Freedom to speak has price
The Kansas City Star
Good news for those of you complaining that I spend too much time taping ESPN television shows.
The World Wide Leader dumped me Monday afternoon because of critical comments I made about Mike Lupica and Scoop Jackson in a blog interview that ran on Friday. You can read the interview at www.thebiglead.com.
Lupica, of course, is a sports columnist for the New York Daily News and a longtime panelist on ESPNís ďThe Sports Reporters.Ē Jackson is the infamous ESPN.com sports columnist who bragged in a recent column about telling black kids they had a better chance of being NBA players than sportswriters.
James Cohen, an executive at the network, called me Monday and asked me whether the comments attributed to me in the interview were true. When I said ďyes,Ē he informed me that I could no longer appear on ESPN television shows and that my November appearances on ďPardon the InterruptionĒ would be canceled.
I wasnít surprised. ESPN, a terrific network, has always been hypersensitive to criticism, especially when it comes from its independent-contract employees. Over the six years Iíve worked for ESPN, Iíve received complaining phone calls from its executives almost every time Iíve written a critical word about the network.
I take being a journalist/columnist very seriously. To me, being a contract employee for ESPN did not mean Iíd surrendered my right to blast the World Wide Leader in Sports for making the awful TV show ďPlaymakers,Ē employing as expert analysts clownish buffoons with drug problems such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Irvin, and publishing the gangsta-posturing rantings of a poor writer.
ESPN is a powerful newsmaker in the sports world. As a sports journalist/columnist, I thought it would be wrong to ignore obvious topics just because I drew an occasional check from ESPN.
Iím not stepping on any high horse. It wouldnít hold me.
The fact is I canít be happy unless Iím true to myself. I like to criticize and analyze. Every coach, teacher or boss Iíve ever had would tell you that. My parents would tell you that. Every woman who has ever tolerated my company for more than six months would tell you that.
I guess ESPN thought I would get the message and pipe down. I canít pipe down about things Iím passionate about.
So, in the blog interview, I answered the questions that were asked about my departure from ESPN.com Page 2 to AOL Sports (two weeks ago I told my editor at Page 2 that I was moving my once-a-week Internet column to AOL Sports) and a run-in I had with Mike Lupica on ďThe Sports ReportersĒ in August.
I told the blog that part of the reason I was leaving Page 2 was because I was uncomfortable with Page 2ís relationship with Scoop Jackson. Much of his writing is childish, anti-white and a caricature of a negative black stereotype. I didnít say it in the blog interview, but itís my belief that it is irresponsible for the World Wide Leader to publish much of what Scoop writes. Over the last year, Iíve shared these opinions with ESPN executives countless times. I said nothing in the blog interview that I hadnít said privately.
I told the blog that Lupica and Joe Valerio, the producer of ďThe Sports Reporters,Ē had become disenchanted with me because I would not join in the crusade to portray Barry Bonds as the baseball anti-Christ. Iím not a Bonds fan and donít think all that much of his recent accomplishments. But a life spent competing in sports and writing about sports has made me uninterested in pretending that Bonds is the real villain in the steroids mess. And I have zero tolerance for when people try to censor my ability to state fair opinions.
You might read this and think that I think Iíve been treated unfairly by ESPN. I donít.
This was inevitable. ESPN does not tolerate criticism. Sportswriters far more distinguished than yours truly ó Tony Kornheiser, John Feinstein and T.J. Simers ó have been banned/suspended for comments perceived to be detrimental to the World Wide Leader.
Iím sure my move from ESPN .com to AOL Sports was viewed as an act of disloyalty by some within the network.
It wasnít. It was just the act of a guy who values his ability to think, act and speak independently more than he does seeing his face on ESPN.