Full disclosure: Yesterday, I planned on writing about the ESPY’s. My outline was done, the jokes were written, my thoughts on Erin Andrews (stunning), Blake Griffin (hysterical) and Justin Bieber (poor kid, he’s definitely headed to an upscale drug rehab at some point) ready to roll. All I had to do was put pen to paper.
I couldn’t do it.
The truth was, the more I watched the show, the more that one sentiment continued to come back to me: I’d never seen a more self-aggrandizing, self-promotional, smug 150 minutes of TV in my life. Not only did it bore me to tears, it basically made me sick to my stomach. Quite frankly, I didn’t understand how anyone who didn’t work for the company could possibly find the whole thing even remotely entertaining.
So I decided to scrap the column.
Understand that I’m not one of these people who gets a sick thrill out of bashing ESPN. Granted, I don’t agree with everything they do, but think that for the most part, they put out more than enough quality content to keep me satisfied. Overall, the company has good programming, entertaining personalities, and for the most part, is really good at what they do. Who am I to criticize them? Especially since I wasn’t sure if I was the only one who felt the way I did about the ESPY’s. So in the end, I decided to keep my mouth shut. After all, I didn’t want to be one of those “snarky,” bloggers that everyone is always talking about.
Well apparently, I was a day early in my ESPN bashing. But today, I won’t keep my mouth shut. Sure my voice may be small, and this article might not be read by anyone outside the handful of you who are regular visitors to the site. But I’ve got to say something.
What’s the news that has me so upset? It’s ESPN’s suspension of star college football reporter Bruce Feldman. And if the facts in the case are true, it's nothing short of distgusting.For those of you who haven’t heard, let me give you a quick rundown of what we know.
As things stand right now, Feldman has been suspended indefinitely from the company. He cannot appear on radio or TV, in his regular role at ESPN The Magazine, or in any promotional appearances for his new book Swing Your Sword, which he helped former Texas Tech head football coach Mike Leach write.
As to why Feldman was suspended? That’s where it gets interesting.
According to a report by the very popular and well-respected Sports By Brooks, Feldman was suspended for for his role in helping Leach write his book. You may remember of course that Leach is persona non grata at ESPN, after he was fired at Texas Tech for his involvement with wide receiver Adam James, the son of ESPN college football analyst Craig James. With the school, Leach and James family still in the midst of a legal battle two years later, ESPN has obviously sided with its employee James, while the legal process takes its course. That is certainly their prerogative.
Either way, according to Brooks’ report, Feldman’s suspension is the direct result of working with Leach on the book, a book which obviously doesn’t have the kindest of words for Craig James and his family. The kicker is that even before starting the project, Feldman- sensing a potential conflict of interest down the road- asked the company for approval to work with Leach, and they gave it to him. And now he’s suspended.
The first thing that needs to be mentioned here is that we have only heard one side of this story. As well respected as Brooks is, he only gives Feldman’s take, and his sources on the subject apparently don’t include Feldman himself. Being a fair journalist, it’s important to note that there may be more sides to this story that we don’t know about.
Of course it doesn’t help that ESPN is also mum on this issue. Brett McMurphy of CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch both reached out to the company late last night, and got a strict, “no comment,” in return.
It also doesn’t help ESPN’s case that Feldman is one of the most well respected journalists in the field. That was evidenced by the outpouring of support he received from his peers on Thursday night.
Amongst the many who spoke up, here is just a brief overview of what was said on Twitter:
Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel: One of the finest writers in the profession was suspended today because of a company's own irresponsible journalism. #freebruce
Mandel’s colleague at SI, Andy Staples: Loving the outpouring of support for @BFeldmanESPN (Feldman’s Twitter handle). He's one of the truly good guys in the biz. He deserves better.
Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel: Bruce Feldman is humble, hardworking and talented. Complete respect for him. Craig James once worked for Yahoo. Nothing to say about him
The Daily’s Dan Wolken: ESPN has employed multiple plagiarists and they draw the line at Bruce Feldman? Nice work, WWL
Eventually, even the non-college football writers got involved:
CBS Sports college basketball writer Gary Parrish said: I'm late on this, but what happened to Bruce Feldman is troubling. He's a good friend and great journalist. He deserves better.
Fox Sports’ Jason Whitlock added: If you have a pair, stand up for Bruce Feldman! He was suspended by ESPN for being a journalist.
On and on it went, with each writer sending their support of Feldman, and in many cases adding personal anecdotes. All in all, the whole thing was quite heart-warming.
Of course all of the outrage stemmed from the ethics of the whole situation. ESPN has long toed the line of acceptable journalistic practices, the most egregious example likely when their Ombudsmen had to give a long and impassioned defense of last summer’s “The Decision.” When it happened, many outside the company wondered if the program was trying to report “news,” or had simply become an entertainment avenue. Really, after partnering with LeBron James on “The Decision,” could they then go back to covering him impartially?
