×

ESPN’s Jason Collins Coverage Criticized by Ombudsman

'Outside the Lines' segment critiqued

Debate over coverage of NBA center Jason Collins’ revelation that he is gay “still resonates in ESPN conference rooms,” according to ESPN’s newly installed ombudsman in a largely critical piece.

“More than one ESPN manager told me it was ‘a learning experience’ and then couldn’t come up with what had been learned,” wrote Robert Lipsyte, the longtime New York Times columnist who this year became ESPN’s fifth ombudsman. “The tricky trifecta of religion, race and sexuality exposed not only the fault-lines (in the preparation of ESPN news series “Outside the Lines”) but the inconsistent performance of ESPN journalism in general.”

ESPN.com today published Lipsyte’s 3,300-word examination of the Collins coverage, a piece that raised such questions as “What is the distinction between a reporter and a commentator?” and “How can ESPN balance the varying sensibilities of its audience?”

A key part of the analysis was an exploration of the on-air segment which quickly put ESPN commentator Chris Broussard under fire for his comments equating homosexuality to sin. “Outside the Lines” host Steve Weissman told Lipsyte that he thought at the end of the day there had been “a respectful, intelligent and honest conversation” between Broussard and commentator LZ Granderson, but Lipsyte questioned that conclusion.

“The program was lumpy and unframed,” Lipsyte wrote. “A commentator and a reporter were put into a position of point-counterpoint. They went too far and yet not far enough. Granderson’s concept of the ‘uncomfortable conversation’ should be an aspect of ESPN’s purported mission of injecting more journalism into its coverage. But it needs to be offered in a context that explains why you need to know about drugs, sexual abuse, money for college athletes, cheating, the topics that some in the audience will consider crucial, others alienating, still others just plain buzz killers. Maybe more of an effort has to be made to place these stories beyond a 13-minute, 46- second slot on ‘OTL.'”

Overall, Lipsyte was largely critical not only of ESPN’s coverage, but of the cable giant’s own reaction to its coverage.

“The attitude, as I read it, was that these were small, regrettable, forgettable mistakes,” Lipsyte said. “No major fouls. In fact, considering ESPN’s ‘Embrace Debate’ mantra, it could have been far messier. In other words, we can move on. This was a one-off.

“You think? Or was it another example of that Jock Culture sensibility of not dwelling on an error, fine for the playing of games but not for the journalistic issues that affect our understanding and appreciation of those games. The ESPN audience was not so ready to move on. There were hundreds of emails to the ombudsman.”

Lipsyte noted that 30% of the e-mails supported Broussard’s views and another 30% supported his right to express them, while 20% said the topic of homosexuality had no business being discussed on ESPN’s air. Only approximately 20% focused on the idea that Broussard had spoken inappropriately.

Broussard, a former NYT colleague of Lipsyte, defended his performance amid the overall coverage of Collins.

“The media in general, not just ESPN, is lopsided in its coverage,” Broussard told Lipsyte. “It’s a cheerleader for the lifestyle and same-sex marriage and puts those who disagree in an unfavorable light. You can see it in the eye rolling and body language of so-called objective journalists. Born-again people are made out to be bigots and intolerant even though there are Neanderthals present on both sides.”

Said Granderson: “The conversation went too far — not too far for where it needs to go but too far for that news story. It was not necessarily a conversation for ESPN, which is not necessarily the place to examine theological differences.”

More TV

  • Pinewood Studios James Bond

    Netflix's Shepperton Studios Deal Is Stretching the U.K.'s Production Limits

    Netflix’s huge new hub at Shepperton Studios outside London is a further fillip for Britain’s booming production sector. Amid jitters over Brexit and its effects on the economy, the streaming giant’s commitment is a vote of confidence in the U.K. entertainment industry and a continuing source of local jobs. But the decision by Netflix to [...]

  • BBC ITV BritBox Streaming

    BritBox to Roll Out in the U.K. in Fourth Quarter

    British broadcasters the BBC and ITV have formally agreed to launch their joint streaming service, BritBox, in the U.K. in the fourth quarter of 2019. It will be priced at £5.99 per month, making it the same price as the cheapest Netflix subscription in the U.K. The service in the first couple of years will [...]

  • Kamala Harris

    Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Face Rematch in Next Democratic Debate

    Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris will have the opportunity to square off again in the second debate among Democratic hopefuls vying for their party’s nomination in the 2020 presidential election CNN, which will broadcast the next round of debates on July 30 and 31, televised a draw Thursday night that decided [...]

  • Jon Wax

    Jon Wax Joins Amazon Studios as Head of Genre Programming

    YouTube’s head of scripted programming Jon Wax is joining Amazon Studios as its head of genre programming, Variety has learned. Wax will take up the position recently vacated by Sharon Tal Yguado. He had joined YouTube in August 2017, heading up drama, unscripted and current programming for YouTube’s premium channel. Prior to that, he had [...]

  • South Park Donald Trump

    TV News Roundup: Comedy Central Sets 'South Park' Season 23 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Comedy Central announces the premiere date of “South Park” Season 23 and Netflix sets the premiere date and offers a first look at “Unbelievable.”  DATES Comedy Central announced that Season 23 of “South Park” will premiere Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. Because the episodes are written and animated so [...]

  • US actor Kevin Spacey (C) is

    Kevin Spacey Shouldn't Be Exonerated in Hollywood Even as Criminal Case Ends (Column)

    The news that criminal charges against Kevin Spacey in the Nantucket groping case have been dropped raises an inevitable question: does this mean he can claw his way back into Hollywood’s good graces? Or maybe more importantly: should it?  Spacey’s rapid descent was startling, even as it quickly followed that of the once untouchable producing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content