In case you missed it, Deadspin published an amazing story yesterday -- an ESPN.com writer named Sarah Phillips wasn't who she claimed to be.
Go read the article right now if you haven't already and then bounce back here for some analysis.
I think what's eventually going to come out is that a guy realized that if he wrote as a girl he'd have more success getting attention. Why? Because guys are all responsive to a hot chick. So the guy recruited a hot chick to be the face of the column, to handle telephone conversations, and to carry on the fiction that she was really the writer. Hell, she may have even helped out, they could have been a tandem, the Bonnie and Clyde of Internet sportswriting.
When you break it down, the con was actually pretty brilliant, the Frankenstein of modern sportswriting, a logical extention of today's personal branding; she was the perfect Internet sportswriter. So meteoric was "Sarah Phillips" rise that a year after she started writing on gambling message boards she was an ESPN.com employee writing regular columns.
Would that have happened if Phillips wasn't a hot chick?
There are tens of thousands of online writers who have been busting their asses for years writing who have never gotten paid a cent for their content. Much less become ESPN employees. (ESPN will argue that she was freelance and not an actual employee. Stop with that fiction. Just about everyone who writes anything online today does so on a freelance basis).
The Sarah Phillips con played us all perfectly, sending an upstart writer who looked different -- even if she wrote the same -- soaring from inception to the worldwide leader in a year's time. As if that wasn't enough, the conners also artificially buttressed Phillips' social media standing by taking over successful Twitter and Facebook pages and turning them into shills for Phillips. Out of nowhere a message board gambling writer ascended on the strength of her Twitter followers and Facebook likes.
Even if, you know, it was all just a clever online manipulation.
As an online writer I should probably be offended by this con job, but I'm more fascinated than I am offended. I love all of the elements of the story, particularly the long con that would leave Sawyer from "Lost" impressed.
And if you really want to play ethics games is Phillips really doing much different than many sports sites on the Internet that have mastered Google's ranking system to manipulate traffic and lend an artificial credibility to their visitor counts?