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Thoughts on the ESPN Ombudsman's Response

Like most of us, I genuinely appreciate the ESPN ombudsman's efforts to respond to complaints about its coverage of the Alamo Bowl.   I also accept that these sorts of responses will never placate all parties.

The Leach story, while maybe not an issue of life and death,  is still a big one and touches on many important issues in sports and in life (conduct toward players, sanctity of contracts, concussions, obligations of a university's administration, and others).  

We've covered a lot of these topics on the DTN over the past weeks.

While I find the ESPN piece to be extremely thorough, I also thought the response was too narrow in its scope.

ESPN's ratings for an 8-4 vs 6-6 bowl matchup made it  the most watched bowl game in its history and the second most watched game EVER on ESPN.


Why so much interest in a second tier bowl game (with all due respect to the Red Raider faithful of course)?

In the two weeks leading up to the game, ESPN reporters and broadcasters were continually hyping  the Leach story, presuming Leach’s guilt, sympathizing with James, and glossing over the details without possessing full knowledge of the facts. 

For example, here's Mark May on December 30th, starting around minute 1:00:

"All he had to do was sign a letter of apology and turn it in on Monday.  He didn't do it by Monday. . .  It all started with why Michael Leach?  Why do you take a player and basically lock him in a shed or an electrical closet or whatever its called to go that far?  Take it to that step. Let the professionals do their job. The doctors and the trainers. .  ."

In Mark May's defense he was trying to balance his remarks, but in doing so he was simply reciting the Tech Administration's side of the story and presenting them as facts.

Or what about this?  Can someone remind me why ESPN gives this guy a platform?

I realize West Texas is far removed from modern civilization, filled with flying dust and tumbleweeds, a place that embraced and revered Bob Knight after he was fired for roughing up young people at Indiana. I also realize Leach is a quirky fellow who avoids conventional thinking and probably belongs on another planet. Still, there is no defense for such a malicious, irresponsible response to a player's medical condition. And while Leach has his side of the story, his lawyer has confirmed that proper medical protocol -- letting doctors handle James' treatment procedures with tender, loving care -- obviously was neglected in ways that boggle the mind.

Here's Bob Davie two weeks after the Alamo Bowl. 

Davie (January 17, 2010 -  Minute 4:00): 

As far as I know the issues that we're talking about led to a coach who kind of got involved in trying to be the trainer and how to rehab injuries."

Of course,  to be fair, it is possible that in the case of Davie, poor journalism might be the least of his worries. 

Does anyone else remember Davie tortuously equating the alleged criminal conduct of Michigan State's suspended players with Mike Leach's and the Tech Administration's relationship issues during the Alamo Bowl broadcast?

While one can argue that ESPN’s conduct was nothing more than shrewd marketing, I think that most of the folks at ESPN in this instance sacrificed journalism for sensationalism (there are exceptions to be fair:  Skip Bayless, Lou Holtz, Trevor Matich - to name a few - remained objective based on the facts available) .

In addition to focusing on the in-game comments, the author should have also addressed the comments of ESPN announcers on related programs leading up to the game – and even comments made afterwards. 

ESPN's influence is far reaching, and that is why it has a duty to be responsible in its coverage of the Leach matter and other issues.  What ESPN says and how ESPN chooses to say it matters.

When I reflect on the writer's portayal of the ESPN executives' indifferent comments toward the coverage of the game, I cannot help but conclude that at ESPN it is not uncommon for journalistic ethics to take a back a seat to ratings. 

To me that's a little unsettling.

If you believe ESPN is solely in the entertainment business and just trying to make a buck, maybe their approach to covering sports makes sense.

If you expect more from the WWL, prepare to remain disappointed.