ESPN is the “Worldwide Leader in Sports.” They have 11 separate television channels in four countries, a national radio syndicate and a top-tier news website; they have done a wonderful job of staying ahead of the trends of technology and usually put out a quality program. However, the constant slip-ups and willingness to disregard professionalism have left a nasty taste for viewers.
Anchor Hannah Storm and NFL analyst Adam Schefter have been the latest pair to be criticized for their lack of professionalism in other media. On Jan. 3, during a live segment on “SportsCenter,” the two high fived each other for getting a breaking news announcement of the firing of former Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini. To their credit, the pair quickly realized that they should clarify the reason for celebrating was the rare opportunity to report on the news the very second it happens and not the actual termination of the coach, but the damage was done. ESPN was quickly backlashed by fans and videos posted on YouTube, and sports bloggers from the lowest local writers to sites like Bleacher Report and Fanhouse were there to reprimand Schefter and Storm.
The momentary lapse of good judgment is just one example of how ESPN has been hit hard by the challenges of live production, not just for their flagship program, but for all their programming. Tony Kornheiser and Matt Millen both made racially-driven jokes on a Monday Night Football game in 2008 and the 2010 NFL Draft respectively. ESPN even altered live sporting events in June 2010, as tennis player James Blake got into an argument with ESPN color commentator Pam Shriver between serves of his match with Robin Hasse, as the two screamed from the press box and the court.
After doing a campus television show and a live radio talk show, I understand that mistakes are made and that adding personality to the banter will lead to such instances of unprofessionalism. The mistakes mentioned can be forgiven, as long as progress has been made. Kornheiser has stayed out of trouble on his show “Pardon the Interruption” and NBA commentator Ric Bucher received the forgiveness of the Mormon community after claiming the religion gave the Utah Jazz a fiercer fan base in 2008.
But lately, ESPN has dropped the ball with the professionalism of their whole decision making. It amazes and saddens me that this media leader would allow their top channel to be hijacked for an hour by Lebron James for his “decision.” ESPN has even sacrificed the real story of a walk-off home run to make fun of slow Benjgie Molina by showing the highlight of him trying to score from second on a separate play earlier in the game and playing the theme song to “Chariots of Fire.”
ESPN had another one of these moments the same day of the Mangini high five. After a record-breaking Orange Bowl performance by the Stanford Cardinal team, anchor Rece Davis asked Coach Jim Harbaugh at the trophy presentation not about his team, but whether or not he would leave Stanford for the NFL. ESPN willingly forgot that a tight end had three touchdowns, that Stanford was ahead by only one at half and that the Cardinal almost doubled up the Hokies in offensive yards. Davis and ESPN single-handedly stole the school’s only Orange Bowl victory from them by asking a completely unrelated question at such an important time.
This integrity-sacrificing journalistic style is a very poor example for fans, fellow journalists and students of the trade. For such an influential source of sporting news, the expectations should be higher than the garbage of TMZ. If ESPN is going to keep on claiming it’s the “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” it should start acting like it.