Let’s make one thing clear at the outset: nobody knows if this much-talked-about video of Dallas Cowboys star wide receiver Dez Bryant doing something that could get him suspended from the NFL even exists. There are plenty of rumors, and there are people who claim to know what the video supposedly shows, but no member of the media has claimed to have actually seen said video.
Yet over the past week, the story about the video that may or may not exist of Dez doing something horrible in a Dallas-area Walmart parking lot has gone from the sort of unsourced innuendo that gossip blogs like Terez Owens traffic in to something that reporters from mainstream outlets with league partnerships are openly talking about. Last Friday, on an appearance with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, the head of NBC’s ProFootballTalk, Mike Florio, decided to bring it up. Speaking about the Cowboys’ seeming reluctance to sign Bryant to a long-term contract, he said:
One of the, I guess I would say best-kept secrets in the media, because no one’s reported it yet—there is a story that all of the major insiders know about, that we’ve known about for months, involves a video tape. And I don’t know that it exists. I know people have been trying desperately to get it. I know the Cowboys are aware of it, and because of that, and possibly other reasons, the Cowboys have been very reluctant to commit major money to him. That’s been kind of the open secret among members of the media.
Hosts Shan Shariff and RJ Choppy told me they’d heard from two different people that the Cowboys have a specific concern about Bryant. And I blurted out something about the rumors regarding the video that may or may not exist.
I was careful to point out that it’s not known whether the video exists, explaining that reporters covering the NFL had been trying for months to find the video.
Florio’s insistence that the video is an unconfirmed rumor is a useful bit of covering, but it’s nonetheless unusual for a reporter with a mainstream news outlet to talk about unsourced speculation as though it’s news. Florio didn’t immediately respond to request for comment—we’ll update here if he does.
Today Florio writes that Bryant’s previous history “definitely justifies an ongoing pursuit of the video—or at a minimum the pursuit of a clear statement that there is no video.” But who is qualified to make a clear statement that no video exists?
A rumor like this is impossible to put an end to because you can’t prove a negative. The source for the rumored video would likely have to be either Walmart’s legal department, a Dallas-area police department, or perhaps an anonymous hacker on the “dark web,” as Deadspin discusses. In other words, if Walmart says no video exists, it may just be that it’s in the hands of the police; if every Dallas-area police department is contacted with no luck, maybe the video is actually circulating among the same people who swap celebrity nudes on creepy forums. Et cetera, et cetera. There’s no way to prove that a video no one has seen doesn’t exist.
Once Florio decided to speculate on the air that there might be a video showing Dez Bryant doing something bad in a Walmart parking area, though, reporters who had previously kept the story under wraps because, er, there was no story, suddenly addressed the issue. Chief among them is ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who was interviewed about the rumor on Monday on ESPN’s Carmen & Jurko podcast, explaining that he had not seen a video but that he was aware of what the rumors were about what was on it.
Schefter: I’ve been working on it since September. There’s a lot involved. …
Carmen and Jurko: And you did it in a very clandestine way it sounds like. Did you feel like you had to?
Schefter: Well listen, whatever we’ve been working on is not ready and maybe it never will be. Who knows? You’ve got to be very careful on these things. People can talk about videos, they can talk about this, they can talk about that. The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t mean anything and it’s really not fair to him right now until you have all your facts in line. Which we spent a long time trying to do.”
The very fact that a reporter like Schefter, with the resources of ESPN behind him, has failed to turn up a video even after six months of investigation that he says took up much of his time during the 2014 season might seem to suggest that no video exists. The fact that Deadspin yesterday offered cash money to anyone who can provide the video to them and has thus far come up empty might do the same. But again, you can’t prove a negative, and so the rumor mill continues to churn.
The latest rumor appeared early on Thursday, when Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network revealed the existence of a July 2011 incident report from a Walmart in Lancaster that involved a vehicle registered to Bryant. Nothing in that incident report implicates Bryant—the report, which alleges that a woman was dragged from one vehicle to another, indicates the woman was in an argument with a different man, and she denies that their argument was physical—but it’s possible that this is the incident to which the rumors refer.
After the year that the NFL had in 2014, no one should be shocked at the idea that any player in the league might be capable of something horrible. But even if a video that depicts exactly what members of the mainstream media are suggesting turns up tomorrow, it doesn’t make speculating about it before they’ve seen it responsible.