For whatever reason, ESPN’s relationship with athletes has become a story two years in a row. Last year, it was the strange refusal by the Alleged Worldwide Leader to report on a civil suit filed against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It took a public statement by Roethlisberger for ESPN to finally mention the story and post it on its website. The stance by ESPN not to mention it on SportsCenter or its NFL studio programs led to speculation as to why it wasn’t reporting the story. Conspiracy theorists thought the refusal was due to parent company Disney protecting Roethlisberger due to his participation in a reality show that summer with Shaquille O’Neal. ESPN took several hits and it led to a re-examination at its Bristol headquarters.
Now just over a year later, ESPN is getting hits for the squashing of a story on LeBron James on its website. We all know of ESPN’s granting an hour of its airtime, well, an hour and 13 minutes in reality, to LeBron James to announce that he will play in Miami. ESPN got high ratings, but also was roundly criticized for getting in bed with James.
On Tuesday, a story by ESPN Los Angeles writer Arash Markazi was published on Tuesday, then quickly pulled. The story which is now stored on Google Docs chronicled a night in Las Vegas where James basically was having a boy’s night out. But word quickly spread of ESPN spiking the story and it led to speculation that James’ camp had something to do with it. According to CNBC’s Darren Rovell, they did not. In addition, the co-author of an upcoming book on ESPN, James Andrew Miller confirms Rovell’s tweet.
For its part, an ESPN spokesman tweeted that ESPN.com editors made the call to remove the story and it should not have seen the light of day:
“The story should have never been published. The draft was inadvertently put on the server before going through the usual editorial process. We are in the midst of looking into the matter.”
Ok, let’s take ESPN at its word, but the timing and the appearance of a cozy relationship doesn’t make this decision (not “The Decision”) any better. Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs doesn’t believe it.
Ken Schott of the Schenectady Gazette feels ESPN should avoid doing LeBron puff pieces.
The great Bethlehem Shoals at Fanhouse says maybe it was best for us not to know of LeBron’s excesses in Vegas.
Sure, the story may not have been worthy of publication, however, with the James “Decision” on July 8 and then ESPN.com’s decision just three weeks later, conspiracy theorists are having a field day. ESPN may have removed the story because it wasn’t worthy of publication, but it’s the appearance of impropriety and conflict of interest that make people wonder.