If you own a computer, have access to the Internet and like sports, chances are you’ve seen Deadspin’s story about ESPN columnist and former Covers freelancer Sarah Phillips.
Story has been blowing up on Twitter for the past 24 hours and seemingly everyone in the mainstream sports media and beyond is chiming in, including SI’s Jimmy Traina
, CBS’s Gregg Doyel
and a host of others lining up to take their shots at their Disney-owned competitor and self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports, ESPN.
It’s a 5,400-word opus that might take you a full half of an NBA playoff game to get through and maybe longer still to digest the whole, bizarre tale. And though I discussed Phillips openly and honestly with Deadspin writer John Koblin
during two interviews, I thought I’d provide this column to address the situation.
Early on in the piece you read that Phillips began her rapid rise to the ranks of ESPN Page 2 writers (now Playbook) after writing for Covers, where ESPN editor Lynn Hoppes discovered her and scooped her up in the fall of 2011 to write for ESPN.com.
By that point, Sarah had only been writing with us for a few months on a freelance basis. We initially reached out to her to write for us on a freelance basis in April of 2011 after she had developed a following on Covers through forum posts and blogs she had written. I, and one of our associate editors, had discussions with her separately over the phone and via email, during which we asked her about herself, quizzed her on sports and betting, and discussed some different content strategies.
She wrote her first column for us in early April of last year.
During the months that followed, questions arose about Sarah’s validity as a real person each time one of her columns was published. We addressed this with her on multiple occasions via phone and email conversations.
Sarah adamantly maintained that she was who she’d told us she was and our information supported that.
“I actually have always understood the skepticism of the readers on Covers,” she wrote to me in an email on April 19 of last year. “Most gamblers are irrational conspiracy theorists. These a-holes feel every sports game they lose is rigged by a conspiracy---a bunch of conspiracy theorists in one place will lead to this type of reaction.
“Covers has access to my (verified sportsbook) account for blog deposits, you've called me, you've e-mailed me, and you have my mailing address---and I still am being questioned on the authenticity of my identity. Where does it end? “
Through all the skepticism, there was never any reliable, definitive evidence that undoubtedly proved to us she was a made up person, concocted out of thin air. And when ESPN swooped in during the summer of last year, it pretty much removed any lingering doubts. We were never contacted by ESPN at the time or ever to discuss Sarah.
Ironically, with the publication of the Deadspin story we now have more evidence than ever that she is in fact, Sarah Phillips, 22-year-old Oregonian sports fanatic. Larry Brown Sports
wrote this piece today about her, supporting that claim and Koblin’s story also listed detailed personal information about Sarah Phillips.
I emailed Sarah today and gave her the opportunity to clear the air with anything and to give her the opportunity to tell her side of the story if there’s anything she wanted to say.
“I set the record straight on my Twitter account
yesterday,” she told me.
So I have to go with what we know:
• We contracted Sarah Phillips, Oregonian sports fan and then college student to write for Covers about her experiences in sports betting and life in April of last year. That’s what she submitted to Covers on a weekly basis.
• All the evidence continues to point to Sarah Phillips being real, which is what she vehemently maintained on all along.
• We parted ways with Sarah in early December of 2011. Her last column was written Dec. 6.
• Covers editorial staff has never been involved with any of the alleged scams outlined in the Deadspin article, nor any other scams being alleged involving Sarah Phillips.
• We at Covers have nothing to hide. Deadspin writer John Koblin told me during our last phone conversation that I had been the only one during the course of his reporting for this story who was open and immediately forthcoming from the time he first contacted us. Jon Campbell is the managing editor for Covers.com. Follow us on Twitter @CoversSports.