For the record, I enjoyed The Decision, and for the most part didn’t see a lot wrong it. Some, yes. But at the same time, it was the biggest news story of the summer, and it was ESPN’s job to cover the news. Granted, that the whole charade was done on LeBron James’ terms with his people hand-picking the interviewer, Jim Gray. I’ve often wondered (and I’m sure I’m not alone), if the sole reason Gray was selected, was because LeBron's camp knew they could control the questions he asked. If that’s true, than ESPN should’ve given said no to broadcasting the event. Simply put, that's not "sharing the message." It's controlling it.
Still, I enjoyed The Decision. However, I began to swing the other way on ESPN more recently, when they partnered with the University of Texas on The Longhorn Network.
For those of you who don’t know (which I’m pretty sure is next to no one still reading this article), the monolith that is the University of Texas Athletics Department has started their own television network, with the sole intent of exclusively broadcasting their own sports. It's going to make boatloads of money for the school. And ESPN decided to partner with them on it. To which many, (including myself) wondered: How ESPN could possibly cover the University of Texas with objectivity, when the company basically has a stake in the school’s success? What happens if the school is investigated by the NCAA or players run afoul with the law? Will the Longhorn Network or ESPN report it? After all, isn’t bad news at Texas, bad news for ESPN? How will it all impact their coverage?
Away from Texas, it’s been much of the same this summer.
Have you noticed how as Yahoo continues to hit it out of the park, as Dan Wetzel and Charles Robinson continue to take down college football programs one by one, ESPN has been painfully slow to report these stories? Not only is the supposed “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” getting beat to the scoop by their biggest rivals, they’re taking hours and sometimes days to even mention the most bare bone details on some of these stories. And it’s because of that, another question has to be asked: Is ESPN moving slowly because Yahoo’s reporters are simply outworking theirs? Or with billions at stake with TV contracts, are they trying to slow the news cycle, or remove it all together? Honestly, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. But it’s still not a good look for the company either way.
And finally, this all comes back to Feldman. From the best I can tell, the outpouring for him last night happened for two reasons. The first is that by all accounts, he is a really good guy. You simply can’t find anyone in the business who has a bad word to say about him. I've only had one interaction with him personally, but even then, he was about as nice as could be.
Of course at the same time, being a good guy only takes you so far.
What is really alarming, what’s really got everyone so upset, is that if the facts of this case are true (and again, ESPN hasn’t denied them), than simply put, what the company has done to Feldman is censorship in the truest form. Plain and simple. No different than what happens in third world countries and dictatorships. As a buddy mentioned to me when I told him this story, “Are we in Soviet Russia?” If all the facts hold up, we aren’t too far off here.
Speaking of which, if the facts do hold up, I think it’s time for ESPN to make a decision of their own: Do they want to be a news outlet? Or an entertainment company? Because you can’t be both.
Quite frankly, it seems like they’ve been better at the latter for a long time now. I find that more often than not, I’m getting my sports news from CBS and Yahoo much more than I do the “worldwide leader.” Those companies simply have better reporters and reporting. Or at the very least a better chain of command to get the news to the consumer as fast as possible.
Ultimately, I suspect that Feldman will be back on the beat, sooner rather than later. He’s too good at what he does, and there is too much sentiment for him to be away for too long. Of course I’m not sure if the timing really matters anymore though. The damage has been done. ESPN has made their bed, and now they’ve got to sleep in it. For lack of a better term, the company has screwed up. Big time.
Understand that I say that as someone who not only appreciates anyone who works hard at their craft, but someone who has an especially soft spot for good writing and more importantly, good journalism.
After all, we all learned the simplest credo in at J-School, “Seek the truth and report it.” Feldman did just that, and now he’s suspended from his job.
To which I’ve got to ask, what the hell kind of company does this poor guy work for?
Picture Courtesy of BruceFeldman.com
Also for his continued take on all things sports, and updates on his articles, podcasts and giveaways, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook.com/AaronTorresSports or by downloading the Aaron Torres Sports App for FREE for your iPhone or Android Phones)
i agree with everything you said in this article aaron. it's extremely well-written and espn should be ashamed by their unethical and irresponsible practices. i for one do enjoy partaking in ESPN bashing of any form but that's not the point here - anyone with a basic sense of humanity, fairness, and professional integrity cannot be supporting ESPN on this issue. they are letting their entertainment agendas compromise their journalistic quality, plain and simple, and bruce feldman is the one that has to suffer unfairly. HE ASKED FOR PERMISSION TO WORK WITH LEACH FOR GOODNESS SAKES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! if ESPN wasn't ok with this conflict of interest then they should have said so when he asked, not capriciously suspend him!!!
i have never really taken ESPN seriously as pure journalism because they have direct partnership with all the sports leagues and have a vested interest in seeing the sports that they broadcast do well. rather than cover players and teams objectively they have an incentive to hype them up as much as possible so that viewers will view and advertisers will pay coin. the longhorn network pushes it over the top - they can't claim to have any journalistic integrity or impartiality in regards to UT Austin's athletic program; they simply can't, period. ESPN is slowly becoming a bigger joke than even i ever thought possible.
