Why Won't ESPN Report on The Ben Roethlisberger Situation?

Alex McVeighSenior Analyst IJuly 22, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 15:  NFL player Ben Roethlisberger walks onstage to accept the award for Best Game, Steelers vs. Cardinals Super Bowl XLIII on behalf of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2009 ESPY Awards held at Nokia Theatre LA Live on July 15, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The 17th annual ESPYs will air on Sunday, July 19 at 9PM ET on ESPN.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)


I'm a begrudging fan of ESPN. I watch their coverage of sports, and I usually have SportsCenter on in the background in the morning or while I'm doing random stuff.

But I also don't like their seeming lust for controversy, how they put people like O.J. Simpson (who hasn't played football in decades), Michael Vick, Pacman Jones, or even Terrell Owens at the top of the coverage at the expense of real sports news and/or highlights.

When I got home late Monday night, I heard a thing on the radio about Ben Roethlisberger being accused of assault. Wow, I thought, ESPN is back in their element.

I got home and clicked on ESPN.com, expecting to see a front page spread about Big Ben. You know, the standard witty pun for a headline, an in-game shot of Big Ben looking distraught, the whole standard Pacman, T.O. drill.

It wasn't there. I was surprised, but I thought that it probably came at the end of their news cycle, and maybe they had someone like John Clayton working the scoop, so it would be up bright and early Tuesday morning.

Tuesday morning, check the site—still nothing.

It's at the top of every other mainstream sports news website: Fox Sports, CNN/SI—at least a mention is. It's the first topic talked about on the radio.

Nothing on SportsCenter, nothing on ESPN's radio station, nothing on ESPN.com.

And this is the worldwide leader in sports?

Look, I admit it; I hate the way ESPN puts controversy to the forefront, but if the alternative is a complete and total blackout, then what kind of news organization do they think they are?

How can any legit organization claiming to be in the news business not discuss a story where the Super Bowl champion quarterback is accused of sexual assault, even if it's just a civil lawsuit (this is very important for later, so make a note)?

In fact, as came out later in the day, not only was ESPN not reporting it, they also issued a strict "Do Not Report" memo to their employees, telling them not to address the situation.

Now things are getting a little fishy. What kind of organization sweeps something like that under the rug?

Can you imagine being someone like John Clayton? He's one of the most plugged-in reporters to the NFL in the world, and he's sitting on the 5 p.m. SportsCenter talking about Michael Vick and whether or not Brett Favre will be playing for the Vikings.

How does he not explode and just talk about it? ESPN is muzzling their journalistic talents, and that's the most unforgivable sin in the world of media.

When Vick first got in trouble, there were some people claiming racism, saying that if Tom Brady or Peyton Manning were accused of the same crime, it wouldn't be a big deal.

I was always against that notion. I think it would have been a much bigger deal.

Vick has had troubles before with weed, flicking off fans, and other stuff. Same with Pacman.

Not to mention Terrell Owens. I remember going to work one morning a few years ago, and TO had gone to the hospital on an "overdose." ESPN was in full crisis mode, dispatching reporters and personalities to every corner of the Dallas area to find out whatever information they had.

But now, I have to wonder: Is Big Ben getting ignored because he's pretty much the poster boy for a successful, clean, white athlete?

The answer is no. I think no organization would tread down such dangerous territory. I'm not one of those people that thinks the media is inherently racist, but it did cross my mind.

But apparently, we have a reason for the "Do Not Report" memo. Apparently it's an ESPN policy not to report on civil suits involving athletes.

Hmm...they don't...report...on...civil...lawsuits?

Glad we got that out of the way.

So it's clearly not the "civil lawsuit" thing that's holding them back. So what is it?

Does ESPN not want to alienate a 27-year-old two-time Super Bowl champion for fear of losing access? Do they fear losing page hits from the most rabid (read: obnoxious) fanbase in football?

Does this mean if T.O. or Vick were to win a Super Bowl, ESPN would stop reporting on their various incidents?

Does this mean if Matt Ryan or Mark Sanchez were to get in some sort of trouble, ESPN would ignore it for fear of damaging access to a future superstar?

Does this mean success or popularity affects the facts about a person? Where is the line drawn?

As a journalist, this is the worst crime they could commit. It's also a crime that will not go unnoticed in today's age of watchdog blogs.

At the top of the mountain of the sports world, ESPN is already the target of every other outlet trying to climb that mountain, and they're not doing themselves any favors with garbage like this.

UPDATE: At around 11:30 last night, a full 52 hours after the news broke, ESPN posted an article. The article they posted was the AP's about how no criminal charges will be filed.

Also, makiong the front page this morning, and still on the front page of the NFL section, an article about how the guy who accused Marvin Harrison of shooting him was shot again. Anyone care to comment how that has anything to do with sports?


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