ESPN Uses Shameful Tactics in Miguel Tejada Story

Stew WinkelSenior Analyst IApril 17, 2008

Miguel Tejada lied about his age.

ESPN broke this major story today. What else can the Worldwide Leader uncover? An Outside the Lines special on how some athletes exaggerate how tall they are. I certainly can't wait.  

It comes as no surprise to anyone that a foreign-born player lied about his age. For years, those covering baseball have openly joked about the real ages of players such as Orlando Hernandez and many, many others. 

I guess the next logical step will be Arlen Specter conducting a Senatorial Judiciary Committee hearing into the proper ages for all members of the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays. 

The truth is now out about Tejada. The entire sports community owes ESPN a debt of gratitude for getting to the bottom of this major issue.  

I heard about the Tejada story today. I didn’t even pause for a second to read it. I saw the headline, shrugged, and moved on to get my sports news from Web sites that do it far better than ESPN does.

Then a few minutes ago, I flipped to ESPNEWS (which despite ESPN’s endless promotions, I still cannot watch in HD) to see Red Sox highlights, and saw the Tejada report.

I felt dirty watching the reporter in the story, and am disgusted by his actions in how he initially confronted Tejada about his real birth date. He should be ashamed, and ESPN should be ashamed for him. I have to assume this reporter learned his craft from Scott Templeton.

For anyone who has not seen the interview yet, the reporter (whose name I do not know) is interviewing Tejada, who thinks the interview is just going to be about baseball. There is a novel idea—interviewing a baseball player about baseball a few weeks into the season. 

Suddenly, the reporter asks Tejada how old he is. When Tejada answers, the reporter asks “are you sure?”, and then pulls out Tejada’s actual birth certificate.

Wow. I am sure Northwestern and Columbia Journalism schools will be contacting this guy to teach a class next semester. Woodward and Bernstein have nothing on him.  Maybe with his  clear elite journalistic ability, this guy could stand in for George Stephanopoulos as a moderator for the next Democratic presidential debate. 

Anyway, a surprised Tejada looks at the birth certificate, tells Fletch he thought the interview was about baseball and walks out. Good for Tejada.

I don’t know how or where ESPN got its hands on the real birth certificate. I don’t really care either. ESPN didn't have to ignore this information; that is not my point. But there is no reason it had to be handled in the manner it was.  

Couldn’t ESPN have let Tejada know what they had uncovered? Given Tejada a chance to respond, and not be ambushed by it. What did ESPN gain by throwing the certificate in Tejada’s face?

There is a right way to do things, and a wrong way. Maybe that is too simplistic, but this was the wrong way. It was the disgraceful way. It was gotcha’ journalism at its worst.

The ESPNNEWS anchor (which did I mention I still can't watch in high-def) said this story was important because the Department of Justice is investigating Tejada for possibly lying to investigators.  Of course a first-year law student could explain to ESPN that it takes more than a lie to be guilty of perjury, the lie needs to be material.  Granted what is material can be interpreted broadly, but even Jack McCoy would agree that whether Tejada said he was 31, 33 or 75 is far from material and would not substantiate a perjury charge.  

Baseball is trying to come out of the steroid era. All within baseball share the blame for that. But sharing in that blame is everyone that covered the sport, including, if not especially, ESPN, for collectively failing to ask serious, hard-hitting questions that could have exposed the steroid era years ago.  Even now, has an ESPN reporter ever once stood up to a player or to Bud Selig and asked tough questions about steroids? 

But now this reporter with this huge story decided it was his time to be a hard-hitting journalist. In my opinion, he came off as nothing more than a punk.

ESPN is the Worldwide Leader and talk to anyone who works there for even one minute and they will be sure to mention that. The thing about ESPN though is that their reputation is not nearly what it used to be with most of the sports fans that I know. 

With its reach and resources, ESPN could be doing the type of journalism that could have a positive effect on all of sports. But they are more interested in talking to Jessica Biel about who she thinks is next, promoting Mariah Carey's latest single, rerunning the same stories about the same athletes, and pulling cheap stunts like they did with this Tejada story, and then trying to sell the public that it is important.

Although I am sure tomorrow's SportsCenter will get to the bottom of an issue that needs to be resolved - will Ben Wallace wear his hair in braids or will he comb out his afro for game one of the Wizards-Cavs series?   I've set my DVR just to be safe.  

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.  The reporter should not have ambushed Tejada the way that he did. ESPN should not have allowed it to happen, and should not have run the footage once he did. In its tease for the interview, ESPN showed the clip of Tejada walking out, hoping to disgrace Tejada and create buzz for their big catch. To me, it backfired. I hope others feel the same way I do.

Maybe ESPN should stick to what it does best: promoting itself.  It certainly went well when the network attempted to promote the anniversary of the Mike & Mike show by throwing a roast for the duo. Someone should ask Dana Jacobsen how that worked out. The Worldwide Leader buried that story pretty quickly.  I can only imagine the weeks of coverage the network would have devoted to the story had it been an athlete who acted how Jacobsen did.  

If you are a sports fan, you have no choice but to watch ESPN or to go to at least occasionally. I still go to the Web site—to scan headlines, to see if Bill Simmons' page has been updated, or to listen to the Fantasy Focus podcast, among other reasons. 

But over the last few years, I have found more and more reasons to stay away from the Worldwide Leader. The way it handled this "important" story supplied me with one more reason to turn away from the network.