Work in this business long enough — I’ve been a sportswriter for 34 years — and you’ll write articles that athletes and their fans don’t like. Taking heat from fans has always been part of the job, and if you can’t take it, you won’t last.
But the Internet and social media are creating some interesting wrinkles in an old ritual. Last week John Daly posted my company cellphone number on his Twitter page and urged his fans to “flood the number” with calls. John wasn’t happy that I wrote an article in The Florida Times-Union summarizing the huge store of information contained in his 456-page PGA Tour personnel file — a file I had access to only because Daly unsuccessfully sued Morris Publishing, the Times-Union’s parent company, for a column written by a former staffer in 2005 that Daly believed defamed him.
During discovery, Morris’s attorneys obtained Daly’s Tour file on a court order. When the case was closed, the file became public record.
Within an hour after John posted my cell number, I received about 30 calls. The next day the total had grown to more than 100. Most were hang-ups, some had a few choice words, and one threatened my family. With the exception of the threatening call, no single response was different from what any sportswriter hears after writing a controversial story or column.
At first I was mostly amused and then a bit annoyed when the call count surpassed my usual golf score. But my main concern was the precedent. Are athletes now going to use social media as a form of retaliation? Daly posted my office cell number — in reality, no big deal. But many athletes have reporters’ home numbers. Will that be the next line crossed? I would not have wanted my daughter to hear some of what her father heard. I can take it, but my child or my wife shouldn’t have to.
Daly told ESPN that the cell number was “public information,” since I give it on my office voice mail. True enough. But he had to know how his fans would react. Will the next angry athlete make the distinction between work phones and home phones?
The Golf Writers Association of America has called for sanctions against Daly. That’s fine, if the PGA Tour so chooses. I’d settle for an acknowledgement by Daly that he crossed a line.
If Daly had issues, he could have called me himself. I gave him and his agent ample opportunity to do so before the story ran. And I would still welcome a chat with Daly. He can call me anytime. Obviously, he has the number.