Friday, February 04, 2005

Daunte Culpepper Victim Of Bad Journalism

While participating in a news conference Wednesday, the Minnesota Vikings quarterback fielded an awkward question from a paralyzed 17-year-old boy.

"Hey Daunte," said J.T. Townsend. "Can I get some ice?" -- a reference to the $100,000, diamond-encrusted necklace around Culpepper's neck.

With cameras rolling, Culpepper walked over to Townsend and thrilled him by hanging the necklace around his neck. Later, Culpepper sought out Townsend and put the chain back on. At Culpepper's request, Townsend's parents wrote down his address and contact information. Culpepper promised to send him gifts and memorabilia.

A genuine moment, showing the nice side of a professional athlete. Yet, the media tried to make Culpepper look bad by saying he gave the necklace to the boy, then took it back when the cameras stopped rolling.

The true story comes from Kevin Seifert of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Here's what he witnessed first hand:

We were standing at Culpepper's side when the transaction took place. There was no animosity, no hurt feelings and no accusations of impropriety -- only thank-yous from Townsend, his parents and a doctor nearby.

The AP version of the story, however, in essence painted Culpepper as a spoiled athlete who "sheepishly" took away a gift from a paralyzed teenager once the cameras stopped shooting. Newspapers and Internet sites picked up the story nationally. One problem: Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Anyone who has met Culpepper knows he wears the necklace every day. He has for years. Garish as it might be -- its main ornament is a 6-inch hot pepper -- it carries sentimental and personal value. Since when is anyone -- athlete, actor, politician or average schmoe -- obligated to hand over personal possessions permanently when someone asks? Or should Culpepper have shot down the request and embarrassed Townsend on television?

If that's your story, then the next time someone asks you for your wedding ring or a sweater your grandmother knitted, you better cough it up. Or else find some real news to write about.
Unfortunately, stories from Mark Long of the Associated Press and other outlets, like the Detroit Free-Press, present a mistaken view of what happened, and give a terribly wrong impression of Culpepper.

As the folks at put it, "Why let the facts get in the way of a juicy story?"