When it came time to announce his divorce plans last month, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson decided to issue a brief statement through his football team.
CORRECTION An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that Golden Tate was traded to the Detroit Lions. In fact, he signed with the team as a free agent. We regret the error.
His decision to split from his wife of two years, 26-year-old Ashton Meem Wilson, was difficult, he said. Wilson asked his fans for “prayers, understanding, and privacy,” and said he’d have no further comment.
The public and media weren’t sure they’d heard right. The 25-year-old athlete, who has in his two years with the team cultivated family values and a deeply Christian persona, was ditching his high-school sweetheart? They went through college and the NFL draft together, visited hospitals, and made public appearances. They even went to the Super Bowl together.
There’d been no rumors of trouble. As recently as February, Ashton, in a local TV interview, spoke glowingly about her husband—why he’s so level-headed and how she buys him salted caramels as a pregame ritual. Just a few weeks before the announcement, Wilson ran a picture of his wife between the Bible verses he posts daily on his Twitter feed, indicating theirs was still a marriage made in heaven.
The split wasn’t the most important news story of April 23—President Obama had visited the Oso landslide the day before, for example. But locally and nationally, in the papers, on TV, radio, and the Internet, the Wilson divorce was one of the most read and discussed stories for days.
Many felt the split was none of the public’s business. But Wilson is likely Seattle’s most popular sports figure, and it was his press release that got the town talking. Times columnist Larry Stone—after first apologizing for writing about the divorce, saying he felt “uncomfortable” doing so and noting that “I’m not at all interested in the whys and wherefores of the split” —thought Wilson’s superstar stature made the divorce newsworthy. Besides, the QB “has handled this intensely personal issue as forthrightly as could be expected,” Stone felt.
But the missing “W” from the story was “Why?” Wilson hadn’t explained or even hinted at the reason for the breakup, and wasn’t going to. Inevitably, given the volatile mix of sports, gossip, and divorce, the Internet trolls and chattering class began guessing. Comments ranged from insinuations that Wilson didn’t want to share the fortune he’s about to get from a post-Super Bowl contract to suspicions about marital infidelity and sexual orientation.
It was off-the-wall speculation. And it seemed to be dying a deserved death. Then an odd thing happened. Without being asked, Wilson’s former teammate, Golden Tate, denied he’d had an affair with Wilson’s wife.
It’s not clear if there had been a specific accusation that Tate—Wilson’s talented receiver, who recently signed with the Detroit Lions—was referring to. But he apparently had read or heard someone claim that he was the Other Man. Rather than allow another seemingly wild guess to fade away, Tate responded, stating that he and his girlfriend Elise Pollard were friends with the Wilsons—nothing more.
In four separate tweets on April 29, he stated:
“Btw the ignorant minority of people, bloggers and whoever else spreading ridiculous rumors should cut it out. It’s absurd the stories that” . . .
“Are being made up from whatever source. In fact Elise and Ashton are still incredible friends, as well as Russ and I.”
“I strongly advise the ignorant folks blowing this situation up and spreading this rumors to shut the hell up. Go watch the nba playoffs.”
“Finally, I don’t understand why it’s anyone’s business what happens in ones personal life. It’s irrelevant to his performance on the field.”
Let’s take Tate at his word—the story’s not true, and the rumor should die. Problem is, his denial gave it new life, such as this headline on a popular Seahawks website: “Golden Tate denies sleeping with Russell Wilson’s wife.”
Actually, Tate’s tweet didn’t expressly deny any such thing; it’s subject to interpretation, but that didn’t seem to matter. That story was read by more than 18,000 visitors, some who likely will remember only the key words—Tate, sleeping, Wilson’s wife. As even the Seahawks blogger wrote: “Maybe Tate is denying the allegations about sleeping with Ashton because he wants to defend his reputation—maybe they actually happened. If so it would certainly explain Wilson’s decision to divorce Ashton, but who knows? That Tate felt compelled to even speak to the rumor says a lot about the pervasive nature of social media gossip.”
That was just the start. Publications from the Detroit Free Press to the International Business Times have now picked up on the denial. Gossip sites are also running with it, while some sports blogs are calling it a “dumb rumor,” which they then repeat. One site, trying to knock down the story altogether, topped it with the daunting headline “It’s Unlikely Golden Tate Had an Affair Russell Wilson’s Wife” [sic].
Wilson, wisely perhaps, is silent on the denial. He vowed not to talk about the divorce, and hasn’t mentioned it in the public space where he comments daily, Twitter. But, since the subject is gossip, we feel compelled to report that Wilson was seen with someone whom he tweeted was a “beautiful woman” at the May 3 White House Correspondents Dinner.
OK, it was his mom. But go ahead, headline writers, take it away.
Rick Anderson writes about sex, crime, money, and politics, which tend to be the same thing.