We gather here today to bid farewell to a lost art—American sports journalism. This past week, ESPN added another nail to a long-forgotten coffin. Reporting this as any sort of breaking news insults anybody’s intelligence. Few people remember the day ESPN took a turn for the worse, using TMZ and E! News tactics in an exchange of integrity for middle school level gossip. ESPN’s latest blunder of a headline provided no means to salvage a journalistic flat-line:
“Wells Report: Pats Employees Probably Deflated Balls, Tom Brady Likely Knew.”
The number one rule of journalism: facts. Not sensationalism.
Dig to the truth and expose it. ESPN expects us to believe the non-concrete, defaming headline against Tom Brady—a consistent ambassador of the NFL. Seriously? What kind of reputable news station irresponsibly uses the word “probably” to leak out a story? Anybody has the capacity to light a fire and run away from it. It takes a true journalist to view both sides and offer a fair medium.
ESPN allowed that single headline to take on a life of its own. Deflategate proved the mightiest of nails to the journalistic coffin.
Transparencies existed everywhere. Examine the case of Ian O’Connor. ESPN assigns the ESPN New York beat writer to feature Deflategate coverage as their lead story. Naturally, O’Connor, with a pro-Jets bias, paints Brady a color shy of Judas Iscariot and Richard Nixon. Want an objective source? ESPN provides Bill Polian to weigh in on the case with his two cents.
For those who remember Peyton Manning-to-Marvin Harrison, the RCA Dome and underwhelming playoff performances, the name Bill Polian might sound familiar. Polian, a former NFL general manager, headed the front office of the Indianapolis Colts from 1997 to 2011. The Colts, of course, blew the whistle on the New England Patriots immediately after this year’s AFC Championship Game. All of sudden, this objective source has its own agenda.
ESPN loves to launch headlines that polarize an audience. Sure, they embrace debate, but they do so at the cost of their own integrity. The angrier fans get, the more page-views they receive.
While ESPN launches a witch-hunt to burn down the reputation of arguably our generation’s greatest quarterback, the network fails to provide any sort of context. Floyd Mayweather possesses a past littered with cases of domestic abuse. Fact. Terrell Suggs, a linebacker on the Baltimore Ravens, threatened to pour bleach on his wife and child. Fact. Tom Brady “likely knew” about his team “probably” deflating footballs. Questionable.
Unfortunately, ESPN manages to view Brady as a villain, playfully labeling Mayweather and Suggs as “charismatic” jokesters instead. Ignoring far greater social issues at hand, the network loves to watch the world burn over a few lost pounds per square inch in a football. Scratch that. They love to build athletes up, only to enjoy the spectacle of their fall.
Year after year, ESPN performs the same stunt with the NFL Draft. They spend millions of dollars in resources preparing their coverage of the draft, hyping college prospects as larger than life athletes (despite them never having played a single down in the NFL). College kids inherit titles as the next Peyton Manning or a franchise’s savior, only to fall on their face and return home unemployed three or four years later. This happened to players such as Jamarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf. Instead of focusing on their glaring off-field issues, ESPN glorified their potential—setting both players up for tremendous failure.
This year, Jameis Winston, a player accused of sexual assault and theft, earns the spotlight. Over the course of the next year, ESPN plans to track Winston’s every move, understanding that his volatile nature and the high expectations surrounding the draft’s number one pick have enough capacity to create a media circus.
The Chris Broussard fiasco serves as the perfect microcosm of ESPN’s reality-TV identity. In April of 2013, NBA veteran Jason Collins announced his homosexual identity to the world. Only the second publicly gay athlete to play in any of the four major professional North American sports leagues, Jason Collins provided headlines for every major news network. ESPN covered the breaking news on their storied program Outside the Lines. Priding their work on examining critical issues on and off the American sports field, Outside the Lines assigned NBA analyst Chris Broussard and columnist LZ Granderson to share their views on Jason Collins’ groundbreaking announcement.
ESPN, having worked with Granderson and Broussard on past occasions, knew the opposing views each person held, along with the sensitivity surrounding the story. Granderson, an openly gay columnist, celebrated Collins’ announcement, applauding the NBA veteran for his courageous nature. Broussard’s comments expressed a completely different sentiment. A born-again, fundamentalist Christian, Broussard referred to homosexuality as sinful and “an open rebellion to God.”
Obviously, the heated debate between the two ESPN writers spread like wild fire. Outrage over Broussard’s comments hijacked social media. ESPN, in an attempt to save face, suspended Broussard for his comments. While his statement appeared warped and backwards to a national audience, he committed no crime. He simply performed his job.
ESPN knew Broussard’s viewpoint on homosexuality. Instead of avoiding an incident of homophobic sentiment, ESPN chose to air a television segment asking Broussard for his opinion. Broussard answered with his honesty—something that shocked nobody who knew the analyst’s background.
According to Forbes, ESPN’s net value surpassed $50 billion before May of 2014. The network has smart people running the organization. They deserve higher accountability, held to a higher standard than most networks. No "accident" or cute "coincidence" occurred over at HQ. Shame on ESPN; why sacrifice their integrity and the reputation of one of their analysts? Viewership: plain and simple.
The self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports no longer deserves this title until ESPN returns to its roots. Enough of mindless LeBron James speculation and Deflategate fodder! No more NBA Draft Lottery predictions! ESPN consistently misses the bigger picture. They disappoint sports fans on a daily basis, failing to give justice to the UEFA Champions League or the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, two of the largest sporting events in the world.
The Champions League Final, rivaling only the Super Bowl in viewership, serves as European soccer’s premier event. In North America, Fox Sports owns the rights to air Champions League coverage until the end of 2015. Meanwhile, NBC Sports signed a record 10-year TV deal worth up to $200 million. ESPN has no dog in this fight. The network possesses no incentive to cover these sports. Thanks to the almighty dollar, ESPN purposely dismisses higher profile events such as the Champions League or the Stanley Cup knowing it only increases viewership on other networks.
Respect for ESPN reached an even deeper low with this headline on April 17th: "Check out these awesome helmets that mix ‘Star Wars’ characters and NFL teams." Come on! Stop acting like Buzzfeed or Fox News. I want the old ESPN back, the one with enough pride to talk about important issues, not the one that cares more about headlines and pageviews. Stop abusing your power and think before you report.
Until then, I refuse to call ESPN journalism.
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