The news today for ESPN is not good.
Pressure from the National Football League led to ESPN’s decision on Thursday to pull out of an investigative project with “Frontline” regarding head injuries in the N.F.L., according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.
Assuming this report is true, this is devastating to the network. ESPN's journalistic reputation will be irrevocably harmed by this. Even if some of the details of today's piece in The Times aren't true, the perception is out there, the damage is done.
This is bad. This is worse than embrace debate. This is worse than anything Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith could say. Those guys are paid to be entertaining, debating clowns. This is a network deciding to disavow itself of journalism simply to avoid making its sugar daddy mad. This is throwing all the hard-working, dedicated people at ESPN who care about journalism under the bus. This is the worst thing a media organization can do, especially one that claims to be a news organization - pull out of a news report not because of factual errors or questionable reporting simply because it makes the powers-that-be mad.
Taking a bigger picture, this also confirms every snide thought and condescending comment people have about sports journalism, that it's the work of fans and not real journalists.
There's no defense ESPN can offer on this one. With this decision to value its billion-dollar contract with the NFL over everything else, ESPN has forfeited the right to claim itself as a home for sports journalism with this decision. The politics of journalism can be complicated, but the root purpose of journalism is supposed to be speaking truth to power, to be a voice for the voiceless.
ESPN, with this decision, valued the powerful over the truth.
This is bad. This is very, very bad.