Saturday, September 27, 2014

Really, ESPN? Really?

Dictionary.com succinctly defines a “liar” as “a person who tells lies.”  And a lie is defined as “an inaccurate or false statement; a falsehood.”[1]  This week ESPN’s most prolific writer, and arguably its most popular personality, Bill Simmons, ranted about Roger Goodell on his podcast.  In the process, Simmons called Goodell a liar for claiming to have not known the contents of the Ray Rice in-elevator video before TMZ released the video.  Simmons, in his all too often only-child way, then went on to dare his superiors to reprimand him for his rant.  His superiors obliged his request by shelving Simmons for three weeks without pay for the following stated reason:

ESPN has suspended Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons for three weeks after he repeatedly called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a "liar" during a profane tirade on a podcast.[2]
The network went on to claim:
Every employee must be accountable to ESPN and those engaged in our editorial operations must also operate within ESPN's journalistic standards.  We have worked hard to ensure that our recent NFL coverage has met that criteria.

Bill Simmons did not meet those obligations in a recent podcast, and as a result we have suspended him for three weeks.[3]

Interestingly, ESPN suspended Simmons less than a week after ESPN’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning investigative journalist, Don Van Natta, Jr. published an epic piece on the Rice fiasco on ESPN.com that included the following:
Before leaving for New York, Rice was told by several Ravens executives that he had better be completely honest and forthcoming with the commissioner because the organization believed Goodell had seen a copy of the inside-elevator video. A source confirmed to "Outside the Lines" that the team believed this. It's unclear why exactly the Ravens thought Goodell had seen the video -- whether they had been told that or whether they assumed so given the league's aggressive investigative tactics in other cases. Asked for comment, the Ravens parsed that description Friday, calling it an "assumption" and not a "belief." It is well-known among players and union officials that Goodell won't stand for someone lying to him about behavior; he will harshly punish anyone he discovers has lied to him.

With his wife sitting by his side in a conference room, Rice told Goodell that he hit her and knocked her out, according to four sources.[4]

Let’s break this down for a moment:

1)      Roger Goodell claimed that, when he met with Ray Rice, Ray Rice provided an “ambiguous account” of what happened inside the elevator and that Ray Rice’s account was “starkly different” than what the video revealed;

2)     on ESPN.com, an acclaimed and decorated investigative reporter that undoubtedly meets ESPN’s “journalistic standards” published an article stating that, according to four sources, Ray Rice told Roger Goodell he hit and knocked out his then fiancée in the elevator; and

3)      the horrific video we have all now seen proves that Ray Rice, in fact, hit and knocked out his fiancée in the elevator; 

If, as Don Van Natta, Jr. reported on ESPN.com, Roger Goodell knew Ray Rice hit and knocked out Janay Rice in the elevator, Roger Goodell knew what the in-elevator video would show, regardless of whether he had seen it or not.  Thus, in his piece, Mr. Van Natta unmistakably reported on ESPN.com that, when Goodell claimed “ambiguity” in Rice’s statements and a “starkly different” account than what the video revealed, Mr. Goodell made “an inaccurate or false statement.” In sum, Mr. Van Natta and his two Pulitzer’s reported that Roger Goodell is a liar.  It’s important to understand that Van Natta didn’t report that Goodell lied about seeing the video.  Instead, Van Natta undeniably, on ESPN’s own pages, reported that Goodell lied about not knowing what the video revealed. 

Interestingly, despite Van Natta’s piece (which, importantly, remains prominently available on ESPN.com), ESPN, in justifying Simmons’ suspension, appears to claim that it doesn’t know if Goodell is a liar.[5]  In fact, ESPN Ombudsman, Robert Lipsyte, began his public lashing of Simmons with the following:

Roger Goodell is the sports world’s villain du jour, but until the NFL’s elevator of investigation reaches the top -- or ESPN delivers a smoking gun that proves when the NFL viewed the Ray Rice video -- the commissioner is not a certified liar.[6]

Lipsyte then amazingly goes on to praise Van Natta’s piece as “a terrific story arc…that chronicled the league’s and the Baltimore Ravens’ myriad missteps that led to Rice’s suspension.”[7] Congratulations, Mr. Lipsyte.  Given your inability to follow logic and willingness to distort the facts, you certainly have a chance to be Ted Cruz's Presidential campaign manager.  As for Mr. Lipsyte's exemplary work here, in the span of one article by its alleged voice of all reason, ESPN managed to: 1) demonstrate that it fails to understand that Simmons didn’t accuse Goodell of lying about not seeing the video; and 2) just like Simmons (albeit much more eloquently and diplomatically), Van Natta accused Goodell of lying.  Some may attempt to draw a distinction by claiming that Van Natta’s sources, not Van Natta, accused Goodell of lying.  That theory, however, fails.  A journalist of Van Natta’s stature does not report information from sources unless he deems those sources reliable.  So, whether explicitly or implicitly, Van Natta accused Goodell of lying.  So did Simmons. The lesson?  Apparently, if you don't work for ESPN, you should receive the Van Natta piece as an epic piece of journalism and accept its allegations as true.  On the other hand, if you work for ESPN and do that, you will be suspended without pay and ripped to shreds by the company. 
 
Thank you, ESPN.  Just when I thought you had revealed all your hypocrisy and all the reasons to loathe you, you gave me one more.  And, yes, I know its futile to hate you because you are never going away.  Between your incestuous relationships with the NFL, MLB, the NBA, and the SEC, you will be pushing agendas, taking inconsistent positions, and generally sucking the fun out of sports for decades to come.  But at least you will have Skip Bayless and your "journalistic standards."

To steal from Simmons, I can’t think about this anymore or this will happen:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjnZO5ZgWE8