ESPN does some awfully good work. The network’s documentaries are usually outstanding. Outside the Lines has been excellent for years on current issues. ESPN has a solid stable of commentators and analysts. And the sports network has done some good investigative work the past couple decades. But the “Worldwide Leader’s” coverage of the Penn State scandal has been shockingly weak from day one.
When the story broke on the grand jury report charging former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky with 40 criminal counts of molesting eight young boys, as well as charging the school’s athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz with perjury, ESPN did little more than run a little scroll on the story alongside college football scores. The network focused on game coverage and highlights. The lack of real journalistic coverage of the unfolding Penn St. story didn’t improve much on Monday and Tuesday. It began to seem like ESPN was more interested in protecting one of their biggest assets, college football, than seriously covering one of the biggest sports stories in years.
Finally, by Wednesday, they seemed to grasp the gravity and enormity of the story. Then Wednesday evening they totally bombed on coverage of Penn State’s Board of Trustees meeting and press conference, and the riot that followed. Clay Travis pretty well nailed ESPN’s ineptitude and conveyed the frustration of those of us foolish enough to think that ESPN would be the best place to turn for this breaking story. (See the story)
Jason Fry and Kelly McBride also did an excellent job outlining where ESPN dropped the ball on this story for the Poynter Review Project. (See the story.)
“With the biggest staff of sports journalists in the world, ESPN should have been leading the charge to ask tough questions and shed the light on this scandal,” wrote Fry and McBride. “Instead, it was the tiny Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. out in front of the journalism pack.” Later in their article they threw this shot at ESPN, “We would expect the instincts of a 24-hour broadcast newsroom to be quicker.”
Even ESPN executive Norby Williamson, the company’s executive vice president of production admitted that ESPN’s coverage of the Penn State story was far from stellar.
“I think we missed the story a little bit, “said Williamson.
On Wednesday night, when the riot broke out after it was announced that long-time Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired, along with the school’s president Graham Spanier, it was CNN who had the compelling live video coverage while ESPN offered us audio reports and misplaced, sometimes clueless, reporters.
Ultimately, ESPN’s poor job covering the Penn State scandal brings to the forefront the serious issue of the major conflicts of interest in reporting that exist when a media conglomerate like ESPN is asked to cover a news story involving one of their key business assets (in this case college football).
Can ESPN, or any large sports media conglomerate with significant investments in the sports they cover, report fairly and thoroughly on controversial sports issues that impact the business side of their company?
Based on ESPN’s coverage of the Penn State story this week the answer is a resounding “No.”
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman, and has a long involvement with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (now called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). We discuss the state of college athletics today, given the pressures of NIL, the transfer portal, sports gambling and huge media contracts. McMillen then provides great perspective on the poor state of physical fitness our young people are experiencing today.
Listen on Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Anchor and others.
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More Episodes on Apple Podcasts; Spotify; Google Podcasts; PocketCasts; & Anchor
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon