Seeing 'Net result

Orioles' Huff latest to learn lesson about actions spun out on Web

November 16, 2007|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN REPORTER

When Orioles designated hitter Aubrey Huff walked into a Florida radio studio last week, he probably never thought he was about to join a fellowship that includes Monica Lewinsky, Britney Spears and Michael Vick.

But in the week since he impugned Baltimore's nightlife and shared the Bubba the Love Sponge studio with a naked porn star, Huff has become a subject of Internet infamy.

He's in hot water with fans and club executives over a radio appearance that never could have circulated five or 10 years ago. And he's learning a prime new media lesson: If you're a public figure, assume that anything said near a recording device will be heard by anyone and everyone.

Will Leitch, creator of Deadspin.com, the site most responsible for spreading the Huff video, sees no problem with that.

"The problem is with the way things were before," he says. "I can't see how flipping the switch toward more information is a bad thing."

Leitch, whose site received 9.5 million page views last month, sees himself as a crusader on behalf of free information. If athletes are going to profit from the mythology around them, he says, fans and bloggers have every right to punch holes in that mythology.

"It's this idea that because Peyton Manning can throw perfect spirals, I should emulate him in life," Leitch says. "I try to puncture that."

He does it with biting commentary and links to embarrassing video and audio clips. Fans eat it up, making Deadspin among the most popular of thousands of sports sites on the Internet. More than 15,000 browsers had viewed the site's Huff topic as of yesterday afternoon.

An opportunity

But John Maroon, longtime spokesman for Cal Ripken Jr., says athletes shouldn't be paranoid about the ever-growing swarm of media.

"I look at it as an opportunity to get your message out that much more," he says. "But the other side of that is you have to be aware of what you're walking into. Everything you say is going to be cut up and shared by so many outlets."

Ravens receiver Derrick Mason frequently hosts radio shows and says most athletes are aware of the widespread scrutiny.

"Even if you're at dinner or at a bar or wherever you may be, you might be talking to a friend and somebody overhears you. And when you come to work in the morning, it's in every Internet chat room or on the front of every sports publication out there," Mason says. "Yeah, you've got to be careful with what you say. Then again, you've got to be able to speak your mind and be honest, but in a way that doesn't shed a dark light on what you're talking about."

The Internet emerged as a news star in 1998, when Matt Drudge reported that Newsweek had refrained from publishing an account of Bill Clinton's relationship with a White House intern. The Monica Lewinsky scandal ensued and resulted in the president's impeachment.

Since then, the Web has become a repository for anything and everything having to do with celebrities. From a Paris Hilton sex tape to film director Kevin Smith's musings about what he ate for lunch, it's all there.

Several sports figures have learned that once you're a public figure in the Internet age, it's hard to do anything privately.

In 2003, Iowa State basketball coach Larry Eustachy resigned after photos of him drinking and kissing female students emerged on the Web.

In 2005 and 2006, baseball stars faced questions based on steroid rumors that appeared online but never in newspapers or on television.

Earlier this year, Steelers offensive line coach Larry Zierlein was forced to apologize after blogs reported that he accidentally sent a pornographic e-mail to numerous league officials, including commissioner Roger Goodell.

There's a whole Web site, drunkathlete.com, devoted to pictures of bleary-eyed sports stars.

And that's just the salacious stuff.

Fans routinely debate on-field tactics and off-field maneuvering on message boards that are read by coaches and athletes. Sometimes, they ratchet up pressure on local college and professional teams by starting Web sites devoted to firing a head coach.

The Huff story was a new media phenomenon from the start.

If an Oriole had disparaged Baltimore's nightlife on a Florida-based radio show in, say, 1987, it's possible that none of the club's fans would have heard it.

But Huff appeared on Sirius Satellite Radio, which reaches a national audience and thus the ears of Baltimoreans.

Irritation at his comments then percolated on Internet message boards.

Finally, the story re-popped nearly a week after Huff's appearance, when Deadspin posted the video clip featuring nude Internet porn star Melissa Midwest.

Local radio personality Nestor Aparicio posted a partial transcript of Huff's appearance, including comments about hangovers and watching pornography in hotels, on his WNST Web site.

Orioles message boards exploded Wednesday, with fans debating whether Huff should be punished or traded for embarrassing the team. Club officials condemned Huff's taste and judgment.

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