Friday, January 20, 2012

Google as Revealer of Unpleasant Truths

One of the things keeping me busy lately is soccer season.

This is the second year we have had the boys in soccer.  They enjoy it.  We enjoy it.  It's a good way to spend time together as a family.

The fly in the ointment for me, this year, has been The Rationalist's U-12 coach. I have cultivated a general eye-rolling feeling towards him for several reasons, the least of which is related to his actual coaching. When we met him, I thought that he seemed familiar to me, especially once he mentioned he was a youth minister.  Though I couldn't specifically place him, I had the sense that we must have glancingly met him at some point in the 12 years that we have lived here.

Curious, I googled him when I got home and realized that we had visited a church he was starting many years ago.  We had visited just one time, so I doubt that he would have any remembrance of us as a part of a large group of people, but I remembered him because we gave him our attention for one full Sunday morning, even if it had been 6 years ago.

Googling someone, in some cases, can provide a key to their personality.  It's not an exact science, but for those who have a heavy web presence, it can pretty much lay out their lives--good, bad, and curious--in a few seconds.

What I found on the coach was evidence of many start-ups of various churches, stints as a youth minister at various churches, several career websites where he hyped his motivational speaking skills and mentions of playing for the NFL.

Mixed in with that were a couple of links with questions about whether this man had ever actually played with the Dallas Cowboys. Apparently, someone didn't believe his resume and wanted to know more about him from an expert on all things Cowboy-related.

What came out on the website is that there was no mention of his name on any NFL roster at any time, for any game with that team.  As far as the Dallas Cowboys were concerned, this man didn't exist. Searching a little bit further, the expert on the website found only one reference to him.  Apparently, he had tried out for the Cowboys, had initially been signed as a place kicker, but then was dropped/waived after a couple of months.  However, he never played a single game and it is unclear how much of those 3 months were actually spent with the team because he was signed in April and waived in July, presumably before the pre-season and definitely before the actual season which started on 9/13/87.

I had stumbled across an unsettling fact.  The coach was an exaggerator, possibly a liar, depending on how you looked at it.

I wasn't sure what to think about the whole thing. It seemed too incredible to me to think that this man would blatantly misrepresent himself, but that is exactly what he did.

The coach had advocated we follow him on facebook for soccer updates and there was no mention of the NFL on his info/work page. Several of the defunct churches' websites that mentioned him didn't mention it either. Maybe, I thought, this was a brief slip-up by him.  Maybe it was a misunderstanding by someone in the past, thinking he was claiming to have played as opposed to briefly being signed to the Cowboys.

Further googling turned up a couple of mentions of the pastor/coach and the NFL in personal blogs of people who were working with him or introducing him as a guest speaker.  The term "former NFL player" was used as a credential for appealing to youth.  Still, these mentions were several years old and very brief, no more than a sentence or two, not detailed elaborations. But now, instead of just finding references to the Dallas Cowboys, I was finding references to the New York Jets also.

Disturbed, I decided to do my own fact-checking, going to official NFL sites and the official Dallas Cowboys site and New York Jets site, running various searches to try and turn up any overlooked information, searching by year, name, position, etc. I found no mention of him anywhere on any of the official team rosters maintained by any NFL organizations.

It bugged me, but wanting to be charitable and give the benefit of the doubt, I pushed it aside thinking it was probably in the past, a minor case of braggadocio that had flared up and burnt itself out rather quickly.....until it wasn't anymore.

Not long after the soccer season started, the coach decided to give a pep talk about getting enough sleep, eating the right things, and drinking enough fluids the day before the game.  It was at this point that he mentioned this was the advice given to him when played in the NFL.

 A couple of kids gasped and exclaimed excitedly, "You played in the NFL?"

"Yeah.  I sure did," he said.

"What team?" they asked.

"I played for the Cowboys and the New York Jets," he said confidently.

"Wow!" they said.

I stood there, silently thinking despicable thoughts.

Misunderstanding?  No.

Exaggeration? Possibly able to be construed as such.

Outright Lie? In my book, yes.

Google had laid bare this man's lie before me.  I knew something about him that no one else on that soccer field knew at that moment, that he was lying to our kids' faces and to ours.

Practice was over.  We went home and I stewed, wondering how this man could so casually represent himself the way that he did...the same man who markets himself as a motivational speaker to teens in order to teach them not to smoke, drink or have sex before marriage...the same man whose facebook page was filled with mini-sermons about serving God.


The awkwardness of knowing more about a person than I normally would, without them even realizing it, is pervasive. There's no way to reveal what I know without seeming creepy and stalker-ish as if I spend all my time researching the personal lives of those around me. And, there's no real point in revealing what I know because while it reflects very poorly on this man's character and personality it has absolutely zero to do with his soccer coaching. It's something he says to boost his own self-image and give him more prestige in the eyes of others, but after that brief moment it recedes in relevance.

