How the John Edwards affair became news

How exactly certain scandals come to light when they do is often an interesting tale. The former editor of the National Enquirer explains how his investigative team put together the story of John Edwards’ affair. The tale involves the use of technology and a profiler who provided insights into how to trap Edwards in his lies:

I knew there was no viable scenario for Edwards to confess to the Enquirer. I faced the bitter realization that another news organization would reap the benefits of our team’s hard work and get the confession, but I also knew that ultimately that confession would validate the Enquirer‘s earlier story as well as the new one.

Behind the scenes we exerted pressure on Edwards, sending word though mutual contacts that we had photographed him throughout the night. We provided a few details about his movements to prove this was no bluff.

For 18 days we played this game, and as the standoff continued the Enquirer published a photograph of Edwards with the baby inside a room at the Beverly Hilton hotel.

Journalists asked if we had a hidden camera in the room. We never said yes or no. (We still haven’t). We sent word to Edwards privately that there were more photos.

He cracked. Not knowing what else the Enquirer possessed and faced with his world crumbling, Edwards, as the profiler predicted, came forward to partially confess. He knew no one could prove paternity so he admitted the affair but denied being the father of Hunter’s baby, once again taking control of the situation.

Perhaps this story isn’t anything unusual – technology makes information gathering a lot easier. Yet it is somewhat shocking to me that plenty of powerful people, like John Edwards or Tiger Woods, think that they can get away with things in the long run. Sure, the National Enquirer had to spend months tracking down this story but in the end, it was doable and effectively changed the public perception of John Edwards forever. Is there something that happens when people are put in powerful positions that changes their perceptions of what they can and can’t get away with?

Is it even possible for the powerful to get away with things like this any more? How many “scandals” are lurking out there somewhere? It is certainly a far cry from the days of the 1950s and before when sportwriters routinely shied away from reporting on what athletes did away from home and political reporters didn’t talk about everything.

Athletes, their wives, and infidelity

In a world seemingly full of athletes who are cheating on their wives, people wonder how this happens. A sociologist who has been studying this for years sums up some of his research:

None of this surprises Steven Ortiz, an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State who has spent nearly 20 years studying the wives of professional athletes and what he calls “husband-oriented” sports marriages. In one study, Ortiz interviewed 47 wives married to men in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

He chalks up the pattern of behavior to a patriarchal society and what he calls “spoiled-athlete syndrome.” Since childhood, he says, athletes are enabled because of their obvious talent. And in the same way the culture of celebrity is celebrated, athletic heroes are worshipped.

Ortiz says he observed three ways in which the issue of infidelity is handled in these marriages: one, with humor, and two, avoidance of the subject. The third, he says, typically occurs when the wife searches for evidence in laundry, e-mail messages or phone calls.

“A major stressor is the fear of infidelity,” Ortiz says. “[The wives] have no control over the situation.”

According to the rest of the ESPN story, a number of wives know this is a possibility while they are married. It sounds like others had no idea that athletes behaved like this before getting married. Could there be some sort of athlete’s wives support group that would help those who are currently married and counsel those who are about to get married?

A few other questions I had after reading this:

1. How much do teams support, overtly or covertly, this behavior on the parts of male athletes?

2. Does this sort of behavior occur among female athletes? If not, why not?

3. Why do some male athletes not fall into these traps? What factors influence the decisions of male athletes to cheat or not to cheat?

4. How common in this behavior? Are the stories we see in the news, such as those about Tiger Woods or Brett Favre, the norm or are they outliers? Would fans pay less attention to sports if they knew all about this area of life?

5. How does this all affect athlete’s children?

From star to persona non grata

The Tiger Woods saga is a reminder that fame and success can be fleeting: one can go from the toast of the world to a pariah pretty quickly.

Chicago’s version of this may be the tale of Sammy Sosa. Sosa’s story is remarkable: he grew up very poor, came to town as a skinny White Sox outfielder, was traded to the Cubs and became a prodigious home run hitter, and then quickly disappeared and according to one commentator “now is persona non grata in the entire city.”

As a profile in Chicago Magazine suggests, Sosa helped run himself out of town:

Sosa’s transformation from Chicago icon to pariah has a lot to do with the controversies that tarnished his image: his use of a corked bat in 2003; his walkout during the last game of the 2004 season; and his years of self-indulgent behavior, which exasperated teammates and management. Any discussion of Sosa’s perceived failings must also, of course, include the elephant in the locker room: the suspicion that steroids helped fuel his career total of 609 home runs, the sixth highest in major-league history.

In retrospect, some of these issues seem easy to spot – even the most ardent Cubs fan today can see some of the troubles Sosa brought. His part in the lingering steroids scandal, which will take years to sort out as voters consider more players for the Hall of Fame, is damaging.

Yet, at the same time, when times were good with Sammy, they were good:

For years he and the organization had formed a spectacularly successful theatrical partnership, staging the Sammy Show at sun-drenched, beer-sozzled Wrigley Field. If the production resembled home run derby more than actual baseball, that was OK—the show was a smash, and the team was happy to count the box office receipts that poured in.

The magnetic Sosa seemed born to play the role of Slammin’ Sammy, and the Cubs’ marketing muscle helped spread the image of a carefree and cuddly hero who hopped when he hit home runs, tapped his heart to show his love for his adoring fans, and blew kisses to the TV cameras. If the truth was more complicated—if the star could be a maddeningly self-absorbed diva offstage—that was OK as long as the baseballs kept flying out of Wrigley Field. And if he sprouted muscles like Popeye after an epic spinach bender, apparently that was OK, too, provided that the turnstiles at Wrigley Field kept spinning.

As the profile notes, even as the Cubs languished during some years, Sosa was the baseball show for numerous summers.

So now Sosa languishes in some odd celebrity limbo like Woods: once revered, they both have shown a more frail human side, and have not yet recovered. I think both of them could regain some measure of standing: Woods by winning again and Sosa perhaps coming clean about steroids or offering apologies to his teammates. But they may never again reach the peaks of fame they once knew. While we haven’t heard Woods comment on how this feels to him, it sounds like Sosa is still struggling with this lesser status.