November 22, 2014
Our view

ESPN and NFL need to stick to their “guns”

Sunrise editorial
Posted 1/15/09

Lately it seems that the National Football League (NFL) and the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) have ventured outside the normal realm of investigative journalism into a new branch of judiciary persuasion.

One ESPN show, Outside the Lines (OTL), which investigates sports and athletes’ lives outside of their normal setting, has aired since May 1990 and usually, the program shows things like volunteers helping children learn baseball in Pakistan or a professional sports hero making kids’ dreams come true by hanging out with them for a day.

But slowly over the last few seasons, ESPN and OTL have taken bold steps into the world of investigating crimes that haven’t been heard in the court of law and reporting on them before a judgment has been reached and clearly delivering its own judgment, which is often reported in a light that makes it seem as the omniscient truth in its newscasts, prior to a conviction. The NFL has also been in the same boat since Commissioner Roger Goodell was hired three years ago and incorporated his “Player/Personnel Policy,” which allows the NFL to punish players based on off-the-field incidents at their own discretion, even if that player has been vindicated in the court of law.

This dangerously treads waters that most businesses would never dare to venture. If an intern told a CEO that a high-ranking member of a corporation was an alcoholic and caught drunk driving in possession of drugs, that CEO would investigate before putting out an office memo spreading the word about that employee’s moral makeup. But ESPN and the NFL are two of the most popular businesses in America and must now believe they’re above it all.

What many people don’t realize about these reports by OTL and punishments by the NFL is the persuasion it creates and the effect it has on the public. Furthermore, the points and investigations made by these companies regarding troubled matters is mostly based on hearsay, which would be dismissed in a court of law.

These deeply under-investigated stories and reports by the two have tarnished and all but ruined the reputations of **any player it reports on.

Adam Jones, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys and the Tennessee Titans, has had his name drug through the dirt by numerous unfair judgments by ESPN and the NFL. Although Jones has admitted to an alcohol problem that has led to several run-ins with the law, he has only been convicted of ONE, count ‘em ONE, misdemeanor offense. While some cases may possibly return to an open status and Jones’ attitude hasn’t helped his case, he has not been convicted of any real hard crimes. And unfortunately, Jones has been suspended from the NFL for 24 games over his career, thus far. Meanwhile, the NFL has had a player kill a person in a drunken driving case proved in court, and, just recently a player was found in the possession of cocaine, actually using the drug when the cops found him, and convicted in drug court just before the start of the regular season. Yet, neither of these players has served a game suspension as of this point.

Investigative journalism is one thing, but to divulge information based clearly and solely on hearsay is reckless and contradicts the old American adage “innocent until proven guilty.” These two corporations need to further research these matters if they are going to report on them before a verdict is found in a court of law. Only rock solid information should be reported on these matters, unlike the Marvin Harrison gun case in which one witness crossed-up his story more than three times and none of those times were the accounts even faintly similar, but ESPN rarely ever describes instances like these, instead focusing on the allegations against the player even after proof, like in Harrison’s case, appears to show them as innocent.

When a report is released and the authors or coworkers of the author lobby to the employer of the accused to have his career terminated, that falls under a morally dark category of injustice and wrongdoing, especially since many of the cases are overblown and over-publicized by the authors and their coworkers. This behavior needs to stop and ESPN should remember that its fan base wants uplifting sports news and highlights, not speculated stories created by the network that continually saturate broadcasts and frustrate viewers. ESPN and the NFL should just stick to their “guns,” so to speak.

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