When the New York Jets signed veteran safety Ed Reed late last season, most NFL fans got the news -- as avid NFL fans have for many years -- from ESPN's Chris Mortensen. But the scoop belonged, it turned out, to another. Mort later tweeted: "Yes, Jets have made it official on Ed Reed… It has been pointed out @Steiny31 was first to report two sides were close." Steiny? Steiny?
It's not uncommon for strange sources to break sports news. In June, poster Carl2680 on the NBA message board RealGM beat the press to Jason Kidd's failed power play in New Jersey. In 2012, a 16-year-old Brewers fan with an MLB.com blog was the first to report on Ryan Braun's mishandled urine sample. But Steiny is something else, bigger than just one overheard conversation. He's the power broker for the back end of the Jets' roster.
"Everyone knows Steiny, man," said former Jets wide receiver Damarcus Ganaway. Former NFL quarterback Greg McElroy said, "All the players knew who he was because he was just so refreshing." (Ganaway and McElroy combined to appear in two career games.)
Steiny -- Jake Steinberg, to the teachers who should wonder what he's doing on his laptop in class -- is now a 20-year-old rising junior and journalism major at the University of Wisconsin. He's a member of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity (a lot of Jets fans there, he said), and he has a 3.0 GPA. He once had a character named after him on Entourage. He's 5-foot-6 with almond-shaped eyes, close-cropped brown hair, and he talks a hundred yards a second, especially when you ask him what it is exactly that he does. He "provides a unique and inside look into the Jets." He "gets players' names out there." He's a mixture of marketer, publicist, reporter, blogger, agent and superfan, each endeavor entirely pro bono. He's Steiny.
Steiny works by way of unsubtle courtship. No sooner will a new player join the Jets -- think less Michael Vick, Eric Decker and Chris Johnson, and more T.J. Barnes, Rontez Miles and Aaron Grady -- than will Steiny "hit him up" on Twitter. He'll tell a player he looked awesome in practice; he'll tell him he'll make the team for sure; he'll send him a team photographer's action shot. And then the player, perhaps a small-school product without much of an online following, will go back and forth with Steiny, who can refer the player to a new agent, land him a deal for gear or just serve as a sounding board for gripes and insecurities. He makes fast friends, whether with Ganaway or defensive lineman Jake McDonough ("He would text me complaining from his crappy Arena League hotel room at 2 a.m. and I'd be there for him") or linebacker Ricky Sapp ("I got him a sock deal").
"A lot of players don't like reporters, but Steiny was cool," Ganaway said. "He always had positive stuff to say about everybody."
Positivity is quite the feat when you consider the last few incarnations of the Jets. "We could be losing 45-3," Steiny said, with one ugly 2010 defeat in mind, "and I'll still go on Twitter and hype a guy up. He'll see that and it'll raise his self-esteem."
As for Ganaway, Steiny's been hyping him up since he worked out for a futures contract in October 2011. Steiny told him on Twitter that he crushed his workout and he'd surely get signed. And after the season, he was. From then on, Ganaway said, he knew Steiny was no pretender. And his teammates started wondering how they, too, could get the Steiny bump on Twitter. "People would see that me and him were cool," Ganaway said. "And they'd say, 'Steiny's shouting you out on Twitter! How do I get that?'"
And so Steiny's iPhone contains the numbers of everyone from Nick Bellore, the Jets' best special-teamer; to Dee Milliner's younger brother, Pat; to Helen Burke, the wife of Hayden Smith, the third-string Aussie tight end the Jets cut last August. (Wives and girlfriends love Steiny -- he'll send them pictures of their partners while they're marooned at camp.) And he has Stuart Scott's cell number in there, too.
That was a right-place, right-time thing. At age 15, Steiny would without fail submit questions to Scott's weekly ESPN live chat. ESPN the Magazine would publish the best questions and answers in every issue, and Steiny would periodically show up there, ecstatic to see his name in print. On one 2008 night, Steiny's dad, Rich, who runs a hedge fund in New Jersey, spotted Scott dining a few tables away at Abe and Arthur's, a brasserie in the Meatpacking District. He walked over and introduced himself as Steiny's father. Scott looked a little bewildered. "You're Steiny's dad? I thought he was in his thirties." No, Rich said, he's 15. Scott gave Rich his number so young Steiny could text him, and they've been pals since.
But Scott is one of the few media members who thinks fondly of Steiny. Many of the scribes on the Jets beat have a much different opinion of his work. Some of the resentment dates back to training camp in 2012, when, according to Steiny, his chumminess with backups prompted the Jets to revoke his credential. The beat writers didn't think much of his locker-room bro-hugs. There's also some suspicion and annoyance that Steiny's dad, who once headed Boomer Esiason's foundation, may have procured a low-level front-office source for his son. But Steiny's dad said the newspaper writers just feel threatened that a self-made hobbyist can beat them to scoops.
On Twitter, Steiny has blocked New York Daily News columnist Manish Mehta, a frequent critic of the Jets. Said Mehta, "There are fans who just want to hear rosy things about the organization, and then there are fans who want to hear what's actually going on." (Manish Mehta says he does not, nor has ever, followed Steinberg on Twitter).
Indeed, the young journalism student is not much for objectivity. "I'll tell it like it is," he said, "but I won't tell it like it is. If Ellis Lankster gives up a 50-yard touchdown, I won't trash him, we have a personal relationship." As for underachieving wide receiver Stephen Hill? "I don't know him personally, so I don't feel the need to suck up to him, or, you know, hype him up."
Steiny said he hears often from agents who wish the other 31 teams had their own Steinys. The formula seems easily replicable -- each roster has its share of largely anonymous youngsters, and each team has its share of fans crazed enough to crave information on the scrubs. As Steinyism begins to spread, the original Steiny will focus on developing new relationships and completing his studies. (He wants to be an agent, he thinks.) And he'll keep on publishing his unique blend of boosterism and breaking news.
Just don't call what he does journalism. Or do. Vice Media, a journalism company that has pioneered marketing dressed up as editorial content, rode that blend to a rumored multi-billion-dollar takeover offer in June from Time Warner, SI's former parent company. That stuff is hot. And who has been working three days a week this summer as Vice's sports intern? The legend himself: Steiny.