Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Why ESPN's "Apology" is Anything But, While CBS Won't Even Pretend to Apologize

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.


  1. Presenters in the UK have been sacked for less - and rightly so!!
    The lack of respect shown here is staggering, not just in the moment - when the presenters took the opportunity to vent their bigoted opinions on mattes outside of their sports' remit - but by ESPN as a whole.
    Integrity? I think not!

    1. The amazing thing to me is that Broussard was ever asked to give his opinion on Collins' Christianity. I blame the network more than Broussard. Knowing his history, they couldn't be ignorant of the kind of intolerance he'd respond with to such a question.

  2. This whole sorry situation is appalling on two levels - firstly that sports reporters give their homophobic opinions on air - secondly that, instead of issuing an immediate apology and taking further disciplinary action, ESPN class these 'opinions' as a 'respectful discussion'.
    At the very least, an apology should be issued immediately.
    Is it any wonder why people in public life - who can be real role models - are reluctant to take the big step and come out?
    Shame on you,ESPN!

    1. The "respectful discussion" comment is one of the most troubling aspects of this story. Again, they knew what Broussard would say given a loaded question on religion. To not only prompt him to do so, but then defend it as acceptable speech, is doubly offensive.

  3. It's disgusting that an entire network would allow one of it's broadcasters to make hurtful statements that have absolutely nothing to do with the news of sport.

    Agree totally with the comments above.

    What a bunch of hateful muppets!

    1. Cynically, I suspect there's truth in Sohmer's assessment. ESPN got scooped big-time, and what better way to steal SI's spotlight than to make the biggest sports story of the week about them?