Still, it annoys me.  It is hard to listen to him speak without second-guessing everything he says as exaggeration and self-promotion.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

A blowhard. Possibly harmless, but such character flaws can also red-flag other things.

If you do decide to mention it, you don't have to give the least explanation. Just say "Don't make that claim again unless you are prepared to prove it." A warning shot across the bow may be enough.

I've been a blowhard and exaggerated things. Being called on it helps. There may be some core of truth that this is wrapped around. He may have had a tryout as an undrafted free agent. Whether he was a DI college player would be another clue.

terri said...

There is a grain of truth to the story. He was a college football player at a large Southern Baptist University. He tried out for the Cowboys and must have been signed for a very brief time. The only evidence for this is a one sentence notice in the NYTimes Sports section that lists him and a couple of other players who were "waived" AKA "let go" from the Cowboys. He was let go before the pre-season and the regular season. At most he may have attended training camp for a short time.

The problem isn't that there is a grain of truth as much as how he portrays it. There is a world of difference between being signed and dropped quickly and "playing in the NFL". Playing implies that you actually played games and spent a decent amount of time with the team, none of which he did.

The funny thing is that simply getting a tryout for the Cowboys and being briefly signed is a great accomplishment that not many people achieve. You don't even have to embellish that to impress least people who are into sports.

But, I guess that doesn't sound as good as "I played in the NFL."

That kind of dishonest bending of the truth is one of my pet peeves. I instantly don't trust people who I catch behaving in this way. You can never take them at their word when they describe their side of a story. You're always left wondering what the real story is.

Makes me think of most politicians!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I call that more than a grain of truth. It's not the same as playing in the NFL, but I wouldn't call it a world of difference, either. I think a large percentage of the population is going to fall beneath your standard. Whole countries, even.

It will be a wonderful lesson to your sons' characters to pass on how important this is to you. I don't know what age is most appropriate for this level of abstraction, though. You probably want to embed some of it even before they are fully out of the black-white thinking they will apply. Good luck.

terri said...

I disagree about it being more than a grain of truth.

At most, he may have attended a week or two of training camp...that's it.

My original post already indicated that he had been signed and then dropped.

And, I don't think that many other people would react differently if they heard him talking about "playing in the NFL" or being a "former pro football player" and then found out he spent one or two weeks in training camp and that's it and never played a single game, pre-season, regular season, or anything else.

Here's the thing. The NFL and all of their various team organizations keep very detailed and extensive records going back to the very beginning of their organizations. Besides those official sites, there are all kinds of amateur sports statisticians that keep detailed and extensive records.

Discovering the untruth behind what this man claims is/was extremely easy because everything is so well-recorded and there is a lot of redundancy in record-keeping.

I already said that what he claims could be construed as exaggeration, or braggadocio.

I personally think it goes beyond that and here's why. This man has to know what's out there on Google. He describes himself as being very media savvy, uses e-mail, facebook and twitter extensively and has obviously created various websites for churches he has tried to start up and career-type sites hyping his resume.

This question about his status as a pro-player comes up 4th in the list of hits on Google's front page when you search his name. Someone who is so involved with the web has surely searched his own name and seen this link.

In light of that, I think it moves from exaggeration to lie when he continues to use it over and over again with no qualifications or explanations. He very clearly implies that he spent a decent amount of time in the NFL.

What he does, he does purposely. He mentions this stuff to our kids, but didn't mention it to the adults when he introduced himself. He hypes it when promoting a separate site, aimed at teens but strangely leaves it off of his facebook list.

To me, this show conscious thought about who he thinks he can get away with saying this stuff to(impressionable kids) and where he can say it without being called on it(private separate site, not facebook and twitter).

What does it all mean?

I really don't like it....yet at the same time I don't think that the man is a monster or a criminal or a terrible person.

The problem, for me, is that people who go to such efforts to impress and manipulate, and self-promote are inherently untrustworthy.....and yet all of the positions he inhabits require trust from the people around him and revolve around influencing people and trying to get them to see things a certain way.

And, the standard should be high for someone who is a minister. This isn't some Joe-Shmoe guy talking smack with his buddies over a couple of beers....this is a man who earns a living representing a church in a leadership capacity.

It rankles me in the worst way.

On the other hand...I have no plans to say or do anything about it because it would serve no purpose. I have only told my husband what I learned and wouldn't tell my son unless some extraordinary, relevant reason compelled me to.

Instead I just rant about it on an anonymous blog that no one in my real life reads! ;-)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I ran across this guy today. See particularly under "legacy."

wv: naming. That must mean something here.