The Yahoo Sports stinging investigative story into the Miami Hurricanes and booster Nevin Shapiro is nearly two weeks old and surprisingly, we’ve seen zero original reporting from ESPN. That’s strange, isn’t it? In the days after the story broke, ESPN frequently talked about the story on TV and the radio – good luck finding an ESPN affiliate Yahoo’s Charles Robinson didn’t speak with – but in a story of this magnitude, it is surprising ESPN hasn’t followed up with any exclusive news of its own. What makes this even more odd is that ESPN definitely spoke to Nevin Shapiro. According to Dylan Stableford:
But Yahoo! and Robinson weren’t the only ones vying for Shapiro’s cooperation. ESPN’s Kelly Naqi and HBO’s “Real Sports” were in preliminary discussions with Shapiro and his attorney, and both told Shapiro they were willing to put him on TV, according to Robinson.
“Charles did a better job than anyone who came my way, that’s why we gave him the story,” Perez told CNN.
Robinson said Shapiro told him later he went with Yahoo! over ESPN and HBO because Yahoo! Sports had already done the legwork. “No one else had known about his agency,” Robinson said.
A source at ESPN tells me that Kelly Naqi – known best for breaking the USC-OJ Mayo story in 2008 – didn’t just make a run at Shapiro – she logged about 10 hours at the jail conducting interviews with him. (ESPN confirmed this, saying Naqi visited Shapiro in jail twice.)
Why hasn’t ESPN used any of her material? I’ve heard there are some grumblings that ESPN college football writers – who have taken a beating on twitter for not having this story (coupled with the Longhorn Network, these are tough times for college football writers at ESPN) – aren’t happy Naqi hasn’t written anything on the subject, but all her talks with Shapiro were off the record. (This isn’t to take Naqi to task for not landing Shapiro – ESPN has hired a deep roster of investigative writers, from Mark Fainaru-Wada to Mike Fish to TJ Quinn, and everyone has known about Shapiro since he called the Miami Herald last year to tell them about his book idea.)
To get a sense of what it was like to have ESPN trying to lock you down for an interview, I spoke with talent scout Willie Lyles, the man who caused Oregon’s Chip Kelly to have a few sleepless nights this summer. Earlier this year, ESPN and Yahoo (primarily) were in a tug-of-war to speak with Lyles for his services. He said, ESPN’s Kelly Naqi approached him first, and ESPN’s Joe Schad was texting him.
“ESPN got to me before Yahoo,” Lyles said. He said Naqi knocked on his door once but he didn’t answer it, and then she approached him by phone. They spoke a few times before Yahoo got in the picture. He added that after speaking with Naqi, Joe Schad began texting him, but he never responded to any of them.
“The issue I had with ESPN was I didn’t trust them,” Lyles said. “I just didn’t feel comfortable. I thought they might have had an agenda.”
Lyles is talking about the Longhorn Network. “With television contracts they hold with certain entities, their reporting on things can be skewed … I know Yahoo doesn’t televise college football games.” Lyles mentioned that it was curious after he “chose” to talk to Yahoo, Naqi found Van Malone – a Texas alum – to try and make him look bad.
For the longest time, I thought ESPN’s huge advantage in hiring journalists and breaking news was the multi-platform opportunities. What journalist could turn down the opportunity to have a presence on the radio, TV and internet? At the same time, when journalists are going head-to-head for any story (Lyles as an example), one would think that ESPN, the strongest and biggest brand in sports, would have a major advantage. But in the college football world, are all of ESPN’s partnerships a disadvantage?
Without question, the biggest scandals in sports are happening in the dirty world of college athletics. ESPN has the most resources to try and expose everything that is going going, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t give the appearance that it wants to break many of these stories (though the Cam Newton story was broken, simultaneously last year, by Pete Thamel of the Times and a trio of ESPN writers).
Many have speculated that perhaps ESPN doesn’t push its writers and investigative team as hard to break damaging stories in the college football world because of its cozy partnerships in broadcasting. If you believe that theory, it’s fine to write about these stories after the fact, but why be the first to shine the spotlight on the rule breakers we’re partners with?
Or who knows, maybe ESPN simply doesn’t deem the Nevin Shapiros and Willie Lyles of the world credible.