A Very Bad Week For ESPN

Keith SmoothCorrespondent IJuly 24, 2009

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 20: Commentator Erin Andrews of ESPN reports from the sidelines as the University of Miami Hurricanes host the Texas A&M Aggies at the Orange Bowl on September 20, 2007 in Miami, Florida.  Miami won 31-17.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

It wasn't supposed to turn out this way.  This was supposed to be the best week of the year for ESPN, the World Wide Leader in Sports.  George Bodenheimer, the current president of ESPN Inc., should've been popping champagne this week because of the two very big events.

1. ESPN's ESPYs awards, the annual celebratory showcase, was a success.

2. After a successful test run in Chicago, ESPN announced on Monday their plans to expand what can only be described as ESPN Local, an ambitious project which looks to dominate local sports coverage in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas.

So these last seven days were supposed to awesome.
But here's the ugly truth:  They haven't been, not even close.  In fact these last seven days have kinda sucked.
Calamity No. 1: The Erin Andrews saga.
Word started to creep out late last week that a grainy video that apparently showed a naked Erin Andrews, the undisputed princess of ESPN, was circulating around on the internet.  Apparently somebody filmed the popular sideline reporter from an adjoining room while she was in a state of undress.
Lawyers for the cable giant sent a stern warning to whoever this loser is, threatening legal action if this video was not removed immediately. In a bit of twisted irony, the video of Ms. Andrews did not become an internet sensation until ESPN's lawyers made a fuss about it (and no one's faulting them for that).
This is bad.  Really bad.  It was an invasive and vile criminal act committed against one of the network's rising stars and I'm sure it scared the daylights out of the network's top executives. Now they are dealing with two big questions:
1. "How in the world did this happen?"
2. "How can we insure that something like this never happens again?"
While we wait for the fallout from this, let me take the time now, in the wake of this scandal, to rip a few people to shreds.
1. The Perpetrator: What the hell ever happened to guys looking at girls who undressed through an opened curtain or an opened window shade?  Now, you got guys drilling holes thorough hotel rooms with all of this sophisticated video equipment like its some type of perverted sting operation.  
I'm not a fan of torture but whoever this guy is that did this needs to be waterboarded. Seriously. And they should air it on ESPN, like on a special edition of First Take.  And for comedic value, as the guy's being tortured, they should have Skip Bayless yell at him.  
2. The media: Not every news organization, only the ones who further traumatized this poor woman by SHOWING THE F**KING VIDEO!  Yes, I'm talking to you the New York Post, Bill O'Reilly, and CBS' The Early Show.  I'm not at all shocked by the New York Post, a tabloid so nasty that I have to take a bath as soon as I finish reading it (which is not often).
And the actions of Bill O'Reilly (the anti-Walter Cronkite and the Tiger Woods of pompous outrage) doesn't surprise me either.  But The Early Show?  Really? You're better than that CBS.  You're better than that Julie Chen.  It's not like you, Mrs. Chen, would ever embarrass yourself by being a part of a show that exploited people who were videotaped by secret cameras . . .
. . . wait.  You mean she's the host of Big Brother???
Oh.  Well, never-mind.
3. Christine Brennan: For those who don't know Christine is a sportswriter for USA Today.  The other day she said this (via Facebook) in response to the Erin Andrews saga:
There are hundreds of women covering sports in this country who haven’t had this happen to them. I wish it didn’t happen to Erin, but I also would suggest to her if she asked (and she hasn’t) that she rely on her talent and brains and not succumb to the lowest common denominator in sports media by playing to the frat house.
Let me break it down for you. What Christine is saying is that Erin comes across as just a little too flirtatious, and that she should really stop wearing sundresses.  Because (according to Christine) this gives freak-a-voids carte blanche to run down to Best Buy, get some digital cameras, and then proceed to make Ms. Andrews the star of their very own perverted home movies.  That's what she means when she says "playing to the frat house." 
Swing and a miss Christine.  That's bullsh*t!
