ESPN just released a statement about Bruce Feldman, the most-talked about sportswriter on the planet for the last 16 hours. It’s brief: “There was never any suspension or any other form of disciplinary action. We took the time to review his upcoming work assignments in light of the book to which he contributed and will manage any conflicts or other issues as needed. Bruce has resumed his assignments.”
One of two things happened: 1) Bruce Feldman was suspended by ESPN sometime Thursday, and after the enormous outpouring of support from journalists and readers overnight, ESPN reversed course and said he is not suspended and never was or 2) There never was a suspension, and the ESPN Insider blog post by Feldman (not Leach-related) that is supposed to go up shortly has been in the works for days.
ESPN obviously will be pushing No. 2 to anyone who will listen. Is it spin? Only a handful of people know the truth. The obvious question: If the suspension story broke around 7 pm EST last night, why would ESPN take 16 hours to respond to the rumors?
ESPN has an answer for that, too: The ESPYs were Wednesday, and the ESPN PR staff, along with many in a position to comment on a story of this magnitude, were in transit back to Bristol. Fair enough. But if there was no suspension at all, why not just come out and say that? ESPN will counter with this: Well, if you landed around 8 pm and were out of the loop on a story that broke earlier in the day, would you be able to reach the necessary parties to get the full story?
Maybe, maybe not. But then why wasn’t this resolved at 9:30 am Friday? Or 10 or 11? Why let it fester for so long and make the company look so awful? Did it really take that long to come up with a couple sentences? Is ESPN really that large of an entity that it takes 16 hours for everyone to get on the same page?
What’s clear is some parts of the Mike Leach/Bruce Feldman book definitely blindsided ESPN. Someone must have read the excerpts Tuesday, noticed that the book exposes some pretty clear failures in journalism at ESPN, and then the conference call with Feldman happened (probably Thursday, since his last tweets were Wednesday).
ESPN’s spin would likely be: We had no clue what was in the book, and combing through it took some time. And while we were in a discovery phase – and remembering there’s a legal angle, too, since Leach is suing us – we wanted to talk about things with Feldman, so we had him chill for a day. (The twitter thing baffles me – why tell him not to tweet, if he hadn’t tweeted anything about the book in the first place?)
Of course, to the onlooker, this reeks of a power play by ESPN – writer is given permission to write a book, but then said book comes out and the subject is critical of ESPN. So the big, bad company smacks down an employee as a lesson to everyone else who will author books in the future with subjects that may take shots at ESPN.
Which side do you believe?