This Week's Sports Journalism Kerfuffle Centers on Jalen Carter and the Shoplifting Rumor
There was a rumor floating around on Twitter earlier this week involving Eagles DT Jalen Carter, who, alongside his girlfriend, was ALLEGEDLY involved in some sort of shoplifting incident at Target. E.J. Smith at the Inquirer asked about it:
I asked Carter about the social-media rumors that he had an incident at a Target in the city that led to police arriving. His agent and a team representative stepped in before he could answer saying they’d prefer the focus of the evening stay on the event.
— EJ Smith (@EJSmith94) November 14, 2023
The original tweet was posted on Monday afternoon from the account @Phillysamess, which read: “Guess $21 million over 4 years isn’t enough for @breadmanjalen from the @Eagles. Jalen and his girlfriend caught stealing in Center City @Target. Police had Carter in custody but later released.”
Sgt. Mark Fusetti, who typically has good information on these kinds of things in Philly, wrote this a few hours later: “Here’s the incident – Self check out girlfriend failed to ring up stuff. He (Jalen Carter) grabbed bags and went to walk out they stopped him and he got nasty with cops. Someone from eagles or nfl called and he was released.”
Fusetti notes that “Had he not gotten mouthy with the cop we never would’ve heard about it.”
No mainstream media outlets reported on the story. There was no statement from the Eagles, or the police, or Carter, or anybody, really. No charges were filed and no one was arrested, so the rumor just sort of fizzled out over 48 hours.
There are a lot of responses to E.J.’s tweet saying that he shouldn’t have asked about this at a community event. The replies honestly are a total shit show. Putting my Big J hat on for a second, the truth is that there really is no rulebook for this. Typically what happens at these types of events is that media gets some time with the player, they ask a couple of questions about the kids or the charity angle, then there’s time for a couple of generic questions about football at the end. I’m 100% certain the agent and Eagles rep were prepared for this possibility, so I highly doubt anybody was caught off guard by the broaching of the subject.
One consideration is that there was probably an opportunity for Carter/agent/rep to shut this down entirely with a prepped response. Squash it right then and there, yeah? “There was a misunderstanding and it’s all good now.” Blah blah. When you ignore the question like that, you’re leaving the door open to speculation, so from a PR standpoint, that’s something strategic to consider. It’s Thursday morning now and nobody has quashed or denied this rumor, so it will persist. And in Carter’s case, he dropped in the draft due to his involvement in that fatal car crash so there’s always going to be a heightened sense of awareness and attention when he’s connected to some sort of rumor like this.
Looking again at the responses though, you just get a general sense that fans really don’t like the media these days. Could E.J. have waited until the next locker room session to ask the question? Maybe. If he did that, would he be doing his job properly? How do you even do the job in 2023? These are questions that don’t have black or white answers. There’s no handbook for this in 2023, especially in a world where trust in the media seems to be at an all-time low.