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August 28, 2013

Wednesday Talking Points: ESPN and honor

You'll forgive me if I beat a dead horse here for a second, but I'm still really irritated at the gall of Mark Schwarz of ESPN bringing the Aggie Code of Honor up in trying to get a "gotcha" moment out of coach Sumlin yesterday on the Johnny Manziel situation. If there's a company that has no concept of a code of honor, it's ESPN. If I may take a moment:

Let's start in 2008, when the young ESPN the Magazine did a fawning piece of former Philly and Met Lenny Dykstra, who had apparently become a stock market guru and had started his own magazine, the "Players Club", aimed at former athletes and people making more than $250,000 a year. It talked about Dykstra going over to Wayne Gretzky's old house in L.A., which he had just bought for $17 million, and turning on the lights just to see how cool it was.

Len Dykstra is now a convicted felon. Shortly after the puff piece on him was printed, it became evident he was running a Ponzi scheme. ESPN the Magazine then ran a piece destroying him, and Mike Fish of the .com did the same. The magazine stories? Down the memory hole as far as Google goes. Fish's story, which doesn't mention the original puff piece? That you can find.

Now, let's look at Manti Te'o, the ESPN/NBC creation that almost took the Heisman from Johnny Manziel last fall. We all remember Lennay Kukua, the non-existent girlfriend of the Notre Dame linebacker. Here's what ESPN had to say about her:

"Two months ago, Teo's 72-year-old grandmother, Annette Santiago, died of natural causes. His 22-year-old girlfriend, Stanford student Lennay Kekua, died of leukemia just eight months after surviving a life-threatening car accident.

Te'o's family was originally set to meet Kekua for the first time this Saturday, and the emptiness probably will be felt in the same way it has been every day since her passing, when the couple's ritual of falling asleep on the
phone together came to a tragic end.

Kekua made Te'o promise he would not leave Notre Dame should anything happen to her, requesting only a few white roses. So he responded three days after her death by recording 12 tackles in a prime-time win at then-No. 10 Michigan State. And a week later, on the night of her funeral, he notched two interceptions and forced two more in a win over Michigan, later saying that he sent the pair of picks to her along with the roses."

Nobody bothered to check and see why the two families had never met, or if Kukua even existed.

ESPN's "Outside the Lines," which is supposed to be their effort into investigative journalism (also the group that has sponsored Darren Rovell's little spite fit against Johnny Manziel) reported last year that Saints GM Mickey Loomis -- and possibly the Benson family -- had arranged for opposing coaches boxes at the Superdome to be bugged. The Saints violently rebutted those accusations and challenged ESPN to come forward with their information. They did not, and the matter died.

In 2011, ESPN did another piece of investigative reporting on Syracuse basketball assistant coach Bernie Fine, who they alleged had molested two ballboys during his long career by coach Jim Boeheim. Coming shortly after the Jerry Sandusky disaster at Penn State, Fine was fired by the university. One of the key sources for ESPN later recanted his story and a tape of Bernie Fine's wife Laurie allegedly saying she knew the molestation occurred was said to be doctored. Bernie Fine filed a defamation suit against ESPN that he withdrew in July; Laurie Fine has also filed a defamation suit and is waiting for the case to go to trial.

More recently, ESPN has backed out of a joint venture with PBS looking into concussions in the NFL. The four-letter is trying to make it look like they did so under pressure from Roger Goddell, but there's this: the NFL doesn't think they can be trusted to accurately prevent information. As Mike Florio from Profootballtalk.com pointed out recently, ESPN blatantly misrepresented -- in Florio's words, "recklessly overstated" -- the relevance of past rulings from the NFL's disability board on concussions in a November 2012 piece, claiming they provided a "smoking gun" for concussion lawsuits.

"The November 2012 report regarding the disability awards and the more recent look at Dr. Pellman (who did a report for the league on concussions) feel more like a gratuitous exercise in "gotcha," and not a balanced examination of reality," Florio said.

Mike Florio and I have known one another, at least professionally, for about five years now. He knows his stuff. He's also a lawyer, so he's not going to get caught flat-footed. He thinks ESPN is way off base.

Looking at the Manziel situation, it's easy to see why.

So, now we look at Rovell v. Manziel. The story begins with Rovell's claims that Manziel has been paid for autographs, provides no proof -- has a sentence in the story that no money was seen changing hands -- provides no quotes from unnamed "sources." ESPN runs with it. Joe Schad shows up, discusses the $7,500 (alleged) payment discussed in a video no one else has seen (and appears to have been obtained illegally, if it even exists). Rovell writes another story, with no additional sources, and has a sentence referring to Schad's piece and mentions that no money changed hands. ESPN.com later goes in and whitewashes that comment, making it seem like the allegations are much stronger than they are. They make no mention of making the changes, and claim it makes no difference when called on it by Tarp and myself. For three weeks now, Rovell -- himself made to look like a total idiot in the Kukua case and when he was duped by a high school student when he was at CNBC -- has continued to lob accusations from "sources" in Manziel's direction.

It's lousy journalism. And it's a trend. And I'm utterly disgusted by them.

Code of Honor? Try one on for size, ESPN. You'll find yourselves to be lacking.


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