NCAA FB

ESPN unwilling to tackle Newton's flaws

Share This Story

Brian Lowry

A media columnist and critic for Variety since 2003, Brian Lowry spent seven years at the L.A. Times and has contributed to both NPR and TV Guide Network. He writes weekly for FOX Sports. A UCLA alum, Lowry proudly attended the '95 title game. MORE>>
 
   
 

Stretching a five-minute presentation to an hour, ESPN’s Heisman Trophy coronation of Cam Newton was predictably boring. The only suspense was whether the network would weakly whiff at the Auburn quarterback the way so many would-be tacklers have this season.

Recommended viewing

 

HBO’s “24/7” reality-TV franchise slides onto the hockey ice beginning Dec. 15 with “24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic,” a four-week series promising “all-access” coverage of Pittsburgh and Washington as they play twice in a nine-day span.

 

Despite the lingering aroma of “The Decision,” when ESPN symbolically sat in LeBron James’ lap, the verdict was mostly yes. The cable giant came up short again from a journalistic standpoint, renewing questions regarding exactly what kind of organization ESPN ultimately wishes to be.

Led by a gushy Chris Fowler, the ESPN gang didn’t wholly ignore the controversy, which hinges on reports Newton’s father sought more than $100,000 from Mississippi State during his son’s recruitment. Unlike many NCAA rules violations that can sound nitpicky and arbitrary, demanding six-figure payments to sign with a school doesn’t fall into the “close call” category, the main defense being the quarterback claims to have been oblivious to what his dad was doing.

Newton was cleared with unusual alacrity given how NCAA investigations tend to drag on, though few in the sports world think the matter is completely settled. As The Associated Press noted after Newton’s Heisman win, “Whether he gets to keep it is still to be determined.”

Facing this uncomfortable situation, ESPN sought to split the difference: The channel insisted Newton sit for a pre-taped interview a few days before to the ceremony, providing cover so it could only obliquely reference his eligibility cloud during the actual event.

Instead, we got vague euphemisms making Newton sound like a victim, with ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit mentioning how well he performed on the field despite all the “scrutiny,” “distractions” and having “to deal with a lot,” as if Newton’s flaw — or at least his family — played no role in complicating his storybook season.

 

CONTACT BRIAN LOWRY

 
If you have a question or comment for Brian, submit it below and he may just respond.
 

Basically, ESPN wanted to host its splashy celebration without sacrificing the “journalistic obligation that we have to viewers,” as senior vice president/director of news Vince Doria told The New York Times, hoping the advance interview would accomplish that dual mission.

This would all be moot, perhaps, if ESPN didn’t aspire to being taken seriously as a news organization. But the fact the network regularly promotes its “enterprise journalism” and officials offer quotes like the one above suggests network brass truly believe they’re in the news business as well as sports and entertainment.

Admittedly, it’s doubtful many viewers expect “SportsCenter” to maintain the same standards as ABC’s “World News.” The problem lies in pretending to be something you’re not.

ESPN can’t have it both ways — just as it tried to when the channel let James’ NBA free-agency announcement, clearly a major news story, become an embarrassing prime-time infomercial. Even its ombudsman, legendary TV exec and sports producer Don Ohlmeyer, blasted the channel over that one.

“If the network wants to be considered the true worldwide leader in sports, it must accept the responsibility that comes with it,” Ohlmeyer wrote. “As the biggest player in the space, ESPN can establish and give credibility to a story. With that clout, of course, comes the obligation to cover each story not just with journalistic integrity but with appropriate weight — or risk that very same credibility.”

POLL

  • What was least recommended viewing in 2010?
    • LeBron's 'Decision'
    • Tiger's apology
    • Newton's Heisman interview
    • Pics of Favre's package

Bingo. And don’t forget, ESPN begins televising the big-money Bowl Championship Series starting in 2011. While the zesty swirl of a little scandal is potentially helpful to heighten interest, having a featured star in the national title game ruled ineligible would be very, very bad for every ingredient in the alphabet soup — ESPN, the NCAA, you name it.

