Mark Sanchez, A 17-Year-Old Girlfriend, And Another Lesson From Deadspin

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If you follow sports or the New York Jets, you've probably heard about a "Mark Sanchez scandal" at some point over of the last few days. Chances are, you heard Deadspin's name linked to it, and after the sensation created by their coverage of Brett Favre's explicit photos and Rex Ryan's foot fetish, you thought to yourself, "Oooo... I wonder what they'll come up with this time."

That's what I thought, at least. But it's not quite as sensational this time.

In case you missed the coverage at Deadspin or at the New York Post Wednesday morning, here's a brief rundown of what we know...

  • Mark Sanchez partied with Dustin Keller on New Year's Eve, and wound up at a Manhattan club called Lavo, where he met a 17 year-old girl named Eliza. They talked, exchanged numbers, and when Eliza told Mark she was only 17, according to the girl, he said, "Well, we can still talk, but I can't see you until you're 18." She then corrected him, saying that 17 was legal in New York. Later on, Sanchez followed up with Eliza via text message.
  • Then she did what all 17 year-old girls do, and posted about her exchange on Facebook. As she put it, "MARK F--KING SANCHEZ JUST TEXTED ME!!!" You can see an edited screenshot here
  • NOTE: This is precisely why famous people should probably steer clear of 17 year-old girls in the internet age. In any case, then they went to dinner at NOBU in Midtown, Mahattan.
  • It's unclear whether Mark Sanchez was wearing shoes at the time. Screen_shot_2011-02-09_at_9 
  • Then someone started investigating the relationship. It's still unclear who reached out to Eliza, the 17 year-old at the center of all this, but someone began e-mailing, and for some reason, Eliza thought it was a good idea to reach out to Deadspin's editors so that she could tell "her version of the story," according to Deadspin's editor-in-chief, A.J. Daulerio. 
  • Her version of the story included tales of hooking up on a stormy night, and two pictures of Mark Sanchez's apartment, which, well... Awesome? I guess?
  • Later, the Jets PR team got involved. In an e-mail to Deadspin, the girl wrote (sic'd): "Well I'm still 'close' w/ mark and he knows about you so jets pr was like here how's you handle it, I don't want to betray him but I don't want to let him play me like this ... So publish what you no and ill just be like it was a deceitful friend of mine. You no?"
  • Then, she backtracked again, and Deadspin snapped back. After the girl snapped and threatened to sue if Deadspin published any of their correspondence, Daulerio followed with this e-mail: "...this is a story, and this is a bigger problem than you think it is. The bottom line is, you talked to me, you talked to me on the record. You then went back on that. Then you went back on again but told me to say a "friend betrayed you". ... Like I said, we don't have to use your name. But this story is going to run. I'd like more cooperation from you but it's not going to change the fact that this story is in the process of being done. I'm not trying to ruin your life, I'm trying to do my job. If you'd been a little more upfront with me from the get-go, we wouldn't be having this conversation." Then Deadspin published the story, complete with Facebook screengrabs, Blackberry photos of an empty room, and back-and-forth e-mails with a 17 year-old girl.

And here we are! Along with financial notes on Eliza's father and terms of her parents' divorce, the New York Post printed the girl's full name just a few hours after Deadspin first ran the story, and now we all know that Mark Sanchez slept with a 17 year-old high school girl from Connecticut. It's officially a non-story story now, and there's no going back. And the lesson in all this is obvious: if you're a celebrity, date 17 year-olds at your own risk. You will probably be exposed.

Deadspin sure seems as satisfied with themselves as always, as they introduced the story, "This story has stormy nights and 2 a.m. text messages and cute photographs and mean professional gossips and very angry lawyers, which is to say it's a story about love." 

...Isn't it amusing how amusing they find themselves? That isn't even snark on my part. It's actually entertaining. In the same way that reality TV makes us wonder, How low will Fox go this time?! And like reality TV, it's much easier to say "we're better than that" than to actually ignore it.

And in theory, a star NFL quarterback dating a 17 year-old sounds like something we'd be interested in. And having a news organization dedicated to demystifying some of sports' biggest icons is, in theory, a pretty awesome resource.

But then you watch it play out, and watch the voyeurism go mainstream, and next you thing you know, we're all watching the painful back-and-forth between a 17 year-old girl and a blog editor. So I guess that's why we're talking about this at all. Just to offer a clarification.

The Mark Sanchez "scandal" isn't a story about love, like Deadspin said. It's a story about someone else's story, and how that shapes our understanding of a quarterback for the New York Jets. And as far shaping that understanding is concerned, it bares mentioning that this story's not triumphantly demystifying anyone; mainly, it's just dragging us down to a level that makes the world look stupid.

At first, it sounded like something we'd maybe be interested in, so we all clicked, making places like Deadspin and the New York Post more popular, with more incentive to go further the next time. We're not better than any of it, but we're not so far gone that we can't point out how stupid it is that a 17 year-old's high school gossip has become news, even if it's only for 15 minutes.

So... Yeah. Here we are again. It's not about a message to Sanchez, but us. And the same way the Rex Ryan story turned all of us into amateur foot fetishists, watching a bunch of YouTube videos focused on Michelle Ryan's feet, reading that stupid Mark Sanchez story just left me feeling like that 17 year-old girl probably does today--sort of regretting I ever went to Deadspin in the first place.

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