Many phone calls leave news agency red-faced

AP's list of numbers for sports figures quickly goes public

January 09, 2004|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

A private list of phone numbers of sports celebrities gathered by Associated Press reporters was inadvertently posted on news wires this week and then spread via e-mail, much to the news organization's ire and embarrassment.

Once the list was disseminated on the Internet, people began calling the 641 numbers listed for some of the sporting world's biggest names: Pittsburgh Steelers legend Terry Bradshaw, Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson and the infamous O.J. Simpson.

While many of the numbers are accurate, many are outdated, an AP spokesman said. Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell's number is still listed in Cleveland, his former home.

Many numbers belong to legendary sports figures who have died: basketball's Wilt Chamberlain and football's Walter Payton and legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry, for example.

Two of the three phone numbers for Peter Angelos, the Orioles' owner, were correct, connecting callers to voicemail and to his office. A call to the third, listed as his home number, was not answered.

Calls to many of the numbers revealed that they had been disconnected. Still others have been assigned to unsuspecting non-celebrities who were inundated with calls yesterday.

A woman who answered the number listed for Bradshaw refused to give her name. But she said she has had the number for seven years and that it once belonged to Bradshaw, who she said lives in the same neighborhood.

"It went out mistakenly [on the newswire]," said AP spokesman Jack Stokes. "This was not meant for publication."

On Wednesday, an AP employee accidentally sent the list of numbers to media organizations that subscribe to one of the news service's sports wires, Stokes said. The AP then sent a message to its subscribers to alert them that the posting should be ignored and deleted.

Stokes said someone must have copied the posting, which contained the numbers, and pasted its contents into an e-mail that then proliferated.

"We feel for all the people who are suffering by getting call after call," Stokes said. "We would like to know where this started."

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