ESPN has been foundering in a sea of ethical ignorance for some time now, but this was shocking even for them.
In a petty exercise to express its disdain and and anger at dismissed baseball commentator Curt Schilling, the sports network excised an entire section of its documentary on the legendary 2004 American League Championship play-offs when it was shown last night prior to the scheduled Red Sox-Yankee game. I cannot think of a single example of unethical journalism by a major outlet so blatant and so offensive.
Let’s go back a bit. Schilling is an outspoken religious conservative, active on social media. He was suspended from his baseball game broadcasting duties last season after comparing Islamic radicals to Nazis in a Twitter post—not all that unreasonable, actually, but if ESPN has a policy against its employees making controversial political statements on social media, and apparently it does, Schilling was asking for trouble.
Indeed, Curt has nothing if not integrity when it comes to expressing himself, and he could not resist commenting on the transgender bathroom controversy, re-tweeting a particularly ugly meme on the issue:
ESPN fired Curt. He had earlier in the year opined in a radio interview that “If I’m gonna believe, and I don’t have any reason not to believe, that she gave classified information on hundreds if not thousands of emails on a public server after what happened to General Petraeus, she should buried under a jail somewhere.” Allowing for hyperbole, that’s a perfectly legitimate position to take, but again, if ESPN doesn’t want Curt, who it was paying a million bucks or so, to take shots at someone it believed its audience members were fond of, it can instruct its employees accordingly. It expressed its objections to Schilling, and he tweeted the meme anyway.
It’s hard not to call it intentional defiance. He is a high-profile figure in baseball, and an ESPN baseball commentator. The network could take the position that its employees’ political and social views are theirs alone, do not reflect the network’s views and should not be attributed to ESPN, but it doesn’t. Okay, that’s a condition of employment, and Curt Schilling had to be fully aware of it when he decided to post that meme.
Do I think ESPN’s policy is wrong? I do. It’s a sports network. I do not see why anyone inclined to watch a baseball game broadcast would care what a baseball analyst’s politics and prejudices are. Schilling, especially, is such an outspoken political and social conservative that none of his social media commentary could possibly surprise anyone who knows who he is. Nonetheless, that’s ESPN’s policy and it has every right to stick to it.
Schilling, predictably, did not go down with a whimper. A week after being fired, he was a guest on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s “Breitbart News Patriot Forum,” and told the radio audience that ESPN was biased against political conservatives and employed double standards, saying, “It was apparent to me early on that if you wanted to go off topic as a sports person you had to go off topic left, or you were going to get in trouble.”
Oh, Curt was and is right, no doubt about it. After the show, he was asked for examples. Here was one: “You listen to Stephen A. Smith, and Stephen A. Smith was the guy who said that Robert Griffin didn’t play quarterback for the Redskins because he’s black,” said Curt. “No, Robert Griffin didn’t play quarterback for the Redskins because he [stunk].”
Bingo. Smith is a racialist and race-baiter, as are several ESPN commentators. Is it worse to accuse Hillary Clinton of being a felon off the network than to falsely accuse the Washington Redskins of being racist on it? Schilling is 100% correct: ESPN is engaging in political correctness and left-leaning speech suppression.
How did ESPN respond to Schilling’s comments? Well, it couldn’t fire him again, and it has no rebuttal, since he is correct on the facts. So here is how it decided to strike back: on Sunday evening, in preparation for the ESPN Game of the Week, the network re-broadcast “Four Days in October,” a 2010 documentary about the Boston Red Sox comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees to reach, and eventually win, the World Series. One key section was mysteriously missing, however: Schilling’s heroic, historic and iconic Game 6 start, in which he went to the mound in a must-win game despite an ankle injury that required his tendon to be temporarily sewn to his skin. Blood seeped into his sock visibly during the game, which Schilling won. It is justly regarded as one of the most selfless and gritty sports performances of all time, and the centerpiece of the Red Sox unprecedented comeback.
Of course everyone noticed, and correctly took this as a corporate middle finger to Schilling. “Attack us, and watch us airbrush you out of sports history! Take that, asshole!” was the intended message. ESPN then insulted the universe by denying that the snub was intentional, saying in a statement,
“When a live event runs long, it’s standard procedure to shorten a taped program that follows. In this case, we needed to edit out 1 of the film’s 4 segments to account for the extra length of the softball game.”
Mediaite’s Joe Concha had the appropriate response to that transparent lie:
“Uh-huh. So out of the entire 53 minutes of the doc, the expendable portion — the one that wasn’t important to the story — was determined to be what many Red Sox fans would say was one of the most memorable performances in the team’s 115-year history in the form of Schilling pitching through pain and blood in a hostile environment while silencing an awesome Yankee offense? When compared to most iconic moments in baseball history, this was the rarefied stuff legends are made of…. This is the equivalent of editing Donald Trump out of a documentary that looks back on the primary season thus far. And for ESPN to try to pretend it never happened all to carry out a grudge against a former employee? Bush league stuff from an increasingly bush league network… apparently run by children.”
Apparently. It is much worse than childish, though. ESPN is a sports journalism organization. Intentionally misrepresenting facts to the public in order to express personal animus is shows contempt for basic ethical standards and professionalism. Curt Schilling’s baseball accomplishments are a matter of record, and for an organization of ESPN’s prominence to pretend they don’t exist in order to carry out an act of revenge against a former employee is as about as unprecedented in the field as the Red Sox prevailing after being down 0-3 in a seven game play-off.
It also makes Schilling’s analysis of the organization’s fairness and enforcement of standards even more credible.