Apology

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What is wrong with Yahoo Sports writer Jeff Passan?

Passan wrote yet another column condemning Ryan Braun this past Sunday, despite this new column being at least the fourth such column in the past month.  This seems excessive under the circumstances, as a number of other baseball players, including Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers, Everth Cabrera of the San Diego Padres, and Jhonny Peralta of the Cleveland Indians are also suspended, while Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees continues to play pending his upcoming appeal of a lengthy, 211-game suspension.

Anyway, Passan’s newest column on Braun cited an ESPN report that said Braun had supposedly lobbied fellow MLB players prior to his successful appeal regarding the reportedly high level of testosterone in his urine sample.  ESPN’s slant was that Braun was perhaps looking for support from his fellow players as Braun was prepared to lose his hearing.  According to ESPN’s original report, Braun supposedly told several unnamed players that the urine specimen collector, Dino Laurenzi, Jr., was both a “Cubs fan” and an “anti-Semite.”  But when Braun unexpectedly won, that lobbying wasn’t needed.

However, Passan’s column as initially reported said that Braun had told specific big-name players such as Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies and Joey Votto these very same allegations.  (The inference in both columns, of course, was that Braun had said that Laurenzi, Jr., had it in for Braun.)  And because Passan’s column named these names, it made this particular report sound that much more compelling.

Then came the reports here and here that stated that neither Tulowitzki nor Votto had spoken with Braun about this particular matter.  And that Braun had most emphatically not slandered the urine collector in any way as far as either one of them knew.

So, what should you do as a writer when something this big blows up in your face?  Most people would print a retraction and an additional article saying, in effect, “Sorry.  I/we screwed up, and it won’t happen again if we can help it.”

But that’s not exactly what Passan did here, though he did back off a few of the worst of the allegations against Braun:

ESPN.com first reported that Braun had reached out to fellow players. While Yahoo! Sports previously reported Braun had contacted Joey Votto and Troy Tulowitzki, on Monday they denied having any conversations with Braun about test collector Dino Laurenzi Jr.  (emphasis mine — BC)

Note that this slight backing off seems to be blaming ESPN’s initial report, which is silly at best because it wasn’t ESPN who named Tulowitzki and Votto as being among the players Braun had supposedly reached out to for support — it was Jeff Passan himself.

Worse yet, other reports are still being written that are going off the original source material, including this one from UT-San Diego, which was written one short day ago.

Look.  I understand why Passan felt the need to write his column, at least in part.  ESPN had put out a report.  Yahoo wanted to have its own story.  Passan wrote it because, quite frankly, he cannot abide Ryan Braun (he’s previously called Braun a “cockroach”) and Passan, being a baseball writer who fully understands what’s going on with regards to the 2013 suspensions for performance-enhancing drug use, was probably the best person to write this particular column.

Where Passan erred was when he decided to name Tulowitzki and Votto without getting quotes from them on the record.  Both players are among the biggest names in baseball; Tulowitzki came in second to Braun in the 2007 Rookie of the Year Award, while Votto won the Most Valuable Player award in 2010.

So when Passan named them without quotes, he had to know that fallout was possible.  Yet for some strange reason, that didn’t seem to bother him at all.

Why?

What Passan did wasn’t a small error.  Instead, this was a big, fat, huge error considering Passan’s name, his reputation, and the fact that he has thousands upon thousands of people reading his columns every single day.  That’s why whatever Passan ends up reporting on any given day needs to be above reproach.

Passan screwed up by naming two players who apparently had absolutely no contact with Braun whatsoever regarding this issue without checking his sources and making sure they were unimpeachable.  And thus far, Passan has failed to offer one shred of reasoning as to why he, Jeff Passan, did this at all, when Passan had to know they would both be asked about these allegations . . . especially considering that Passan obviously had no idea what these men were going to say.

If Jeff Passan didn’t realize that these two men were going to deny these allegations, much less in the heartfelt way both men picked to do so — Tulowitzki and Votto are known as straight shooters — why on Earth did he print such inflammatory allegations?

While the slight clarification currently in the Yahoo Sports article by Passan (referenced above) is better than nothing, it is extremely puzzling that Passan would not print an apology under these circumstances.

Because really and truly, Passan owes all baseball fans an apology.  His report regarding Braun’s apparent slander was inflammatory.  He couldn’t back it up — in fact, it was roundly denied by two of the people Passan sourced in his original column as supposedly being upset and offended by Braun’s reported remarks — and then, he only had the wit to partly backtrack and blame ESPN instead for ESPN’s initial report?

I’m sorry.  That does not cut it.

Writers must have integrity.  Honesty.  Believability.  And be able to tell a fair and accurate story, especially when it comes to nonfiction sports writing and current events . . . otherwise, the writer in question has nothing at all.

We all know this, as writers.  Which is why most writers would’ve apologized for making a mistake of this magnitude immediately.

Otherwise, why would you want to trust us, or believe that we’re giving you the best information possible on any given day?

Whenever we fail, as writers, we must own up to it.

I don’t care if there are one thousand people in baseball who think exactly what Jeff Passan reported . . . if Passan hadn’t named names, he’d be in the clear.  But he did, he was wrong, and he should apologize.  Profusely.

And if he refuses to apologize, I have only one more question for you: Why on Earth should we believe anything else Jeff Passan ever says?

———–

**Note: Both the ESPN report and the column written by Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports have been updated to reflect the record that both Tulowitzki and Votto have denied these specific allegations.  ESPN’s report quite properly credits Passan’s Yahoo sports column for making those direct allegations.

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3 Responses

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  1. […] Braun that showed that Passan viewed cockroaches above Braun — way, way above — and making a major journalistic mistake late in August when he failed to check his sources before again excoriating Braun, then having the […]

  2. […] Yahoo Sports writer Jeff Passan, with whom I’ve had my differences, wrote […]

  3. […] extensively in the past about Ryan Braun’s struggle with MLB over the same issues (go here, here and here for the three latest blogs on the subject), so if you’ve read my blog before, you […]


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