Imagine scoring an exclusive interview with a recent Super Bowl hero who had just committed one of the silliest off-the-field acts in sports history – carrying a gun in the waistband of his sweatpants and accidentally shooting himself in the leg in a crowded nightclub – but before you can do the interview, the athlete’s phone is blowing up with text messages from another reporter trying to land the exclusive. What if that reporter was one of your colleagues?
That’s supposedly what happened between ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap and Rachel Nichols in August of 2009.
Multiple sources tell The Big Lead that as Schaap sat down to interview Burress for the show E:60, Nichols was allegedly sending text messages to the Giants’ star receiver, trying to convince him to change his mind and do the interview with her. Schaap and Nichols, through ESPN PR, said that isn’t how the story went down.
(Nichols, who wrote for the Washington Post before going to ESPN, is perhaps most famous for her dogged pursuit of Brett Favre two summers ago.)
Sources say that Burress then showed Schaap the text messages, and then he went on to conduct the exclusive interview.
Schaap, sources say, then went to an ESPN news editor to make them aware of the actions of Nichols, a 6-year ESPN veteran who is also the step-daughter-in-law of ABC’s Diane Sawyer.
Schaap, who was in South Africa covering the World Cup, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Two days after emailing him, we received an unsolicited call from the ESPN PR department. Their comment was, “It is common for multiple reporters to pursue sought-after interviews and we are comfortable with our reporters approach in this instance.”
Today, through ESPN PR, Schaap offered, “That’s not what happened. Rachel and I work well together and will continue to.”
In an email exchange with Burress’s lawyer, we were told Burress isn’t doing interviews right now.
Nichols was traveling to and from LA for the ESPYs this week and didn’t return an email. She sent us this statement through ESPN PR: “In the months before Plaxico’s incarceration, many of us were working to get an interview for ESPN as opposed to seeing him sit down with someone outside the network. I was thrilled when in fact Jeremy was able to interview Plaxico – it stinks that a year later an unnamed source would take that situation and spin it into an alternate, false story. Jeremy is a terrific journalist and a friend.”