Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool’s Day: Not A Big Fan

Yes, April has finally arrived. I am happy that this fourth month of the year is upon us. It’s my favorite sports month of the year because so much is about to happen. You’ve got the NCAA men’s and women’s Final Four, the NCAA Frozen Four hockey championship, the start of the Major League Baseball season (Go Yankees!), the Masters golf tournament (which would still be a great watch even if we didn’t have to deal with the circus that is Tiger Woods’ return), and the start of the NHL and NBA Playoffs. From a sports standpoint, it’s great.

It’s just that the first day has to get in the way. The first day of the month is, of course, April Fool’s Day. Which means folks are ready to trot out all kinds of jokes to mess with their friends, colleagues or whoever’s watching or reading.

Naturally, April Fool’s Day is heavily celebrated on the Internet. If you’ve checked your email, Twitter, Facebook or any active message board today, you’ve probably come across links to stories that sounds so ridiculous and out there that they can’t possibly be true. And lo and behold, they’re not. Because too many people are already gullible enough to believe that anything on the Web is true. Not surprisingly, some folks didn’t bother to check their calendars to see that the day of the big joke is here along with the sun and warmth of springtime.

Maybe it’s me getting older. Or maybe it’s because I’m a journalist. But I’m not the biggest fan of fake news. After all, there’s enough of them floating around the Web on days before and after April 1. But today, you’re going to see these stories many times over. One sports message board I visit regularly is a breeding ground for fake news on this day. So far, I’ve seen posts that former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was arrested for driving while intoxicated. Another post supplied the “breaking news” that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, already the subject of heavy NFL off-season trade talk, was going to be traded to their NFC East division rivals, the Washington Redskins. No links were provided to these “news items,” thankfully, and everyone moved on.

The YES Network, broadcast partner of the New York Yankees, joined the party through its River Avenue Blues blog. A “story” published today read that Cablevision, owners of Madison Square Garden, MSG Network, the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, are still interested in purchasing the Yankees, a pursuit that began back in the 1990s when Yankees games still aired on MSG Network. Of course, the end of the blog post had a postcard indicating it was a ruse. But plenty of Yankees fans that didn’t realize it was a joke were up in arms. After all, we know the Yankees have excelled under the Steinbrenner family (please save your hatred, Yankee haters), while the Knicks and Rangers have largely floundered under the Cablevision regime. Given that the story took some pretty sharp digs at Cablevision’s James Dolan, who oversees the Knicks and Rangers and is being held responsible for the failures of the teams in the last decade, it will be interesting to see how MSG bites back.

But here’s when keeping a joke can go all kinds of wrong. A few years ago, when Dan Patrick was at ESPN, he had a segment on his radio show with longtime baseball writer Peter Gammons. Gammons said on air that he’d heard from sources that former Cincinnati Reds star Pete Rose, barred from consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame for betting on games, was going to be reinstated, therefore making him eligible for enshrinement in Cooperstown, N.Y. The “news” was cause for celebration among Reds fans and Rose fans anxious to see Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader enter the Hall of Fame. But once Patrick revealed that it was just a joke, he was deluged with angry calls and emails for the duration of the show. Sometimes, a joke can go too well.

I know some of you reading this will tell me to lighten up. After all, most logical people know what today is about and no one will really be hurt by it. True, most of the jokes are harmless and at the end of the day, smart people will figure it out, have a laugh and say, “Man, you got me!” But for folks who pride themselves on presenting the truth to people, it’s not a lot of fun. Especially if you’re the poor sap who has to make calls or go to the scene of what turns out to be nothing but a joke. Or if the credibility of your agency is called into question because someone decided to join with the crowd and be part of the fun of April Fool’s Day.

All this said, I still have a sense of humor and can have a good laugh when someone gets fooled. But at least make your scenarios somewhat plausible. Better yet, leave the fake news to The Onion and The Daily Show.

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