ESPN has been the king of the sports media industry for years now. Other networks have their own sports programs that have at least attempted to challenge ESPN’s throne, but for the most part they have failed.
There’s a reason why ESPN has been so dominant. It provides the most comprehensive coverage of the nationwide sports world, allowing viewers and readers to go to one place and find everything they want to know.
But as the ESPN brand has gained more power, it also has shown heavy-handedness and an unwillingness to open itself to criticism. It has been quick to suspend its on-air talent for tarnishing the “ESPN image.”
Some of those suspensions have seemed silly or unjustified in the past, and some of them created minor stirs among fans. But nothing compares to the firestorm surrounding the “suspension that wasn’t a suspension” of Bruce Feldman.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, here it is briefly. As reported by SportsbyBrooks, ESPN suspended Feldman for his part in Mike Leach’s book Swing Your Sword.
Leach was fired from Texas Tech after a conflict with Adam James, the son of ESPN analyst Craig James. Leach filed a defamation lawsuit against James and the network, and in his book did not have kind things to say about any of the people involved.
Feldman received permission from his employer to take part in the book, but that was before Leach’s firing and the upheaval that followed. And when the book came out and the ESPN brass saw the words in print, they decided to put Feldman’s work on hold.
Feldman is arguably ESPN’s best college football writer and is one of the most respected men in the business. So much so that when the story first surfaced, writers for rival organizations jumped to Feldman’s defense.
Writers from Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, Yahoo Sports and other outlets took to Twitter and began a #FreeBruce campaign in support of Feldman. The movement erupted, resulting in both the #FreeBruce hashtag and Bruce Feldman’s name becoming trending topics within an hour.
The story made ESPN look terrible for supposedly suspending a talented writer for doing a job that he already had asked permission to do. One popular tweet went so far as to call it “ESPN’s Waterloo,” and an unnamed ESPN employee said he would rather be fired so Bruce could get his job back.
The network refused comment on the situation for a full 18 hours before releasing a statement that essentially said Feldman had never been suspended and the whole thing was just one big Internet rumor. The statement claimed the network just needed to evaluate Feldman’s participation in the book before approving him for additional work.
The problem here is that ESPN tried to turn the whole issue into an argument of semantics. They pretty clearly asked Feldman to stop what he was doing and to discontinue using his official ESPN twitter account.
But the statement and ESPN’s subsequent coverage of the issue didn’t fully address the Feldman situation in and of itself. Instead it attacked the original report by SportsbyBrooks, calling it a “sports gossip blog” and saying it was reporting rumor as fact.
Instead of owning up to a mistake and setting it right, ESPN tried to pretend a mistake was never made and turned the entire thing into a “he said, she said.” That’s exactly what happened, as the argument of semantics made it impossible for anyone to confirm wrongdoing.
And now, more than a week after this whole thing started, nothing has been resolved. ESPN claimed it never suspended Feldman, and yet in the same statement said they were allowing him to “resume” his duties. Why would he be resuming anything if he was never asked to stop?
They tried to compare the Feldman situation to timeouts in a football game, saying that when a timeout is called the game is not suspended, it just stops briefly. But that’s exactly what suspension means: “An interruption or temporary revocation.” It doesn’t matter how long that interruption lasts, it still is a suspension.
And if there never was a suspension, why has Feldman still not tweeted since everything went down? He now has gone eight days without a single tweet, when he generally wrote multiple posts every day before that. He had not gone more than one day without writing something all year.
And yet ESPN just gave one vague statement on the issue and then acted like it never happened. The implied statement in all of this is that ESPN has grown so large that it can do as it likes with its employees.
It is the new evil empire, dispensing the people that make it run without remorse. The network wants to maintain this infallible image that is impossible to achieve, and swiftly punishes anyone who speaks ill of it. And in this case, it swiftly punished a guy just because he could be connected to someone who spoke ill of the network.
But worst of all is the fact that none of it really matters. ESPN is this self-fulfilling monster feeding on its employees because it knows hundreds of people will gladly try to jump into the same spot. And at this point, the monster is unstoppable.