On a day when ESPN’s Outside the Lines exposed more than two-dozen cases since 2000 of NFL players guilty of domestic violence not missing a down in the league, the four-letter network earlier this week hired retired cage fighter Chael Sonnen, a convicted money launderer and habitual steroid cheat, to analyze mixed-martial arts. The Worldwide Leader in “Do as We Say, Not as We Do” strikes again.
Cheater A-Rod in the batter’s box? Bad. Bad. Bad. Cheater Chael in the broadcast booth? Cool.
As ESPN morphed from cable-television outpost for game highlights into a jock crime blotter, a pixelated, sports version of the National Enquirer, and an elongated public-service announcement exposing the evils of homophobia, bullying, and concussions, its preachy self-righteousness exploded.
The sanctimony enabled ESPN to ritualistically broadcast a nightly Two Minutes Hate on former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice of Atlantic City elevator infamy even as it employs former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis of Atlanta bloody-jacket infamy; air wall-to-wall coverage of Brett Favre sexting a sideline reporter even as it muzzled sexual harassment allegations levied within the network against Monday Night Football play-by-play man Mike Tirico; and harp on the hapless Roger Goodell for softness on domestic violence as it publishes the articles of Howard Bryant, allegedly witnessed by multiple people striking and choking his wife outside of a Massachusetts pizza joint several years ago. Bryant reached a deal, much like Ray Rice, which enabled him to serve probation in exchange for dropping the domestic-violence charges.
Why didn’t Bill Simmons call for his Disney bosses to resign for their handling of Howard Bryant as he called on Roger Goodell to resign for his handling of Ray Rice?
The sports media demands that leagues impose high standards upon twentysomething athletes for the privilege of tossing a ball around in front of spectators. The standards they impose upon their own fall short of what they propose for the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL. The company enjoying revenues roughly equivalent to the NFL’s surely represents merely the richest, not the only, double-standards malefactor.
A woman famously accused Marv Albert of forcible sodomy and going vampire on her body in 1997. She didn’t say “Yes!” Albert ultimately offered a guilty plea to misdemeanor assault charges. The scandal, a temporary setback in his broadcasting career, didn’t disqualify him from currently serving as TNT’s lead NBA play-by-play man.
Cleveland sports-talk host Tony Rizzo offered a guilty plea on a domestic-violence charge earlier this year. WKNR, ESPN Radio’s Cleveland affiliate, still employs him as a mid-day host. “We don’t believe it is appropriate to comment on Tony’s personal life,” Rizzo’s employer, the unfortunately named Good Karma Broadcasting, maintained in a statement after his arrest. “Tony is an exemplary teammate and member of the community, and his status with us is unaffected.”
A girlfriend half Jim Lampley’s age accused him of assaulting her on the eve of the 2007 New Year. The former Miss California claimed, “I received injuries to my head, neck and back from his throwing me against the walls and door.” No bedside Harold Lederman (“Okay, Jim…”) judged the alleged impromptu, intergender bout. But a judge found Lampley guilty of violating a restraining order issued in connection with the case, which the district attorney ultimately declined to pursue. Nevertheless, Lampley’s attorney issued this statement on his behalf: “It is with considerable regret and deep embarrassment that I acknowledge having overreacted to a household dispute with Candice Sanders on New Year’s Eve. As a result of my anger, our dispute has become a matter of public discussion and speculation and I accept responsibility for that.” Lampley continues to serve as the face, and the voice, of HBO boxing.
And Chael Sonnen will serve as the MMA big-mouth for ESPN. Though the wrestler’s wins over Michael Bisping, Yushin Okami, Paulo Filho, and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua—and more famously a near-win over Anderson Silva—certainly placed him in cage fighting’s top tier, the American Gangster never ranked as the best mixed-martial artist. Chael Sonnen does rank as the best at talking about mixed-martial arts just as Jim Lampley outdoes Howard Cosell at calling a boxing match and Marv Albert describes a basketball game as well as Kobe Bryant plays it. Chael is funny, charismatic, energetic, knowledgeable, witty, and insightful, attributes that eclipse his sizable baggage. ESPN wants him on their team for the same reason the Vikings want Adrian Peterson on theirs: he’s the best at what he does.
“We know Chael has made some mistakes in the past,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Glenn Jacobs told the Associated Press. “He’s been honest. He’s been up-front about it. He has paid for the mistakes that he has made, and he’s moving forward.”
How might such a statement by a Vikings flak about the return of Adrian Peterson play in Bristol?
The athlete-journalist double standard offends so greatly because there should be a double standard—in the other direction. Athletes always find themselves in the headlines. The nightmare scenario for members of the Fourth Estate occurs when they become rather than write the article. It impedes a journalist’s ability to cover stories once the journalist becomes the subject of stories. That doesn’t mean that networks should ban Marv Albert from calling basketball, Mike Tirico from calling football, or Jim Lampley from calling boxing. It does mean that their slips hurt them more in their jobs than Adrian Peterson’s does in his–even if we seldom hear about their slips.
So why aren’t Lampley, Albert, and Tirico’s continued employment fodder for journalistic outrage the way Ray Rice, Richie Incognito, and Adrian Peterson pursuing their careers in the NFL is? When you call the action, you can leave yourself out of it.
Daniel J. Flynn, the author of The War on Football: Saving America’s Game (Regnery, 2013), edits Breitbart Sports.