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Does ESPN Have an Abnormal Problem With "Poor Behavior?"

Matthew Barnaby’s weekend arrest spawned the requisite ESPN backlash. Michael Hiestand’s column for USA Today contextualizes the incident as “part of ESPN’s long list of poor behavior,” mentions the behavior in the link as “boorish” and asks if ESPN is “running amok?” That vein is pleasing, to those who view the WWL as The Great Satan, but it’s also a bit disingenuous.

Claiming ESPN has a “long list of poor behavior” requires a broad definition of “poor behavior.” Most of the incidents are dissimilar, are tied to individual circumstances and do not form a coherent narrative.

The “objectionable comments” Hiestand raises should be filtered out. Tony Kornheiser commented on his colleague’s wardrobe. Dana Jacobson had too much to drink and went too far at a roast. Bob Griese made a moderately ignorant joke on live air. These were controversial missteps the individuals might like back, but hardly signs of endemic moral decay at ESPN.

Hiestand also includes nebulous cases we don’t have perfect knowledge about. We don’t know much about Barnaby’s case with certainty. We know ESPN fired Harold Reynolds. We also know ESPN settled a wrongful termination lawsuit with him and that said incident did not hinder his future employment. Heistand did not mention it, but we can lump Howard Bryant’s arrest into this category.

The incidents of proved wrongdoing are few and disconnected. Jalen Rose’s DUI was an indefensible mistake, but one that happens in every workplace. His suspension was as much for not reporting the crime as for the crime itself. Neil Goldberg was a peeping Tom. Jeremy Green was arrested for child pornography. Sean Salisbury’s penis picture was clearly problematic, as was Steve Phillips’ foray into the plot of fatal attraction. These incidents were lamentable, but are unrelated and not exactly ESPN’s fault.

A handful of high-profile ESPN malfeasances may fulfill the minimal requirements for a trend piece, but, rationally, they do not indicate systemic moral turpitude. Claiming that requires a pattern and evidence ESPN is fostering “poor behavior,” there is an abnormal frequency of “poor behavior” at ESPN or “poor behavior” isn’t handled summarily and with the requisite seriousness by ESPN. The aforementioned incidents are scattershot, unrelated and, given the thousands of people employed, fairly infrequent.

ESPN personalities do face a unique burden of balancing fame with professional and journalistic responsibility, but there’s no evidence that burden is unmanageable for the vast majority of people. Individuals aren’t perfect. At ESPN there is a greater probability of us noticing it or, perhaps, wanting to notice it.

[Photo via Getty]

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