Please don't feed the trolls

August 1, 2011 –  Two weeks ago Brooks Melchior was the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel all rolled into one for a select group of college football fans.  He was heroic, upstanding and a defender of all things true and virtuous.

To others he was a toxic combination of the Joker and Lex Luthor. Evil, disturbed and an agent of chaos for the sake of chaos.

Some praised the man behind the Sports By Brooks website as a hard-edged journalist, one of the few people who had the guts to take on the real stories in the seedy underbelly of college athletics.

Others dismissed him as a self-serving hack, a glorified blogger enamored with sensationalism and suffused with a reckless disregard for the truth.

Some celebrated his posts with euphoric glee.

Others decried his entries with disdain.

Fast forward two weeks and find the roles reversed.

Many of the same people who hailed Melchior as a crusading journalist fighting the good fight now hurl verbal brickbats at the muckraking weasel who’ll stoop to any level to draw attention.

Some of those who were spitting on his name suddenly revel in his forthrightness.

Brooks didn’t change.

The reality is that Brooks Melchior today is still exactly the same guy doing exactly the same thing he was doing two weeks ago.  It’s all a matter of perception.

Whether he is firing inflammatory accusations about Auburn’s Tigerettes and Tiger Hosts or painting a pictorial portrait of a parade of Alabama players patronizing a certain Tuscaloosa suit store,  Melchior has exactly the same agenda.

He’s looking for attention.  He’s pushing buttons, throwing things against the wall and hoping something will stick.

Who is Brooks?  He’s a Georgia graduate with a degree in photography.  He’s a blogger.  He’s not a reporter. He has admitted that many of his “inside sources” are message board posters.

On a credibility scale of 1 to 10, message board posters come in at about negative 18.  That puts Melchior at roughly a negative 22.

The same can be said about Clay Travis, the driving force behind Outkick The Coverage, another entry in the rapidly expanding world of TMZ-style sports review.  He’s a carnival barker hoping you’ll fall prey to his hyperbole and want see what’s behind the tent.

A former lawyer, the Nashville-based Travis once infamously asked Tim Tebow about his sexual history during SEC Media Days.

Was Travis genuinely interested in Tebow’s sex life? No. The question was a calculated effort to draw attention.  And it worked.

Travis craves attention.  It pays his bills.

He’s gotten plenty it, both positive and negative, from Alabama and Auburn fans in recent weeks by blogging about menswear and rumored NCAA investigations.

Does he care about either program?  Only inasmuch as it benefits his ultimate goal.  His goal is your viewership. Nothing more.

If you read his blog, it’s pretty clear he typically mocks both fanbases.

His grandiose plan is to “blow up the NCAA” by getting as many college programs in trouble as he and his new web site can.  He openly brags about putting programs in his crosshairs.

“We’re going to blow up the NCAA before all is said and done,” Travis writes.  Stories like the Alabama one prove what a crap system currently exists. Shining the light on them exposes the fraudulent foundation of modern college athletics.

Travis says his website is going to expose the stories media entities like ESPN is too much of a pansy to cover.  Only “pansies” ask for confirmation or corroboration?

Is it good for any program to have a self-proclaimed reformer embarking on a philosophical jihad?

Does accuracy matter to Travis?  Not as much as eyeballs do.  If he can bury your program, or theirs, or ours in a mountain of muddy innuendo, he’s going to do it.

He’s counting on your help.

Pseudo-media entities like Travis and Melchior rely on the wacky fringe, the utterly obsessed and the borderline psychotic to feed them off the wall theories and speculation.  They bank on the worst of this rivalry — and others like it — to fuel their fires.

Brooks didn’t come up with the idiotic Tigerette story on his own.  It was fed to him by a certain determined segment of fans.

Travis didn’t dig for the T-Town Menswear story.  He found it proliferating on message boards and once it started rolling he was almost certainly provided plenty of ammunition.

There are already rumors about the next asinine message board-based (and baseless) barrages set to ignite.  And to what end?

Rumor and innuendo sweeps the stage and makes ripples (and sometimes waves) that dissipate and dissolve into nothing but the stains of the unfounded accusations remain.

There are some who will go to their grave believing that Tigerettes are paid to serve as striped geishas for potential recruits because they read the insinuation on Melchior’s blog.  Their warped reality cannot be swayed by the truth.

By the same token there are those who will die confident that Alabama players filled closets with free suits and traded signatures for something of value at University Mall because they saw photos posted by Travis.  It won’t matter what (if anything) the University or NCAA says about the issue.  Their minds are already made up.

At the end of the day, both Alabama and Auburn fans would be wise to recognize that neither Melchior nor Travis are journalists nor are they interested in boosting either program.  Their primary interest is in their own self promotion and if they have to set fire to both Alabama and Auburn to advance their agenda, let the conflagration roar.

Melchior wasn’t a crusading genius when he floated the Tigerette story and isn’t a champion of virtue because he’s riding the T-Town Menswear wave.

Travis isn’t a paragon of integrity because he’s hashing haberdashery innuendo about either school.

Both Melchior and Travis are merely making as much noise as they can in order to get you to look.  The damage they do and the carnage they unleash is irrelevant.  They thrive on it.  And they laugh at you while they do.

Travis and Melchior aren’t the only offenders, there are other bloggers, radio hosts, oddsmakers and self-proclaimed message board gurus stirring their own toxic pots, but the two online agents of disinformation serve as prime examples.

There’s an old message board adage: Don’t feed the trolls.  That certainly applies here.

Don’t. Feed. The. Trolls.

No matter how much joy you might get out of your rival’s current blog-fueled predicament, it’s only a matter of time before that shoe is wedged painfully on the other foot.

It’s not quite so funny then.


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