The NFL got exactly what it deserved with the embarrassing story of a media member walking out of the Super Bowl locker room with Tom Brady’s jersey.
It’s been building up to something like this for years, with the league issuing credentials to all kinds of people from all kinds of places in an attempt to make American football a pop culture spectacle on every continent.
The men and women who cover the NFL regularly are not a priority in this quest. America already loves and follows the league more than any other professional sport, and follows it through conventional sources.
To have reporters come to the big game from, say, China or Egypt or Brazil or Turkey, that’s got potential for opening the eyes and ears and wallets of new customers worldwide.
I’ve been covering Super Bowls for a long time and the slow trend of granting access to outside and sometimes out-of-this-world “journalists” was a mere annoyance most of the time.
Late-night TV hosts always would send special correspondents to ask stupid questions and launch elaborate skits on Media Day, the event where both teams come to the stadium in uniform to be photographed and questioned and generally subjected to a mob scene.
Some of it was cute enough, like the grade-school kid supposedly reporting for “Weekly Reader” and getting passed up to talk with the quarterback on the podium. Some of it was clownish, like a beauty queen in a wedding dress asking players to marry her, or some blockhead bounding through the crowd on stilts.
For one morning each year everybody pretty much put up with it, because most of the interlopers were not granted access beyond Super Bowl Media Day itself.
At some point, however, and it probably was about the time the NFL Network came to be, the league decided to step it up a notch. Super Bowl Media Day became a prime-time event with a commercial sponsor and a live broadcast spread across three hours and three networks.
Can’t be surprised when something like that leads to anybody with a blog and a taxi fare to the stadium seeking a credential. The league gets all serious with photo I.D.’s and laminated credentials and scanning machines and metal detectors, but it’s pretty difficult to be utterly serious about some things and not about others.
The NFL, for instance, is determined to mine the Mexico City market. The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots will be sent there this season to play a regular-season game with the Oakland Raiders as a show of that commitment. With that decision comes a necessary promotional relationship with the Mexican media.
That’s how you wind up with a guy who works for Diario La Prensa, a newspaper in Mexico City, gaining credentials and access to the team locker rooms at the Super Bowl, even though that representative may never have spent any time doing legitimate reporting on NFL action.
Brady’s jersey was tracked to Mauricio Ortega in Mexico, who was listed as director of the publication and not as a reporter of sports or any other category. He also was known to have been spending his time during Super Bowl week gathering autographs and taking selfies with players, which should have gotten him red-flagged a lot earlier than Super Bowl Sunday.
It wasn’t Ortega’s first masquerade as a working journalist, either. He had attended previous Super Bowls and in his home was found a helmet that may have been stolen from a previous game.
So it is that one turkey out of 20,000 credentialed Super Bowl reporters showed himself to be a thief and an imposter. Or maybe we should say at least one out of 20,000. With media masses like that and an event this deliberately overblown, it’s impossible to be exact with sort of number.
The NFL got what it finally deserved here, and it took the involvement of the FBI and the Houston police department and Mexican law enforcement authorities and even the Texas Rangers to clean up the mess. Of course, great gobs of taxpayer money went down the drain, too.
Will this pare down the Super Bowl credentialing list? Not enough to matter. There always will be groupies at any big show, and con men smart enough to slip through the cracks.