I've never been a fan of Ron "Wrong" Borges. Ever since it appeared whatever chip he has on his shoulder about Belichick made him look quite the fool throughout the three Super Bowl championship years, I've written him off. Whatever the reason for it, as a fan of the local team, I am not interested in reading the local paper for a bashing and second-guessing of that team, especially when said team is winning three Super Bowls in four years.
Meanwhile, as a blogger, I'm always interested in the "indie" news sites and blogs on my teams, and as such I have a subscription to Cold Hard Football Facts' newsletter (along with the Football Outsiders, which pretty much comprises the shortlist of the best football sites on the 'Net). The site, written in flippant style and staffed by pigskin enthusiasts who refer to themselves proudly as "trolls", has good football analysis and a fun edge in the tone.
So this just came in my inbox this morning:
File under: Hmmm, very interesting
The Cold, Hard Football Facts are known for original, entertaining, and deadly accurate gridiron analysis, and for a vast command of pigskin history.
Some folks in the sports media are not.
Ron Borges of the Boston Globe, for example, is known for a very loose interpretation of journalistic standards. So it might not surprise some people to find that he recently wrote a story that had numerous similarities to a story the Cold, Hard Football Facts published two years earlier.
We don’t know if Borges culled his story from the pages of Cold, Hard Football Facts.com.
But we do know this: he wrote an article about the 1940s-50s Cleveland Browns for The Boston Globe in January that had numerous similarities to an article we published about the 1940s-50s Cleveland Browns in December 2004. We also know (and can prove) that he routinely peruses the pages of the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
Here’s our story from December 2004.
Here’s his story from January 2007.
Here’s the story behind the story, with links to both articles and a little background on our original piece from two years ago and the numerous reports on the Cleveland Browns dynasty we've published over the years.
Essentially, no publication in America has spent more time than the Cold, Hard Football Facts discussing the Cleveland Browns dynasty of the 1940s-50s. Then, suddenly, a story on the topic appears under the Borges byline, in a newspaper in a part of the country in which you think readers would have little interest in a 55-year-old team from Cleveland.
Even the time frame referenced in the two articles (1946 to 1955) is exactly the same. The set up and the payoff in each piece aren't too much different, either.
Did Borges plagiarize the CHFF? We don't know, and we wouldn't make that kind of accusation. But you look at the stories and decide for yourself.
At the very least we (and now you) know this: if you want great historical analysis and context you'll find it in Cold, Hard Football Facts.com long before you'll find it in the pages of the mainstream sports media.
That conclusion is irrefutable. That conclusion, in other words, is a Cold, Hard Football Fact.
So I read both pieces carefully, side by side. And it's easy to tell why CHFF had to shy away from a blatant accusation of plagiarism--if you define plagiarism as the lifting of entire sections of text, word for word, then Borges is not guilty of that. There isn't anything between the two articles that I could find where Borges' piece uses the same exact language as the CHFF piece.
Then there's the definition of plagiarism as a kind of idealogical dishonesty--the act of a lazy or unoriginal thinker who must base his or her work entirely on the ideas of others. This is a bit of a grey area, and difficult to prove as well. There is quite a long time between the CHFF piece and Borges' piece. One question that stood out in my mind, despite the CHFF claims that Borges is a regular peruser of their site, is why he would have waited so long to use it? The Patriots had another playoff game in 2005 for which Borges could have cooked up the same angle. Also, in both cases the facts used are readily available--there isn't any original interview in either of these two specific pieces.
So then what it comes down to is, did Borges plagiarize the idea--the comparison between the Browns' dynasty and the Patriots'? Does that fit the definition of plagiarism or ripoff, either? After all, we are all informed by what we read or experience on a daily basis. If I read a lot of Roger Angell and then frequently attempt to write in lyrical language about baseball, is that plagiarism? If I read Baseball and Philosophy and then begin analyzing games in combination with Kierkegaard in this blog, is that a ripoff?
Still, I will say this: reading Borges' piece, the entire Browns section reads a bit awkwardly. He discusses other dynasties before getting into the Browns, but then does much more in-depth analysis of the Browns--the headline is also Browns-focused, not about the Pats.
Nearer the end, it grows harder and harder to understand the point Borges is trying to make. He had begun with stiff-sounding praise of the Pats, then delved into the discussion of dynasty, and then spent a majority of the piece's paragraphs discussing the Browns dynasty in a way that seems tangential--on its own, without step-by-step comparisons with the Patriots or any kind of paragraph of sentence which reestablishes the relationship between the facts about the Browns and the occasion he has to write about it, which is the upcoming AFC Championship game.
It isn't until the very end of the piece that he wrenches things back around with the following conclusion:
The beauty of that is the Patriots don't need to be remembered 50 years from now in the same way the Browns of that long-ago era are today. The Patriots don't need anything else to be remembered as the dominant team of their decade, not even another win over Peyton Manning.
At the very least, it's not the finest sports column I've ever read. From my admittedly subjective viewpoint, it does read like the Browns discussion is somehow "tacked on" in Borges' article. Whether or not that means Borges lifted the idea or simply wrote a column that needed more thorough editing and revision, however, is entirely open to debate.
The CHFF article, meanwhile, written in the context of a regular-season game between 2004's dominant Patriots and the modern, hapless Cleveland Browns, makes no such claim at all, instead framing it as something Cincinnati fans can take comfort in, despite the fact that the Patriots are going to put the whuppin' to their team. It's a theme in keeping with CHFF's "no mercy" values and the further discussion of the Browns is introduced in a way that makes sense.
So in the end it's difficult if not impossible to say whether or not Ron Borges stole his idea from CHFF, or why he'd wait two and a half years to do it. But I do have to agree with the point CHFF made in their newsletter--that they made the comparison, and the connection, and wrote about it better, in the first place.
That's why I get their newsletter in my inbox every week or so. And I haven't read a Ron Borges column since it was linked by CHFF, because they think he might have ripped them off.
In other words, this blog post is basically a rehash of the CHFF email. I hope that doesn't mean I'm a plagiarist.