Photo (c) ESPN
After the outcry that quickly erupted following ESPN reporter Chris Broussard's intolerant comments on newly-out NBA player Jason Collins, the network offered this pseudo-apology:
"We regret that a respectful discussion of personal viewpoints became a distraction from today’s news. ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement."
The glaring lack of an actual apology not withstanding, ESPN expresses regret only for the fact Broussard's comments distracted from other news. No doubt the network expects the whole thing to blow over, and considering the nation's deficient attention span for outrage -- Newtown, anyone? -- it could be right. I hope not, because its conduct yesterday shows exactly why the kind of courage displayed by Collins is so greatly needed.
ESPN made the decision to insert the proudly anti-gay Broussard into a discussion on Collins breaking an important barrier in the sports world. As astutely pointed out by Business Insider's Tony Manfred, the Outside the Lines host actually prompted Broussard to offer his assessment of Collins' worthiness as a Christian. Why in the name of relevant sports coverage ESPN appointed its reporters to judge anyone's faith, I cannot fathom.
But it did, and the resulting comments were predictably stomach-turning, with Broussard comparing being gay to adultery. This is what ESPN calls "respectful discussion"? If one of their reporters equated being a woman or an ethnic minority to being an adulterer, would ESPN claim the discussion was "respectful"?
Such negative comparisons classify a group of people as "lesser than" the rest of us. Witness CBS host Tim Brando's tweets on Jason Collins, courtesy of HuffPo. Brando contends Collins is no hero for coming out, just like Brando wouldn't be a hero for making a sex tape. (???) If Brando's point was merely that coming out is no big deal, he could have made any number of analogies that weren't inflammatory.
He could've said it likewise wouldn't be heroic to tie his shoes, or eat his breakfast. But no - Brando, like Broussard, chose to equate Collins' decision to live openly as a gay man with an act most would find distasteful. Memo to both reporters: being gay is not equivalent to making a sex tape or committing adultery -- or kicking puppies, or robbing old ladies, or any other act with an obviously negative connotation.
I have a feeling both networks know this. There's no evidence CBS sanctioned or encouraged Brando's comments. Due to lack of widespread public outcry towards the network, it's certainly chosen to stick its head in the sand. No apology will be forthcoming until and unless the public demands it.
It's difficult to imagine, however, why ESPN seemingly chose to chart this inexplicable course on Monday. Is it really a homophobic organization? Or did it sacrifice responsible reporting simply to steal Sports Illustrated's thunder, as HyperVocal's Slade Sohmer suggests.
Words matter. ESPN's continuing refusal to acknowledge its words were harmful matters. When gay viewers tune in to find the network actively contributing to the hurtful judgments they already face, it matters. When ESPN frames prejudice as an acceptable viewpoint, that matters.
A major course correction is in order, ESPN. Offer a real apology. Instruct your reporters that using their own religious views to declare the LGBT community or any other minority as "lesser than" is unacceptable.
It's not too late to right the ship, and salvage your integrity.