Katie Couric is flirtatious during some of her interviews.  Brooke Burke wore spicy-hot bikinis and partied with drunk dudes all over the world when she was the host of "Wild On."  So freaking what?  I don't recall anybody spying on them!  Erin's attire and her perkiness did not inspire this nutjob.  The sad reality is that this would've happened to her anyway.  Women are the victims of stalkers every day in this country and it's not because they charmed Pete Carroll during an interview and its not because they took courtside pictures with the Cameron Crazies!!!
That's a stunningly chauvinistic thing to say coming from a woman.  And that whole statement reeks of jealousy.  Brennan is a very respected writer but she will never be as popular as Andrews, who is smart, good at her job, and looks like a model.  Christine Brennan is also smart and good at her job . . . but she looks like Christine Brennan.  And in the male-dominated world of sports, that's what sets them apart (whether its fair or not).
Calamity No. 2: Ben Roethlisberger
Over the weekend, the sports world was treated to a shocker of a story.  Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was in the midst of being sued for sexual assault by a cocktail waitress who worked at Harrah's casino in Lake Tahoe.  I first heard about this story last Friday night as I just so happened to be on the best news-breaking website in the world, Twitter.  
The story started to gain traction gradually over the weekend and by Tuesday, it was a MAJOR story.  It was being reported in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (of course), Yahoo Sports, CBS SportsLine, the NFL Network, the New York Times, the Associated Press, SI.com, FOX Sports, etc.  But if you only get your sports news from ESPN, you would have had no idea that the two-time SuperBowl winning quarterback had his feet stuck in some pretty deep doo-doo.  
This is because ESPN decided that they would not talk about the civil suit against Big Ben (of course they changed their stance Wednesday night).  Their lame excuse was because it was a civil suit and not a criminal suit (the local police decided not to investigate).  But here's the problem with that stance: Whether the allegations levied against Roethlisberger are true or not (and I'll admit, her story has more plot holes than Transformers 2), it's still NEWS.
And the fact that this story was being reported by everybody else and the fact that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced an investigation into the matter, makes the actions of the World Wide Leader look all the more egregious.  It was a decision that was roundly criticized by media critics, bloggers, and (not surprisingly) by Deadspin, who took out their media ethics bat and promptly beat ESPN senseless with it.  
It was not ESPN's job to determine the legitimacy of this woman's claim and by doing so, they invited a bunch of unwanted criticism, like the people who believe that Big Ben was coddled because of his skin color.
I'm African American and I don't buy that argument.  If anything, Kevin Blackistone (who appears on the ESPN shout-fest Around The Horn) may have had a point when he insinuated that ESPN's decision may have had something to do with the fact that Big Ben was scheduled to appear in Shaquille O'Neal's new reality show, a show that will soon premiere on ABC (which like ESPN is also owned by the Walt Disney Company).  
But ESPN, you open yourself up to that type of criticism, especially when you didn't hesitate to report on a similar civil suit levied against Shannon Brown of the Los Angeles Lakers last year or of the restraining order a Florida woman took out against Randy Moss of the New England Patriots two years ago.
And you better believe that if this whole sordid ordeal had even a faint smell of racism, Al Sharpton (and his perm) would be in Bristol, Connecticut right now trying his best to recreate the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama march from 1965.
John Walsh, the Executive Editor of ESPN and the man most responsible for SportsCenter, talked to Dan Patrick (the man he once hired for ESPN) the other day on Patrick's radio show.  He not only talked about Big Ben, but he also talked about the Erin Andrews saga.  It was fantastic radio and I urge you all to listen to it by going to DanPatrick.com.
And Dan LeBatard, frequently seen guest-hosting PTI, defended ESPN's actions.  I don't buy his argument.  You can read his story by going to MiamiHerald.com.
What should have been a wonderful week for the folks up in Bristol has turned into what comedian Chelsea Handler would call "a hot mess!"  ESPN is known for reporting the news but this week, ESPN was the one making news, a week that I'm sure they would much rather forget.


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