Karen Owen And The Duke Sex List (Gaffes Of The Year – #4)

  • Dan Fogarty

2010 was a banner year for controversy in the world of sports media. From the usual barrage of accidental profanity, to the fairly untrodden territory of Twitter faux pas, up to and including the cultural phenomenon that was athletes taking pictures of their penises and sending them to everybody, this year really did have it all if you enjoyed watching people make fools of themselves.

From now until December 30th we’ll be going through our favorite oopsies from the year that was. So come and join us, won’t you, as we count down the Top Ten Sports Media Gaffes of the Year! Today’s gaffe: Karen Owen unwittingly unleashes hell on Duke University.

It probably wasn’t immediately after Karen Owen hit the “send” button that she realized she had really, really messed up. That was back in May, when she sent out her faux honors thesis to three friends as a joke, a submission to “The Department Of Late Night Entertainment” that was meant purely as something to talk about with a few other people.

The “thesis” was a Power Point presentation detailing Owen’s sexual relationships with 13 Duke University athletes, and rating them on a scale of 1-10. The evaluation process included ratings in such categories as aggressiveness (“points were given if the subject displayed an alpha-male mentality”), talent (“points were awarded or deducted based on how well the subjects utilized their hands, mouth, and equipment”) and size (“points were determined on the length and girth of the subjects’ hardware”).

It was well-written, entertaining, and clearly had had a lot of work put into it. Other people needed to see this.

So one (or maybe all) of the friends that Karen Owen sent her presentation to sent it to one of their friends. They probably asked the person they sent it to not to show anyone else. When this person got it, read it, and inevitably had a strong reaction to it (shock, disgust, amazement), they sent it to someone else, who then sent it to someone else, and so on and so forth until it was appearing in email chains and fraternity listservs.

On the morning of September 30th, we received a copy of Karen Owen’s thesis in our tips box, and immediately knew we had something that a lot of people would want to see. But publishing it would be tricky.

Mainly, there was the whole legal thing. There is some pretty terrible stuff said by a few of the guys on the list, and even the ones who rated highly might have grounds for a lawsuit. At the time, I explained the process we went through on that day:

So as some of us began blocking out names and blurring out faces on the Power Point, we wrestled the question of what to do with it. Do we publish it at all? Do we publish excerpts? Do we provide the summary of the details in a post?

By the time we were ready to make any sort of decision, it didn’t matter: Deadspin and Jezebel had put it out there, with the former not blocking out names or blurring out faces (eventually, names were blocked out).

As expected, the ensuing shitstorm was biblical, and in a week, the “Duke Sex List” was being talked about on the morning news shows.

Which is a shame. Because although she did something stupid when she took the time to organize what should’ve been harmless girl talk into a full-on Power Point with charts and pictures, she doesn’t deserve all of the pain she’s probably suffered as a result.

As soon as she hit that “send” button back in May, though, she relinquished control over something that could make her look really, really bad. And when you relinquish control like that, and leave yourself at the mercy of the internet, bad things tend to happen.

The Top Ten Sports Media Gaffes of 2010

10. Chris McKendry’s Unfortunate Slip-up

9. Tim Cowlishaw’s Darrelle Revis “scoop”

8. Jeremy Roenick Cries on the Air

7. Mike Wise’s Fake Twitter Flap

6. Jay Mariotti’s Arrest Brings Joy To Everyone

5. The Media Vs. Cam Newton

4. Karen Owen and the Duke Sex List