×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Aaron Hernandez Murder Charges Put ESPN in Uncomfortable Position

In media terms, collision of the NFL and true crime is an irresistible force

Aaron Hernandez is not O.J. Simpson. But by the time the summer’s over, don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re watching an instant replay.

The arrest and first-degree murder charges leveled Wednesday against Hernandez — a star New England Patriots tight end — are news by any measure. Yet the collision of the U.S.’ most popular sport with true crime has already begun to create a sense the case is going to receive a disproportionate amount of coverage, as much because of demographic possibilities (“Hey, we can get more men to tune in”) as its inherent news value.

“It was a feeding frenzy, as you would expect in a situation like this,” ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap told the “SportsCenter” team by phone, describing the scene around the courthouse.

Certainly, no network was more frenzied than ESPN, which invariably must juggle its status as a news organization with the more natural posture of catering to narrowly focused sports fans in such instances, folks who care more about roster changes than police blotters. Beyond the murder charges, for example, the network’s on-air graphics asked “Who’s catching Tom’s passes?,” a reference to what losing Hernandez as a receiver would mean for the Patriots’ passing game.

To its credit, ESPN did pose another question — namely, whether the National Football League has an image problem. Inasmuch as ESPN pays billions to the league for the right to televise games and breathlessly chronicles its every move, wondering aloud about the NFL being damaged by some of its negative publicity would appear to strike a blow on behalf of journalistic independence.

Even so, ESPN feels a bit over its head dealing with a story of this kind, while news networks like CNN are a trifle out of their element. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen did mention that 27 NFL players have been arrested since the Super Bowl, but quickly downplayed that figure statistically given the number of pros employed by the league. Nor was there any immediate mention during the time I was watching of Ray Lewis, the former Baltimore Ravens star charged with murder in 2000 (before pleading guilty to obstruction of justice), who is now employed as an analyst by none other than ESPN.

In a broader sense, there’s a cumulative effect when several crime-related stories begin to dominate the cable universe, with the trial of George Zimmerman — charged in the death of teenager Trayvon Martin — serving as HLN’s signature overheated franchise of the moment. Unfortunately, the supply of attorneys willing to yell at each other on air remains an easily-renewable resource, and summer is a period when cable news always seems to have more time to spare for everything from shark attacks to sensational murders to philandering politicians.

“And now to the refreshing distraction of sports,” said ESPN anchor John Anderson, reaching for an awkward segue from Hernandez to the network’s Wimbledon tennis coverage.

But like Schaap said, this is a feeding frenzy. And as long as there’s fresh blood in the water, ESPN is going to have to get accustomed to being about more than just the customary wins and losses.

More TV

  • Shefali Shah in Delhi Crime

    'Delhi Crime’ Wins big at Asian Academy Creative Awards

    Richie Mehta’s harrowing Netflix series “Delhi Crime” was the big winner at the 2nd annual Asian Academy Creative Awards in Singapore on Friday. Representing the show, lead actress Shefali Shah was rushed off her feet as she repeatedly had to return to the stage. “Delhi Crime” earned her best actress in a leading role, best [...]

  • KARNAWAL

    ‘Karnawal,’ ‘Restless,’ ‘Summer White,’ ‘Firsts’ Win Big at Ventana Sur

    BUENOS AIRES  — With Ventana Sur now firing on multiple cylinders, featuring pix-in post or project competitions for not only art films but also genre pics and animation – two sectors embraced by young creators in Latin America – “Karnawal,” “Restless,” “Summer White” and  “Firsts” proved big winners among Ventana Sur’s arthouse and animation competitions, [...]

  • Robert Walker Jr.

    'Star Trek' Actor Robert Walker Jr. Dies at 79

    Robert Walker Jr., son of actors Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones, died Thursday, his family confirmed to the official website for the television show “Star Trek.” He was 79. Walker Jr. is best remembered for playing the titular Charlie Evans in the “Star Trek” episode “Charlie X” from the show’s first season in 1966. His [...]

  • Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, right,

    TV Ratings: Why Is the NBA Shooting Air Balls?

    The NBA’s TV ratings so far this season have been far from all-star level. Viewership across ESPN, TNT and NBA TV is down 15% year-to-year overall, according to Nielsen figures. TNT’s coverage is averaging 1.3 million viewers through 14 telecasts, down 21% versus last year’s comparable coverage, while on ESPN the picture isn’t much prettier. The [...]

  • Claire Danes, Homeland

    TV News Roundup: Showtime Releases 'Homeland' Final Season Trailer

    In today’s TV news roundup, Showtime drops the trailer for the final season of “Homeland,” and National Geographic reveals the first look at Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin in “Genius: Aretha.” FIRST LOOKS Showtime released the trailer for the final season of “Homeland,“ premiering Feb. 9. The eighth and final season, starring Claire Danes and [...]

  • 700700 + Ted Turner Dedication. December

    Ted Turner Tributes Established With WarnerMedia Gift to University of Georgia

    WarnerMedia has established a scholarship, internship program and exhibition hall at the University of Georgia to be named after maverick media mogul Ted Turner. The company has gifted $550,000 to the university to create the Ted Turner Scholarship Fund, for students attending the school’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, which is also the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content