Nobody likes the killjoy who gets all serious at a cocktail party, and Newton earned his moment in the spotlight. Yet Reggie Bush, the former USC tailback who wound up returning his trophy because of NCAA violations, cast a giant shadow over this year’s Heisman, no matter how much ESPN soft-pedaled that awkward prospect.

Under those circumstances, being a bit of a spoilsport seemed unavoidable — unless you’re intermittently content, as ESPN apparently is, to be not just the biggest player in the space but also the biggest shill as well.

Email:lowryonsports@gmail.com

Tagged: Auburn, Cam Newton

More Stories From Brian Lowry

Member Comments

Please note by clicking on "Post comment" you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Use and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Be Polite. Inappropriate posts may be removed by the moderator.

powered by

College Football Pick'em on FOX


NCAA FB Videos

Sumlin annoyed by media's Manziel questions Posted: Jul 16, 2014
Kevin Sumlin responds to questions about life after Johnny Football by toying wi...

AJ Pasquale's journey back to UCLA Posted: Jun 17, 2014
UCLA football ops intern AJ Pasquale describes his own personal journey after th...

Winston issued adult civil citation Posted: Apr 30, 2014
Get the latest news surrounding Jameis Winston's recent shoplifting fiasco.

Get Inside the Locker Room with Scout.com

Fox Sports Store

    itemName itemURL imageSrc price itemDescription
    Nike Florida Gators Gridiron 2012 Team Issue T-Shirt - Royal Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Florida_Gators/browse/featuredproduct/759777/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_759000/ff_759777_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Florida Gators Gridiron 2012 Team Issue T-Shirt - Royal Blue
    Nike Michigan State Spartans Football 2012 Team Issue T-Shirt - White http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Michigan_State_Spartans/browse/featuredproduct/760171/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_760000/ff_760171_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Michigan State Spartans Football 2012 Team Issue T-Shirt - White
    Nike USC Trojans Fight On My School T-Shirt - Cardinal http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_USC_Trojans/browse/featuredproduct/761373/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_761000/ff_761373_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike USC Trojans Fight On My School T-Shirt - Cardinal
    Nike Alabama Crimson Tide Elite Force Coaches Sideline Performance Polo - Crimson http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Alabama_Crimson_Tide/browse/featuredproduct/829709/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_829000/ff_829709_xl.jpg&w=100 64.95 Nike Alabama Crimson Tide Elite Force Coaches Sideline Performance Polo - Crimso..
    Nike LSU Tigers Elite Force Coaches Sideline Performance Polo - Purple http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_LSU_Tigers/browse/featuredproduct/829740/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_829000/ff_829740_xl.jpg&w=100 49.99 Nike LSU Tigers Elite Force Coaches Sideline Performance Polo - Purple
    Nike Oklahoma Sooners Legacy 91 Dri-FIT Adjustable Coaches Cap - Crimson http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Oklahoma_Sooners/browse/featuredproduct/830935/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_830000/ff_830935_xl.jpg&w=100 21.95 Nike Oklahoma Sooners Legacy 91 Dri-FIT Adjustable Coaches Cap - Crimson
    adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish Hot Sideline Jacket - Navy Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Notre_Dame_Fighting_Irish/browse/featuredproduct/861243/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_861000/ff_861243_xl.jpg&w=100 69.95 adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish Hot Sideline Jacket - Navy Blue
    adidas Nebraska Cornhuskers Sideline Hot Quarter Zip Jacket - Scarlet http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Nebraska_Cornhuskers/browse/featuredproduct/861247/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_861000/ff_861247_xl.jpg&w=100 69.95 adidas Nebraska Cornhuskers Sideline Hot Quarter Zip Jacket - Scarlet
    Nike Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 BCS National Champions Players Locker Room Snapback Hat - Charcoal/Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Alabama_Crimson_Tide/browse/featuredproduct/1087345/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1087000/ff_1087345_xl.jpg&w=100 29.95 Nike Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 BCS National Champions Players Locker Room Snapba..
    Nike Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 BCS National Champions Locker Room T-Shirt - Ash http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Alabama_Crimson_Tide/browse/featuredproduct/1093431/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1093000/ff_1093431_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 BCS National Champions Locker Room T-Shirt - Ash