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What Frank Deford Gets Wrong About Deadspin's Brett Favre Pictures

There's a lot of things to debate about A. J. Daulerio's pursuit of the Brett Favre texting scandal story. But whether or not it's newsworthy isn't one of them.


sportsjournalism.org (left); Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

This month, GQ profiles A. J. Daulerio, the man responsible—actually legally responsible—for breaking the story about Brett Favre’s alleged off-field misdeeds: namely, sending sexually explicit photos to and leaving unsolicited voicemails for a female Jets employee. In the piece, GQ quotes esteemed sportswriter Frank Deford, who was not impressed with Daulerio's dogged pursuit of the story. “It isn't a question of whether or not he should have done the story. It's a story," says Deford:

But aren't there better stories to do? Do we really want to know about Brett Favre trying to get laid? Wouldn't you rather spend your time delving into the evils of college athletics, or drugs and sports?

Daulerio, however, didn’t post a story about Brett Favre trying to get laid. He posted a story about Brett Favre allegedly committing sexual harassment against a Jets employee—and later, he posted stories of more employees who, in some cases, claim to have lost their jobs for complaining about Favre's behavior.

The picture painted by the Deadspin posts is not one of Favre as bumbling romantic, or even unfaithful spouse. It’s of a person in a position of power making unwanted sexual advances to women who work for him. According to Daulerio’s first post on the topic, Jenn Sterger—the Jets sideline host and the first woman linked to Favre’s unwanted messages—claimed Favre was a “creepy douche” who continued his advances even after she’d said no, but “if she went forward with how aggressive he was and how skeeved out she was to some of her superiors, she suspected she might lose her job.”

Sterger was right to be concerned. After the Deadspin photos were released, two more women, massage therapists for the Jets, came forward with stories of Favre’s bad behavior—and how, they claim, after one woman's husband demanded an apology from Favre, neither woman was invited back to work.

Just this month, a fourth woman, Stephanie Dusenberry, now tells Deadspin that she was subjected to both repeated unwanted advances from Favre and other teammates after he left the Jets to play for the Vikings. (Dusenberry, also a massage therapist, offered a cell-phone photo of another player as a form of proof.) According to Dusenberry, her requests to resolve these issues—by going to her supervisor and going to the police—were ignored. The police say they have no record of her filing a report, though one officer told Deadspin he remembers speaking with Dusenberry. Unnamed sources with the Vikings say that Favre denies knowing her. 

Massage therapists are particularly vulnerable both to unwanted advances and to a lack of support and protection from their employers. As Daulerio noted when reporting the Dusenberry accusations:

Due to the "independent" nature of the massage therapists' jobs and the fact that unwanted advances are virtually accepted as an occupational hazard, most of this behavior goes unreported, and players are rarely, if ever, disciplined.

In the case of Sterger, the NFL fined Favre $50,000 after the league found that he had obstructed the progress of their investigation. While Favre admitted to sending the voicemails, the NFL said they couldn't prove he sent the photos, despite claims from Delaurio, who was interviewed as part of the investigation, that the NFL didn't try particularly hard to do so. The fine was considered a “token” wrist slap, with critics complaining that the investigation begun in earnest only after Favre suffered an injury that ended his consecutive-starts streak.

But the story doesn’t end there. The two massage therapists from New York have filed a sexual-harassment suit against their supervisor at the time, the Jets, and Favre. Sterger and Dusenberry are also considering legal action.

The women who came out with their allegations after Deadspin published the first photos all say they did so, in part, to send a message that this kind of behavior shouldn’t be tolerated. It’s a common refrain from women who have been sexually harassed, assaulted, or worse: the shame, humiliation, and outright hassle of following through serve as a deterrent to press charges, and it’s only when they realize that they’re part of a larger pattern—that they didn’t bring the treatment on themselves, that they won’t be immediately dismissed as liars or hysterics—gives them the courage to step forward (rest assured, there are still plenty of people willing to cast these women as gold-digging fabulists; visit the comments of any news story on the case). By publishing this story on Deadspin, Daulerio let these women know that they weren’t alone.

This by no means makes Daulerio a feminist icon, or Deadspin a particularly fun space for women hang out if they don’t feel like playing the role of perky sidekick, ready to laugh at all the slut jokes. (I like sports and I read Deadspin on occasions, but its fratty, macho tone makes clear that women aren’t their target audience.) Let’s be honest: he stumbled onto this little bit of activism because it involved the naughty bits of a famous athlete. Getting all Norma Rae on Favre and the NFL was not his intent. For him, Favre’s bad behavior was worth pursuing because it was “an incredibly funny story,” not an abuse of power.

Daulerio, in this case, is something of an accidental human-rights crusader, and after the Favre story broke, he was back to publishing videos showing what he calls "possibly rape" one day and drawing attention to the alleged fetishes of a certain NFL coach the next.

Deford, on the other hand, has long been a passionate critic of college athletics and the NCAA, a system he thinks exploits younger players while collegiate institutions and television networks make lots of money. He knows how single actors can get squished if they stand in the way of the larger machine; how powerful people take advantage of those with less power; and how in sports, money and prestige almost always take precedent over individual rights. He has crusaded to repair the balance of power—he has spoken up for the little guys. That he would dismiss the Favre story as a waste of time, as something totally dissimilar from drugs, crime, and abuse in college athletics, is a disappointment.

This wasn’t a story about a red-blooded male trying to get a little action. This was a story about an athlete abusing his power. Women should be able to do their jobs without having to bat away multiple unwanted advances from men, even if those women are young and attractive and their job is to rub down naked athletes. Women should be able to open their cell phones without seeing unwanted junk shots, even if that junk belongs to a handsome professional athlete. And should those things still happen, women should be able to go to their employer and find some sort of protection and recourse. That didn’t happen here. That doesn't happen at a lot of places. but those stories rarely make the news. This one almost didn't, except it involved photos of naked celebrity genitalia. It's not the most dignified or traditional way to go after a story, but the story itself is important. 

Photo of Daulerio from The National Sports Journalism Center.

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