Picture this: A top-three-to-five player in a star-driven league demanded his billionaire owner either fire his successful general manager and hall-of-fame coach or trade him. Crazier still, this got out and became public information in a way that forced said owner to tweet in support of said GM and coach.
What’s more insane than all of that: A company that proudly calls itself “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” seems to have chosen not to cover it.
For almost six hours (an eternity in news time) after Shams Charania reported the details of Kevin Durant’s meeting with Joe Tsai, ESPN went radio silent on the biggest sporting news of the day and perhaps the biggest news of a jam-packed NBA offseason. They eventually got to it, but not until Sean Marks and the rest of Nets management were offered Tsai’s public support.
Even then, ESPN chose to highlight Tsai’s tweet more than the story that forced it, thus painting Marks in a more positive light at the cost of the bigger story.
This comes on the heels of ESPN essentially sitting out the Miami Dolphins tampering in a way that got their owner suspended, fined and cost them a first and third-round draft pick. Hell, this isn’t even the first time ESPN contradicted itself to provide beneficial coverage for Sean Marks.
In all these cases, the relationships ESPN’s lead reporters (Adam Schefter in the NFL, Adrian Wojnarowski in the NBA) held with those they cover seem to have been prioritized above the coverage itself. Even further, the entire company followed suit while giant stories were broken and further detailed by competing platforms.
And look, reporters protecting sourcing is nothing new (especially in today’s media and journalistic environment), but the largest sports news entity on the planet going out of its way to ignore two of the biggest sports stories of the year in basically a month? It’s the type of thing that calls into question their coverage across the board, even while acknowledging the incredible journalism that has been done in the past at ESPN.
This was always the risk when entire news teams are defined by a couple news breakers most people confuse with journalists. Schefter and Wojnarowski have accumulated so much power (and credit to them for doing so) at the most powerful news organization in the industry that I can make an almost indisputable argument that those two are able to actually decide what is and what isn’t news.
Maybe this is just who ESPN is now, and what journalism in general is becoming. The last thing powerful people seem to want around them is honest coverage. And hell, maybe it’s stupid of me to expect journalistic integrity from corporate partners of these leagues with billions of dollars on the line. But most sports fans won’t make that distinction.
At a time when people pick and choose what they consider facts, this seems dangerous. Societally speaking, powerful people buying favorable coverage is neither new or productive, but that’s a much larger discussion that goes well beyond sports.
Decades of incredible journalism has built ESPN into an entity people trust. And to be clear, stories they do choose to cover are done so beyond reproach by supremely talented people — some of the top journalists who have accomplished more than I can dream of. But ESPN’s recent trend of deciding what and what not to cover based on the relationships of essentially two reporters who have gone so far as to reportedly purchase access through dinners and gifts has become impossible to ignore.
In the grand scheme of things, a professional athlete issuing an ultimatum really isn’t that important. There are no societal ramifications to Durant’s trade request. In today’s NBA, such demands have become almost commonplace. We’ve also arrived in a place where almost no one relies solely on ESPN for their sports coverage. So, if ESPN misses a story here or there for whatever reason, chances are, most will find them.
But as the lines between journalism and public relations continue to blur, unquestionably the largest platform in sports straying further and further into the latter is a regrettable development for all of us.
On a rare two-episode week, I welcomed Ethan Strauss on “The Anthony Irwin Show” to discuss his coverage of Woj’s selective reporting, how independent journalism on platforms like Substack can help keep ESPN and the like honest, and whether most people even care about stuff like this. We also touched on the Lakers-Warriors portion of the LeBron James, Stephen Curry rivalry and plenty more.
And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.