Imagine this: a top three-to-five player in a star-driven league demanded his billionaire owner either fire his successful general manager and famous coach or trade him. Crazier still, this came out and became public information somehow that forced said owner to tweet in support of said GM and coach.
What’s crazier than all of this: A company that proudly calls itself “The Global Leader in Sports” seems to choose not to cover it.
For almost six hours (an eternity in news time) later Shams Charania reported the details of Kevin Durant’s meeting with Joe Tsai, ESPN went radio silent on the biggest sports news of the day and perhaps the biggest news of a packed NBA offseason. They eventually got around to it, but not until Sean Marks and the rest of Nets management were offered Tsai’s public endorsement.
Even then, ESPN chose to highlight Tsai’s tweet more than the story that prompted it, thus painting Brands in a more positive light at the expense of the larger story.
This comes on the heels of ESPN basically sitting out the Miami Dolphins mishandling 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 useful coverage for Sean Marks.
In all these cases, the relationships that ESPN’s main reporters (Adam Schefter in the NFL, Adrian Wojnarowski in the NBA) had with those they cover seem to have been prioritized over the coverage itself. Even further, the entire company followed suit as giant stories were broken and further detailed by competing platforms.
And look, reporters protecting a supply is nothing new (especially in today’s media and journalism environment), but the biggest sports news entity on the planet came up with ignoring two of the biggest sports stories of the year in basically one month? It’s the kind of thing that calls into question their coverage across the board, even while acknowledging the incredible journalism that’s been done in the past at ESPN.
This has always been the risk when entire news teams are defined by a few news-breakers that most people mistake for journalists. Schefter and Wojnarowski have amassed so much power (and credit to them for that) at the most powerful news organization in the industry that I can make an almost indisputable argument that those two are capable of actually deciding what is and 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 silly 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.
In a time when people pick and choose what they consider to be facts, this seems dangerous. Socially speaking, powerful people buying favorable coverage is neither new nor productive, but this is a much larger discussion that goes far beyond sports.
Decades of incredible journalism have built ESPN into an entity that people trust. And to be clear, the stories they choose to cover are done so impeccably by supremely talented people – some of the top journalists who have accomplished more than I can dream of. But ESPN’s recent tendency to decide what and what not to cover based on the relationships of essentially two reporters has gone so far. said to buy access through dinners and gifts became impossible to ignore.
In the grand scheme of things, a professional athlete issuing an ultimatum really isn’t that big of a deal. There are no social ramifications to Durant’s trade request. In today’s NBA, such demands have become almost commonplace. We’ve also arrived at 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, maybe most will find them.
But as the lines between journalism and public relations continue to blur, arguably the biggest platform in sports straying more and more into the latter is an unfortunate development for us all.
For 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 such things. We also touched on the Lakers-Warriors part of the rivalry of LeBron James, Stephen Curry and much more.
And for a short form summary pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and prepares you for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast stream.