In a story that has certainly taken on a life of its own, ESPN has fired Sarah Phillips, who was a mysterious writer for the "Playbook" section of the site (formerly Page 2). This comes on the heels of a detailed report from Deadspin.com, and Phillips' comments on Twitter prove that ESPN was right to dissolve their relationship.
There are so many moving parts in this situation that it's enough to make your head spin, but the gist of it is that Phillips became a sudden star when it came to writing about gambling. About a year ago she was given a job writing for popular gambling site Covers.com. A few months later she became a writer for ESPN's Page 2, now known as Playbook.
Her ascent was a wild one as she became a legend of sorts in Internet circles. There was some question as to whether her profile pictures at Covers.com were legitimate since they seemed to be inconsistent. Also, some brought up the notion that "Sarah Phillips" wasn't a real person at all and that a ghost writer was simply writing under her guise.
Whatever the case, Phillips had become something of an enigma in the world of sports journalism. Just as quickly and loudly as she broke into the business, though, she has been thrown out of it by ESPN. One would have to believe that the reasoning for it is the backlash that was created by a couple anecdotes told in the Deadspin.com report.
According to the report, Phillips had scammed two different men during her time at Covers and afterward. The first was a 19-year-old referred to as "Ben," who had his own site of basketball memes. The other was a 30-something-year-old Los Angeles man referred to as Matt who followed Phillips at Covers and corresponded with her.
Deadspin went into great detail about how Phillips suckered "Ben" in by using an alias to direct him toward her email account. What ensued, according to Deadspin, was that Phillips promised him a position with her website, but he was instead scammed into submitting the administrator rights to his NBA memes page on Facebook.
Phillips reportedly accomplished this by having "Ben" correspond with Nilesh Prasad, who was apparently the director of Phillips' website and an ESPN employee. He was also urged to speak with Navin Prasad, who was said to be an ESPN employee as well, although there is no record of either.
They (perhaps Phillips posing as both) conned "Ben" into trusting them before taking over his meme site completely and making it little more than a gateway to another site.
But Ben noticed some significant changes to the page after he lost administrator rights. He used to post about 5 to 10 items a day. Now posts were coming up every 20 minutes. Some NBA Memes readers started getting restless. They were pissed. What had happened to their old page?
Ben was conflicted. On the one hand he wanted to work with their new site—and maybe even with ESPN—but he was wondering if it was worth it. He was beginning to think he just wanted his NBA Memes page back. Enough was enough. By April 20, four days after Phillips's initial email, he began negotiating with Nilesh and Navin. In a Facebook chat with Navin Prasad—you can read the full transcript here—Prasad threatened to delete the NBA Memes page altogether. Ben pleaded with him.
Phillips went a different route with "Matt," according to Deadspin, as she tricked him into contributing $2,100 for ads on her new website. In addition to that, though, Phillips got "Matt" to give her more money by claiming that his poor betting advice had cost her money and that she would have the Los Angeles Police Department come take it if he didn't give it to her. Not surprisingly, the site was taken down and none of the money was used for advertisements.
"She said I owed her that money in addition to thousands more for reasons unbeknownst to me," he told Deadspin. "She said if I didn't paypal it to her that night she would have the LAPD come to my apartment and rob me. I told her I don't carry cash, and kept a hunting knife by my bed for three weeks." (According to a screengrab of a Gchat conversation, she told him the LAPD would "cordially come by" his apartment to take the money).
All of this is stranger than fiction at this point, but Phillips took to her Twitter account last night in an attempt to do some damage control. She posted several tweets in defense of herself and claimed that she had hardly ever talked to "Ben" and that her relationship with "Matt" had to do with him pitching a possible reality show.
Phillips went on to claim that the "actions of others" shouldn't be judged as hers. This means, presumably, that she is trying to absolve herself of blame in the cases of "Ben" and "Matt."
She also used the go-to phrase that people tend to cling to when they've been caught in the act by claiming that she trusted the wrong people. It's quite ironic that Phillips claims to have trusted the wrong people when the likes of "Ben" and "Matt" are saying that they shouldn't have trusted her.
If there was one isolated incident, then I could possibly see Phillips' side, but the fact that multiple people have come forward and accused her of scamming them throws up some major red flags. ESPN obviously felt the same way, or else she would probably still be employed today.
When you combine these alleged scams with the fact that nobody at ESPN had actually ever met her, it had to be an easy decision to let her go. In the Internet age, you never know exactly what you're getting and it appears as though ESPN had a con artist on its hands.
Even if Phillips is innocent, there is simply too much bad press to make her worth keeping for ESPN. The sports media giant looks really bad in this case as it failed to do its due diligence in hiring Phillips, so all ESPN can do at this point is sever ties and hope that the whole situation just goes away.