According to Forbes, ESPN, with a valuation of $16.2 billion, is the 32nd most valuable brand in the world. It is the highest ranked media company (Fox, at $11.3 billion, is a distant second). What does that mean for an athlete that screws up? He or she will become fuel for a very large and profitable machine. Combine this with the public appetite for anything that ends in -gate, and it’s easy to see why a pro football team allegedly letting a little bit of air out of a few footballs became the media circus it did. We live in the golden age of sports scandals, which is why it is so fascinating that Peyton Manning’s alleged steroid usage has not turned into Manningate.
When Manning returned to the field in the second half of the Broncos week 17 game against the Chargers, rather than discuss the story and its implications, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms spent much of the half gushing over him. During an interview with Mike Francesa that morning, Nantz said, “If we talk about it we would only continue to breathe life into a story that on all levels is a non-story.”
So what gives? Why does Manning enjoy the kid gloves treatment in the #Scandalgate era? To answer this question, I didn’t want to just theorize and speculate. I wanted to attack this with hard data. I wanted a system – a formula for ranking sports scandals. Upon scouring the web and discovering that such a formula doesn’t exist, I realized it was up to me to invent one. Brace yourselves, it’s about to get mathy in here.
A true scandal needs to have three basic criteria: 1) damning evidence; 2) a heinous villain; and 3) a reprehensible act. The evidence is the least important factor, so that will be scored on a scale of 1-5. We need to believe the scandalizing event happened, so any videos/pictures/sources will help juice up the story, but more important than the evidence is who the scandal involves. Thus the second criteria will be scored on a scale of 1-10. Notoriety is great – the more famous you are the better – but someone who is hated makes for the best scandal fodder. Bear in mind we will allow for a post-scandalizing event character recalibration. In other words, someone might not be a villain at the time of the scandal, but based on what they’ve done we can re-assess our opinion of them and score them accordingly (think: clean cut Tiger Woods and his string of infidelities). Just as important as who the scandal involves is what they did. If Matthew Dellavedova is caught betting on basketball, it would generate minor media waves. If LeBron James is caught betting on basketball, he is sentenced to a lifetime of scorn and awkwardly aggressive Jim Gray interviews. So we’ll score the last criteria on a scale of 1-10 as well. Multiply all three criteria scores and you have your scandal rating. A 500 is a perfect score. With our freshly created formula in place, let’s see how Manningate stacks up.
- Damning Evidence
When Ray Rice punched his fiancée, there was video footage of him knocking her out and dragging her out of the elevator. Without that footage, Roger Goodell’s woefully inadequate two game suspension may have actually stuck, and Ray Rice might still be playing football. It would’ve been just another instance of an athlete committing domestic violence behind closed doors. The video changed everything and vaulted that story to the forefront of the sports news cycle. As far as damning evidence goes, that is a 5. Tiger Woods’ battered escalade and racy text messages (“Where do you want to be bitten”) is a 4.
Al Jazeera’s documentary in which a pharmacy intern said he’d shipped HGH to Manning’s wife? I’d have to score that a 2. Al Jazeera, despite being a reputable news organization, suffers domestically because, let’s face it, an Arabic sounding name is not going to instill trust in the public in the age of Al Qaeda. Also, we could do better than a pharmacy intern. The Manning scandal loses points here because of its sources. The evidence is more shading than damning, placing Manning under a cloud of suspicion rather than a deluge of accusation and derision.
2) A Heinous Villain
To truly scandalize, one needs to be hated. Michael Vick had a pretty high approval rating prior to the dogfighting revelations, which is why he was able to eventually return to the NFL (he also served his punishment and said and did all the right things). Donald Sterling, on the other hand, was abhorred long before he was recording making racist comments to his personal assistant. This helped make Sterlingate a real doozy. In terms of villainy, Sterling is a 10.
Peyton Manning is a legendary quarterback who will make $12 million this year in endorsements alone (“Chicken parm you taste so good”). He has hosted SNL. The dude is likable. If Steph Curry is the most likable athlete on Earth right now (scoring a 1 for villainy), than Peyton gets a 2.
3) A Reprehensible Act
Steroids are bad. Right? I mean, if you’re one of the most famous athletes in your sport, steroid allegations should be a significant smudge to your public image. Well, it depends what sport you play, and it depends when. If you were Barry Bonds in 2001, steroids were very bad. You were besmirching the sacred record books of baseball (and being a real prick to the media while doing so). If you are a football player in 2015, the fact is, steroids simply are not the scarlet letter they have been for baseball players. NFL players caught using performance enhancing drugs receive a four game suspension and the public image equivalent of a slap on the wrist.
Also, on the scale of reprehensible acts, steroids don’t carry that much weight. Tiger Woods and his infidelities would warrant a 6. Donald Sterling’s racism is definitely deserving of an 8. Ray Rice’s domestic violence is an easy 9. And let’s not forget that Aaron Hernandez killed a guy. Unless someone manages to start a steroid-fueled dogfighting ring, then knocks out their wife and goes on a racist killing spree, I think Aaron Hernandez has set the reprehensible act bar. He gets a 10. Compared to these feats, I can’t give an NFL steroids allegation in 2015 more than a 3.
So, if you’re scoring at home, here’s how Manningate ranks against other notable sports scandals:
|Athlete||Damning Evidence||Heinous Villain||Reprehensible Act||Scandal Score|
|Michael Vick||3||7||8 (people love dogs)||168|
There you have it – the numbers have been crunched and Manningate simply doesn’t hold up as a truly buzzworthy scandal. Peyton Manning is too likable, Al Jazeera (through no fault of their own) is too unlikable, and steroids are not juicy enough for this story to ever take off…unless of course we get more damning evidence, or Manning makes a sudden heel turn and has the pharmacy intern incinerated.
Applying this formula will help us rank all future sports scandals and predict what stories will achieve hallowed -gate status. It can also help us look back and figure out why some stories took off while others faltered. You might be wondering, at this point, has anyone ever achieved a perfect score? Has there ever been a 500 – the perfect blend of evidence, villainy, and reprehensibility? There has, and even though it occurred before the #Scandalgate era, one might argue that it ushered in the current sports media climate and made what athletes do off the field as important as what they do on it. Therefore it seems only right that we name the formula in its honor. I give you: the OJ Simpson Sports Scandal Rating Formula. Athletes might lie, but the numbers never do.