Life comes at you fast in the social media age.
At 3:21 p.m. ET on Monday, Sports Handle’s Matt Rybaltowski broke the news that an unnamed player on the Indianapolis Colts was the latest target of an investigation into violations of the NFL’s sports betting policy. Immediately, reporters in the gambling space, on the Colts beat, or covering the NFL in general began calling their sources and scrambling to identify the player.
At 4:14 p.m. ET, just 53 minutes after the scramble began, the answer was out there. It was wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. The investigation was complete, and he’d been handed a suspension for the entirety of the 2023-24 season. Adam Schefter said so.
Oops, sorry, we left off two key pieces of punctuation. Let’s try that again.
“Adam Schefter” said so.
The Twitter screen name was “Adam Schefter,” and the profile picture was the same as the ESPN reporter’s, but one look at the Twitter handle should have popped the balloon. It was @adamscheftrrre, an account with no blue checkmark and 29 followers at the time. The real Schefter has a blue checkmark and some 10.3 million followers.
The difference could have and should have been obvious. But for every Al Michaels who instantly identifies the “I see O.J.” guy as “totally farcical,” there’s a Peter Jennings who falls for the ruse. The Pittman “news” was retweeted by more than 700 Twitter users and viewed by more than a half-million.
Things spiral quickly on Twitter, where 22 minutes after the tweet from the fake Schefter, a self-described “handicapper” with more than 25,000 followers was speculating about Pittman dropping passes intentionally:
Can you imagine if Michael Pittman bet against the Colts in this game and dropped this pass on purpose? pic.twitter.com/YGlSAL6LB2
— JJ Gruden (@TakingThePoint5) June 5, 2023
That’s how short the road is from one anonymous phony making seemingly innocent jokes to another guy who paid for a blue checkmark and appears credible introducing the most scandalous possible notion in sports.
In Rybaltowski’s reporting, it’s suggested that the Colts player in question — who is not Pittman, but rather has been identified as cornerback Isaiah Rodgers, Sr. — wagered on Colts games. It’s never suggested in Rybaltowski’s reporting that he bet against the Colts or that the integrity of the contests was compromised. So the tweet with the video showing Pittman dropping a pass has every possible “who,” “what,” and “why” wrong.
But why let the facts get in the way of the thrill of being first to the hot take on social media?
To what extent this situation was exacerbated by the chaos at Twitter since Elon Musk bought the company is hard to say. A blue checkmark used to mean you are who you say you are, that you’ve been “verified.” It doesn’t mean that anymore. Now it’s just a status symbol to be purchased.
In this instance, @AdamSchefter has a blue checkmark and @adamscheftrrre does not, and the question of real vs. fake was easily discernible. Still, with questions arising about the site’s credibility and of the checkmark’s value, perhaps users aren’t paying as much attention to who does and doesn’t have the checkmark, thus increasing the number of people who will retweet a piece of fake gambling industry news without pausing to inspect the details.
This sort of social media bastardization of reporting is impacting every news sector. What makes sports betting unique is that false tweets can directly affect wagers placed and money invested.
The wrong person seeing the wrong report about, say, Shohei Ohtani missing a scheduled start due to injury and wanting to pounce immediately, before the sportsbooks adjust the line, is going to be less than thrilled when he learns the tweet came from @kennrosennthall or some such apparition given an open mic.
Whether it’s injury news, trade rumors, or the suggestion that an innocent Colts pass catcher has been suspended for the season, unverified information is dangerous. That was true before the Twitter ownership change. But it’s something to be extra cognizant of now that “verification” has a specific modest monthly price point.
Francesa: ‘Golf has changed’
What is the impact of Tuesday’s massive news of the PGA Tour and LIV Golf joining forces? Veteran sports talk personality Mike Francesa offered his take during that afternoon’s episode of The Mike Francesa Podcast, which airs on the BetRivers Network.
On whether the deal will affect fans, Francesa said, “Probably not. You still have the Masters and the U.S. Open. You still have the majors and the Ryder Cup every two years. You still have good tournaments and all the players. That’s all you should care about as a fan.
“But golf has changed. There’s no question about it.”
Stayed tuned to Sports Handle this week for coverage from Senior Analyst Chris Altruda delving into what the PGA-LIV melding means for sports betting.
VSiN expands reach in New England
Alongside the continuing expansion of legalized sports betting in New England — Massachusetts launched this year, Maine is working out regulations, and Vermont has a bill awaiting the governor’s signature — sports betting radio/streaming network VSiN is furthering its footprint in the region.
VSiN announced in late May that it is teaming with Binnie Media to enter the New Hampshire radio market via the new VSiN Radio 106.3-FM HD-2. The channel will host 24/7 sports betting talk, plus Brent Musberger’s “Action Updates” will air twice each weekday on eight Binnie Media sister stations in the state.
“We’re thrilled to team up with Binnie Media to deliver the real-time news and insights New Englanders need to inform their wagering decisions,” said VSiN founder and CEO Brian Musburger (iconic sportscaster Brent’s nephew) in a statement.
“Sports betting is quickly becoming part of the daily conversation. As we evaluated the options in this space, we landed on VSiN,” added Binnie Media VP of Programming Heath Cole. “We’re very excited about the opportunity to bring this programming to our listeners.”
VSiN, which has been owned by DraftKings Inc. since March 2021, now sees its radio programming available in 46 states.