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Portis Out? No. It's an Internet Hoax

Friday, September 10, 2004; Page D08

Clinton Portis, the tailback acquired by the Redskins for Champ Bailey last spring, was the subject of what appeared to be an Internet hoax yesterday afternoon that led one sports Web site to post a bulletin reporting that he had been injured lifting weights and would be out eight to 12 weeks.

For Redskins fans who might have stumbled upon the report -- which was up on the CBS Sportsline Web site for about five minutes -- it was a crushing development. And, in this Web-driven era of continuous news, it sent news organizations scrambling to check whether it was true.

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Which they quickly found out was not the case.

It appears that an Internet hoaxer managed to create a Web site with an address and look that closely mirrored the official site of the NFL and put the false story on it. A similar made-up story involving Larry Allen of the Dallas Cowboys appeared on Wednesday. The NFL is investigating the issue in an attempt to stop the person behind it, league sources said.

Despite its short lifespan, the Portis story quickly found its way to Redskins Park, where players and team officials expressed puzzlement about its origin. Portis practiced with the team yesterday and held a news conference in the afternoon. He did not lift weights -- "It's not even his day to lift," backup running back Ladell Betts said. Indeed, Portis had already gone home by the time the story emerged.

Portis's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, even called the tailback to check the story out. "There's absolutely no truth to that story," Rosenhaus said afterward. "I don't know where that came from."

The Redskins posted a story on their Web site letting fans know the report was false after traffic on the site jumped from about 3,000 to 15,000 between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., team sources said -- about the time the false story was circulating.

Left feeling more than a bit chagrined was CBS Sportsline and the reporter whose name appeared on the story, Billy Devaney, a former director of player personnel with the San Diego Chargers.

After taking down the report, it posted a correction written by managing editor Mark Swanson.

"CBS Sports, Devaney and SportsLine.com regret the error, which was prominently displayed on CBS SportsLine's home page for about five minutes late Thursday afternoon," the apology read in part. "It was egregious and, frankly, unforgivable, and we apologize to our readers, Portis and to the Redskins for publishing the misinformation."

-- Jason La Canfora

© 2004 The Washington Post Company