Back in 2009, the Oregon Ducks’ star running back (college football) was suspended for most of the season, following a post-game flare-up in the nationally televised season opener. With rumors and hyperbole flying all over the Internet, I decided to work on his Wikipedia bio; it’s a good way to keep fact distinct from fantasy. It was exciting to see the bio attract nearly 19,000 hits in one day — but I didn’t start my work until the next day, when the numbers started to decline.
But this week, that same running back — LeGarrette Blount — is on his way to his first Super Bowl, now in his second stint with the New England Patriots. Just yesterday, his article had nearly 21,000 hits. I decided to revisit the article, which had gone through the “Good Article” peer review process more than five years ago, to see what remains.
The first thing I notice is that others have added the details of Blount’s career with five NFL teams, and provided detailed statistics, with numerous references. This is not surprising; sports fans can be meticulous Wikipedia editors, and love to document the exploits of their favorite teams and players. But the quality does seem higher than many sports biographies. It’s pleasing to see that every section has at least one citation, if not more; most of them appear to be to high quality sources, and are well formatted. This seems to be common with articles that have gone through a peer review process; Wikipedians hold new additions to a higher standard than on other Wikipedia articles, and take care to preserve the article’s quality.
In particular, though, I was interested in the photo I used to illustrate the article.
Back in 2009, I searched Flickr for freely licensed photos of Blount, but I came up short. So I picked a photo I liked (see above), which was not licensed for free use, and emailed the the photographer, Alex McDougall. Requests like this can be a crapshoot; but Alex emailed me right back, and was happy to take the steps to release the photo under a free license.
So today, I clicked on the photo; looking at its info page, I learned that not only did it remain on the English Wikipedia (now subordinated, appropriately, to a newer photo); but it was also in use on Blount’s Italian Wikipedia bio, as well as several related English Wikipedia articles.
I looked up my correspondence with Alex, to share the news with him. As I was writing to him, I noticed that he had told me he was working on a new web site for his photography, so I asked him about that; it turns out his site is now complete (and wow, what a collection of photography!), and so I changed the link on the photo from Flickr to his own site. Alex was happy to learn the photo was still in use, and on a growing number of articles.
This was all enjoyable, but what’s the lasting impact? As I see it, we have used Wikipedia as a tool to capture an important moment in history. Athletes are typically pretty well covered in the media, and on Wikipedia, when they reach the professional level; but details about their college years can be fleeting. In particular, photos of athletes prior to their professional debut can be a bit hard to come by. By taking these steps early on, we have ensured that a good portrait of Blount as a college player is forever available, and freely reusable for anybody willing to provide the appropriate attribution credit.
I’m always happy to see people applying free licenses to their work. In connection with this article, I noted a couple other instances: the other major photo on Blount’s bio (in the English, German, and Italian Wikipedias) was uploaded directly by photographer Jeffrey Beall; and Oregon’s current star, Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, was photographed in action by football commentator and coach Scott Enyeart, whose freely licensed photo was grabbed from the Neon Tommy Flickr account for use on Wikipedia.
All of these things take some knowhow and effort; but when tens of thousands of people can benefit from that effort, it’s worth doing.
Oh, and last but not least…GO PATRIOTS! May you fare a little better than the Ducks did in their own national championship game this year…