I have a theory about what causes 90 percent of sports fans’ worst behavior: It’s not born from obsession but a need to fulfill an insider fantasy.
In an age in which not just fantasy sports, but fantasy sports analysis and fantasy sports supplies are cottage industries, the fundamental delusion of the fan is control. The belief that the average fan is basically part of team management underlies a lot of suspect (but increasingly normalized) behavior: Closely watching high school athletes who aren’t your son (“scouting”), simulating 20 seasons in Madden (“projecting”), and calling into sports radio shows with desperate pleas directed at free agent athletes (“recruiting”).
And with social media actually reducing barriers to access, now exists the worst manifestation of this mania yet: Twitter rumor-mongering. A stable of legitimate reporters provide this service, like Jon Heyman for baseball and Adam Schefter for football. But when fans cross the line between eagerly awaiting breaking news and needing to feel like they’ve got Billy Beane’s number in their cell phone, the market demands a particular type of snake oil salesman.
Enter the “Twitter Insiders.” Anonymous users with official-sounding handles and spooky avatars are proving with their follower counts just how desperately fans want to know about trades a few minutes before news actually breaks.
I parodied the phenomenon in February, right before the NHL trading deadline. And while my post was a minor hit among freaky hockey sickos, the mongering has only gotten worse, with fake insiders proving as popular as ever during this hockey offseason.
At the heart of hockey’s fake rumor mill sits Eklund, the guy behind HockeyBuzz.com, who codified many genre conventions, including, but not limited to, anonymity, hyperbole, and secretive language. Eklund, real name Dwayne Klessel, who lists his phone number in his Twitter bio, has long since passed from nuisance to novelty. That his throw-crap-at-the-wall approach is less successful than random chance has long been obvious. And Eklund’s self-deprecating tone and mostly genial demeanor has aided his transformation from villain into farce.
Still, HockeyBuzz.com boasts 30 million unique visitors per month. Even faced with the low odds of anything Eklund writing coming to pass, people flock to his, hoping to find a small nugget of inside information in a pile of crap. After all, Eklund’s information is sometimes good, and he denies making stuff up, but he doesn’t have any filter, and never seems to bother to confirm anything the way fusty, factual old media journalists would.
Now, however, a more insidious type of Twitter insider is on the rise, one that cannot be easily dismissed as unfiltered and unverified. These prattlers, who probably are lying and were the true targets of my parody, exploit Twitter’s features to create an illusion of credibility. They bury their mistakes under the sheer volume of tweets, and magnify their successes with retweets. They also block anyone who challenges them.
Basically, these accounts are like the worst kind of “psychic” hustler, only for hockey fans, and instead of “the cards” it’s “my sources.” Their tweets are cold readings, purposely vague and all-encompassing, allowing the fan to imagine the best possible future for their team, while also giving the rumormonger an excuse for when everything they said inevitably goes belly up.
Most notable and brazen among them is @hockeyyinsiderr, who, just a week after getting everything wrong about Zach Parise’s negotiations , still commands a huge and loyal audience. The night before Parise and Ryan Suter signed with the Minnesota Wild, the Insiderr claimed that there was a 5 percent chance the two would go to Minnesota.
Then, right before their signings, Mr. Insider changed his tune in a tweet meant to cover his ass, one claiming Parise and Suter might sign with the Wild. Afterwards, he created an entire story about Parise reneging badly on a commitment to Pittsburg. The way he told it, Sidney Crosby was practically calling for a Canadian invasion of Minnesota. TSN actual-insider Darren Dreger was so offended by this narrative, he took time to call him out, citing Penguins’ GM Ray Shero as his source.
In what turned into an embarrassing internet squabble, HockeyyInsiderr told Dreger to un-block him and apologize, threatening to leak a compromising photo of the Canadian sportscaster at work (which was of course acquired from an anonymous source). The “incriminating” photo wasn’t even PhotoShopped; the Insider taped a printout to a computer monitor and took a picture. He’s daring you to unfollow him now.
But you shouldn’t get mad at the Insiderr, a guy who cons people so masterfully, who grows an audience in the face of seemingly career-destroying missteps. He proves you can just BS your way through everything, and fools enough people enough of the time to now be working to form a team of “expert rumor breakers” that will be selected from among his followers. Yep, now all you have to do to be an expert is follow a guy who says he is one.