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SPORT

Dec 21, 2010

The seedy year of the sports star, the smartphone and social media

Once there was a time when a sports star, from any code, could undertake any type of unseemly act, be it with human or animal, and be safe in the knowledge that the chance of it becoming public was remote.

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Once there was a time when a sports star, from any code, could undertake any type of unseemly act, be it with human or animal, and be safe in the knowledge that the chance of it becoming public was remote.

It was a time before iPhones and Twitter and Facebook, where a sex scandal, and whether it ever became a story, was at the call of the humble newspaper editor or TV producer.

In sex scandals past you’d need to be “unlucky” — say Dwight Yorke and Mark Bosnich unlucky. The two Aston Villa stars made a VHS video (remember them?) in 1998 with four women only for “Joe Public” to “find” the video in Yorke’s garbage and hand it to UK tabloid The Sun.

Or even earlier, say back to 1972, when a surprised American media found out via press conference of the wife swapping and subsequent dual divorce of New York Yankees players Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich. In this case there was no video evidence and all parties concerned were reportedly amicable.

yankees

How things change…

Today, the AFL and the St Kilda Football Club are reeling, after allegedly compromising photographs of several Saints players were made public yesterday on Facebook and later, Twitter. A 17-year-old Melbourne girl, who claims to be the source of the photos, published the photos in question yesterday to the popular social networking sites only for the claims to be refuted by St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt in a press conference this morning.

HeraldSun

The photos have now gone viral and despite a Federal Court injunction that ordered the Facebook and Twitter accounts in question to be deleted, countless people in Australia and around the world have received the photos by email, Facebook, through websites or Twitter.

According to Peter Bartlett, a Partner at law firm Minter Ellison and a media law expert, in cases such as the latest St Kilda scandal where photographs — once posted on sites such as Twitter and Facebook — go viral “it’s difficult to gain an injunction and even more difficult to enforce the injunction.”

“There are so many social media sites available and many of these are sourced from overseas …or the corporate entity controlling them are outside the jurisdiction of Australian courts,” said Bartlett. “It is possible to obtain an injunction against such sites but when the controlling entity is outside the jurisdiction of the court it’s difficult to enforce an order with an uncooperative site.”

Sites such as the extremely popular BigFooty are inevitably involved when such news breaks.

Adrian Appleyard, BigFooty‘s Community Manager told Crikey that “BigFooty is a US-based platform on which people publish their own material, for which they are responsible. There are rules about how people may use the platform, including some imposed by the web site host, but within those rules they can publish what they like on one of our hundreds of themed boards. WikiLeaks is generating a lot of discussion on our Politics board, for instance.”

“We strive to be reasonable human beings and if an issue like this blows up moderators will sometimes lock threads and check with our Admin team whether they would damage the site as a whole — ten thousand angry fans arguing over one issue tends to make the place less conducive to normal interaction between users, no matter what the issue is.

“In the current case, Admin worked out the photos are everywhere and don’t contravene the rules (if the naughty bits are covered) so they are not taking any action.”

The St Kilda incident is the third case this year of sports stars being exposed in this manner.

In August, US sports blog Deadpin revealed that in 2008 New York Jets journeyman quarterback Brett Favre had sent numerous voicemails and photos of himself to in-house sideline reporter Jenn Sterger’s mobile phone. Once again, the photos went viral forcing Favre to admit ownership of the voicemails but denying the “cockshots”. But the damage was done — cue Taiwan’s Next Media Animation video and a series of Conan O’Brien jokes.

And more recently, in early November, Canberra Raiders star Joel Monaghan was forced to quit after photos emerged via Twitter of a dog performing what appeared to be a sexual act on the star centre. He no longer plays Rugby League in Australia after signing for Warrington Wolves in England.

So what’s the remedy for this crass cocktail of seedy acts, smart phones and social media? Legally, it appears that whatever protection these sport stars may have is scant and hard to enforce.

Perhaps they should refrain from finding themselves in compromising situations to begin with, no matter what sport they play and whichever mammal they’re accompanied by.

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