@Blatant Homerism AK-You know as well as anybody that Feldman is so well respected in the business that he doesn't need them. I agree with you 100 percent: If you're Feldman, you can clearly get other work, likely at CBS or Yahoo, without a lot of the editorial restraints. Why not walk?
I completely agree, AT. ESPN begins with entertainment and ends with news, for me, that says it all. Like you, when a story breaks, I generally go to Yahoo first and opinion based blogs next before I form my own opinion.
Great job with Marc Ryan on 100.3. I hope you become a regular guest, especially with college football just around the corner. Ryan is certianly a unique personality, no?
Brandon-So glad to have you on the Twitter bandwagon! And yes, I really enjoy going on the air with Marc. Unique guy, funny guy. I've been on a handful of times with him, but even just knowing him for a few months now, I feel like we've been buddies for a lifetime.
As to your comments, as usual, I agree whole-hearted. ESPN- by the day- is becoming more of a self-parody than anything. As a matter of fact, let me ask you: Who do you consider the best reporters, pure reporters in the business? I'd put Wetzel, Mandel, Staples, Pat Forde, Dennis Dodd maybe, and Bruce Feldman. The fact that ESPN suspended their best, while keeping others on the air (I won't name names, but you can take a guess), really speaks to where they are at right now. It isn't about presenting the fact. It's about pushing their own agenda.
Look, I like ESPN, love College Gameday, love many of their analysts (Todd Blackledge in particular stands out) and amazingly, even get a sick thrill out of Lou Holtz. But no longer do I really view them as a news source.
Thanks again my man.
Great job on the article Aaron. It's great to see a lot of writers backing Feldman in this, because seriously it's ridiculous. I'm not going to pretend to be all to familiar with him, but I just hate the fact that ESPN would suspend this guy indefinitely for doing his job. They have had anchors/writers do or say some pretty crude things and get just a slap on the wrist. Yet, this guy does his job, and with permission from his bosses, and gets canned over it? The most ridiculous part of the whole thing to me was that they said he can't even use his Twitter account! Seriously?!?! What the hell, the last time I checked we live in America. You bring up a great point about ESPN that it really has become a "sports entertainment" organization rather than a serious journalistic sports news organization. I'm pretty sure we have spoken before about how it's funny that ESPN doesn't really ever break any stories that come from long investigative journalism. It seems that they have become content with letting SI, Yahoo, CBS, etc do the hard legwork and then they will just sum up those reports, or even plagiarize them in some instances. Imagine if they would have put all reporters, time, and effort that they did to cover one man, Brett Favre, over the last few years into investigating NCAA scandals? There probably wouldn't be a program left without penalties from the NCAA today.
I think you hit it on the head with the reasoning why they don't act like a true news organization anymore, they have become excessively entangled in the business. Whether it's with their TV contracts with Texas, NFL, MLB, even Soccer (do you think they would really spend so much time on Soccer if they didn't have the rights to the World Cup?) you can definitely tell the way they cover certain things that their main focus is to not be controversial and to push their own agenda. Hell, you can see it just with the way they have covered the NFL lockout! I can't remember them criticizing the NFL or the players or anything about the lockout once. I will be really interested to see if any of Feldman's former co-workers at ESPN speak out in his behalf. I don't recall seeing any of them doing so yet, but if this had happened at Yahoo or SI, for instance, you know that you could expect a Simmons article by 4:00pm today ripping them apart. In the end, ESPN is just about the bottom line now. They are such a huge organization that they don't want to rock the boat. They'd rather have reporters following Brett Favre as he plays football with HSers, than break a controversial news story. Ironically, by trying to play it safe they might have just ran themselves into an ice glacier.
I think you've hit every key point, so honestly, I don't have a ton to add. I think what it all comes down to is this: The reason that Yahoo is killing it with all these stories is two-fold.
1) They've got great reporters, and give those reporters the resources to do their best work. Like any organization should.
2) They have no TV contracts or ratings to be beholden to. The same is not true with ESPN. I said it in the article, and it's worth repeating: It's not good for their business to see Jim Tressel get fired, Texas in trouble, or LeBron James announcing his decisions via press release. That hurts ratings. That hurts ad dollars. That hurts their bottom line. As you said, it's all business.
I think the best point you bring up is the Women's World Cup. Quite frankly, I don't care. That doesn't mean I blame anyone who does. At the same time, I wonder how many people are watching that wouldn't be otherwise, if ESPN wasn't (for lack of a better term), brainwashing us with it.
I don't know.Either way, thanks for reading, and thanks for the very intelligent, well-thought out comment.Enjoy your vacation my man.Aaron