Being an NFL insider is walking a tightrope.
For better or worse, you’re caught in a high wire act, balancing time against veracity. That’s just how it is, and only a few guys are able to navigate it effectively most days—the Jay Glazers, Adam Schefters and Mike Florios of the world.
Each of these insiders have taken different paths on their rise to the top of sports media, but they would all probably agree on at least one thing:
Don’t get Chaps’d.
It’s a task easier said than done.
Uncle Chaps—Sports Twitter’s resident hoax-artist and champion journalist angler—landed his white whale earlier this month, hooking an ESPN broadcast with a fake tweet about defensive end Olivier Vernon signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Chaps had changed his name and avatar to mirror Glazer’s, and his tweet made it all the way to live air.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) March 9, 2016
Bingo, bongo. Chaps’d.
He even spelled Vernon’s name wrong.
#Dolphins DE Oliver Vernon headed north to Jacksonville for 4yrs 75.5 mil.
— chaps (@UncleChaps) March 9, 2016
"My phone started to freeze," Chaps says, recalling the hours immediately after his fake news broke. "It’s like throwing oxygen on a fire. It’s like tuna fishing. They pick it up, a couple bites and then—boom. It blows up."
Chaps is a troll. He has no qualms with this title. He started faking NFL reports on Twitter in 2012, and as a long-suffering Jaguars fan, a successful Chaps-ing is his way of coping.
"If I need to fake a report to my own team to get myself a laugh through all the years of eight consecutive, terrible losing seasons, that’s exactly what I’m going to do," Chaps says.
Jaguars Twitter has turned on me and I\'m like pic.twitter.com/azdTKtzQEN
— chaps (@UncleChaps) March 9, 2016
But before Chaps became a master imposter and NFL media’s personal bogeyman, Uncle Chaps was something else entirely. He was in a war zone, sifting rubble for improvised explosives.
"I got blown up by IEDs and [expletive]," Chaps says casually, like you or I might speak of a bad hangover.
Nine years ago, Chaps was a Marine in the Iraq War. He worked as a bomb-sniffing dog-handler, and sustained multiple concussions from controlled detonations while clearing IEDs with his four-legged partner, Csika.
He was also shot in the city of Karmah—a life-altering moment he wrote about in 2013 for Big Cat Country:
He received a Purple Heart, among other decorations, for his service.
Now, Chaps is medically retired and an active supporter of K9s For Warriors, a veteran support group providing service dogs for veterans afflicted with post traumatic stress disorder.
It’s an important and personal issue for Chaps, who hid his own PTSD symptoms for years after Iraq.
"Having PTSD and brain issues doesn’t make one weak," Chaps says. "Seeking help at the onset of those issues makes you strong."
Chaps’ path to a regular (at least for Chaps) civilian life goes through his family. He’s 33, married and has two young daughters. His girls are his motivation for going back to school.
"I want to go to school, because I have a 10-year-old daughter and a three-year-old daughter," Chap says. "And I want to show them if I can graduate college, with my issues with brain injuries, they don’t have any excuse. I want to set that example."
Chaps is on course to graduate in May with a degree in communications from the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he’s regularly recognized by classmates as the red-bearded lunatic who does things like trick the NFL’s official Twitter account into believing Dez Bryant had miraculously healed from a broken foot in three weeks.
With commencement nearing, Chaps spends a not-insignificant amount of his remaining classes doing what Chaps does: memorializing dead lions (he’s tweeted about Cecil the Lion 80 times since last July*) and planning his next Chaps-ing.
And make no mistake, Chaps-ing is work.
"I make sure I pick up on the syntax of the writer," Chaps says. "I think that’s the difference between how I do parody and others do parody."
The NFL got fake Rapsheeted pic.twitter.com/Lyv9B1vZV8
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) October 7, 2015
"For example, [NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport] uses hashtags in his. Schefter and Glazer don’t," Chaps says. "[ESPN’s Chris Mortensen] will say ‘Per a source,’ at the beginning. That will be his disclaimer at the beginning, while Schefter and Jay Glazer will do it at the end."
And if you’re attempting to impersonate him, Chaps would appreciate if you at least put in the labor.
"People will try to impersonate me, and I don’t mind it," Chaps says. "But it’s like, ‘Do it well’…read back a few tweets and look at my style."
"Don’t insult me with your poor effort. Don’t misspell ‘diarrhea.’ I spell it correctly 50 times a day. Don’t insult me by misspelling ‘diarrhea.’"
But Chaps isn’t worried about Fake Chaps. He has over 12,000 Twitter followers, his name is a verb (thanks, Ryan Nanni), and at any given time, he has roughly 20 pounds of flawless meat on the grill. And, after all, Twitter is just his pastime:
"My social media stuff is for my own enjoyment," Chaps says. "It makes me laugh. The moment it gets boring…I’ll deactivate my account and never think about it again."
In the meantime, Chaps’ interest remains piqued, and he already has his eyes on another name at the top of his hit-list. This one’s a whale.
*This is true. I counted. You’re welcome.
Dan is on Twitter. Getting Chaps’d is an honor and a delicacy.