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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Former ESPN.com writer Sarah Phillips addresses allegations by Deadspin exposé

The Internet was set ablaze Tuesday following the release of Deadspin’s amazing exposé of now-former ESPN.com columnist Sarah Phillips and her alleged exploits as an online scammer.

We highly recommend you take time out to give the lengthy story a read. But, in short, the article chronicles her meteoric rise from gambling message board commenter to gambling columnist for Covers.com to columnist for ESPN.com in a span of just 13 months. Along the way, she allegedly used her employment with ESPN (her apparent good looks probably helped, too) to con people into investing in Web sites she was purportedly setting up — one about sports comedy, another about sports gambling — all under the too-familiar lofty assurances of a lucrative return on their investment.

Deadspin interviewed two people Phillips managed to dupe: “Ben,” whom Phillips recruited for her sports humor site and whose popular NBA Memes Facebook page was hijacked by Phillips and her shady associates; and Matt, whom Phillips coaxed into giving her thousands of dollars.

The story also raises questions about Phillips’ actual identity — Who is she? Is she who she says she is? Is her name actually Sarah Phillips? Is she the actual person she claims to be in photos? What’s more, is she even a she? (This issue on her identity first arose when, as a writer for Covers, photos purportedly of her were clearly of two different people.)

Those questions were exacerbated by the fact that nobody whom she worked for even bothered to meet with her in-person — only online correspondence and phone calls took place. Yep, you read that correctly. The World Wide Leader in Sports has hired people without meeting them.

ESPN terminated Phillips shortly after the story was published.

Deadspin’s initial report is only the tip of the iceberg. We’re still waiting for ESPN to comment. Meanwhile, there are still a lot of questions with no answer. Such as, who are Nilesh and Navin Prasad? Are they even real? Many enterprising hounds on Twitter have dug up bits of info, trying to piece together who exactly this woman is. And as those pieces come together, we’re starting to see just how crazy this person might be and how elaborate the scheme was.

LBS reached out to Phillips but she declined to comment at the moment. She did go on a Twitter binge Tuesday evening in an attempt to give her side of the story. Among other revelations, she admitted to “concealing” her identity and making “poor choices with who to trust.” Here are those tweets:

If you’re interested in my running theory about Phillips, here ya go (if you’re not interested, this post is over; thanks for making it this far):

Phillips started out totally legitimate (we’ll buy her story of using of other people’s photos as her own to keep herself in the good graces of future employers), just a damned lucky sports fan plucked out of obscurity to become a sports writer. Somewhere down the line she accrued massive gambling debt. After all, Deadspin’s source Matt said she once dropped $3,000 on a petty Cardinals-Brewers over/under line. Out of options, she got desperate and she started moonlighting as a her version of a Nigerian prince.

That’s all speculation, of course. Just my way of trying to make sense of all this. It’s not a perfect theory. It doesn’t address how her “associates” fit into the picture or some other facts, but that’s what I’m going with until we get the real story.

And hopefully we do get the real story because this is nothing like we’ve ever seen before in the media. Sure, there’s been Janet Cooke, Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass, but those were journalists who fabricated their work. Phillips possibly fabricated an identity.

We have a feeling this isn’t the last time we’ll be writing about Sarah Phillips. And based on the whacky twists and turns this story’s already taken, I wouldn’t be surprised if Phillips ended up being a middle-aged woman in Ishpeming, Mich.



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