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|The media must be properly informed on exactly how to blow a story completely out of proportion.|
The media must follow stringent guidelines when covering the personal lives of athletes. Here are the unwritten rules:
1. The media doesn't report an athlete's marital transgressions, because that's his personal life. The athlete in question may be on pace to break Wilt Chamberlain's career scoring record, but as long as it doesn't affect his performance on the field, his personal life is none of our damn business. What happens in private stays in private.
2. Unless, of course, someone in the media breaks rule No. 1 and reports it first (or the athlete drives into a tree) -- in which case the rest of us are free to pile on, because now it's not his personal life. Now it's news, just like Brangelina or the Gosselins.
3. At this point, the media not only must report the transgressions but must act shocked -- shocked! -- to learn an athlete cheated on his wife, even though we have covered sports for years and seen many athletes routinely cheat on their spouses/significant others. (The media shall be especially appalled if the other women turn out to be not really all that beautiful.)
4. The media shall feel betrayed, because now all those stories we reported about him being such a good family man have turned out to be inaccurate. The media reported those stories in good faith, since we really had absolutely no idea what type of a family man he really was, other than the fact that he chose a profession that takes him away from his family for long stretches of the year.
5. Meanwhile, the media will continue to write "He's a good family man" stories about other athletes we cover, even though we have no firsthand knowledge of their family lives, either.
6. The media shall impatiently demand an explanation and question the athlete's wisdom when he doesn't come clean right away to the people who matter most in such a personal affair -- us, the media -- by admitting embarrassing, intimate behavior in front of the entire world.
7. The media shall express its profound sadness and sympathy for the wife and children. We will do so by dispatching armies of cameramen and reporters to camp outside their house to document their pain and humiliation resulting from the transgressions of an immature, thoughtless husband who is making them go through this painful ordeal in public, rather than allowing them to deal with it privately.
8. The media shall fight like Green Berets to get the exclusive first interview with the troubled athlete, providing him with a sympathetic camera/microphone/notepad to give his side of the story (and then when we lose out to Oprah, the rest of us shall call it nothing but a puff piece).
9. The media shall keep dragging the affair out for cheap punch lines and trite morality lessons until the athlete makes proper amends to his wife and the public by buying her a $4 million diamond ring and winning a championship.
10. Finally, the media will not acknowledge whether we ourselves have ever occasionally strayed in our marriages, because that is none of your damn business.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter @jimcaple.