By Todd Franko
Liberty High School football coach Jeff Whittaker liked seeing his former player, Bradley Fletcher, appear in The Vindicator as a guest columnist.
It was good for the community, good for current players and good for Bradley to reach back home, he said.
Another reader I know enjoyed sharing time with his son poring over the Fletcher column each week.
Various readers had such a connection as demonstrated each week on Vindy.com, where readers clicked on Fletcher’s column and left messages of thanks, appreciation and encouragement.
It’s been that way since Fletcher’s debut this summer during training camp — his first season after becoming a third-round draft pick for the St. Louis Rams.
It’s a connection we love to have as a newspaper.
This week, our insider’s seat to the NFL gave us a view of pro sports that you hear about but hope to not see.
Fletcher’s column was essentially a fraud in that the column was also appearing in the Provo Daily Herald and attributed to Naufahu Tahi, who plays for the Minnesota Vikings.
We’re not saying Fletcher is a fraud — just the column.
He entrusted this column to his sports agent and a publicist hired by the agent.
Here’s how our business works with such efforts:
We were offered this column last summer, and it was a welcomed offer.
Last year, we built a bridge with Pittsburgh Steeler Nick Eason, who wrote a training camp blog. It was a popular feature. But as the season began, dedicating the time to do it each week became more difficult for Eason, and he stopped.
So this time around with Fletcher, the hand of a publicist would bridge the gap caused by time demands on a pro athlete.
We accepted that the use of a publicist would mean that sharing Fletcher’s life in writing would be assisted, and that it wouldn’t be purely his words.
Ghost writers are used in many, many ways.
Biographies authored by leading figures are often written by folks whose names appear on the cover in much, much smaller type. President Obama’s speeches — which include phrases such as “I think...” and “My hope is...” — are written by staffers behind the scenes and then signed off by him.
So with Fletcher, we were satisfied that the process would include his ideas, his activities, his feelings — related to a middle person via conversations — and shared with readers each week as Fletcher’s life.
But just as you would not want to read a Bill Gates biography in Seattle and see the same words appear as a Donald Trump biography in New York, we can’t have a Fletcher column appearing here showing up as a Tahi column out west.
Clearly, two players in two towns were not simultaneously thinking identically on topics such as Twitter, fantasy football and realizing NFL dreams, which are among the overlapping themes.
How it all played out is rather murky. The agency blames the publicist, and the publicist has not responded to my contact.
Fletcher and I spoke Friday, and he apologized for the mess. He enjoyed having this connection back to his hometown, and we agreed that we should step away at this point and consider it again next summer with new parameters in place. Until then, he can get on with rehabilitating from a season-ending knee injury.
In this era of instant publishing via the internet, where people have tools and vehicles to instantly share words, photos and video, we see too often the difficulty that publishing newbies have in respecting the line that separates fiction from reality.
The general public expects a high level of credibility from newspapers.
Though we are not perfect, we work hard to make sure every story, photo and newspaper reflect the faith that readers place in newspapers.
Readers deserve to know that what they’re reading is at least authentic.
In this case, our best intentions did not deliver on that goal.