Published on Counterpunch, www.counterpunch.org,
July 14/15, 2007 (slightly adapted version)
July 11, 2007: ESPN reports that NFL player receives three traffic tickets in one of its headlining website stories.
June 17, 2007: NBA player pledges four million dollars to the policemen, firefighters, teachers, and EMT workers in his community. ESPN chooses not to report story on its website.
It sincerely hurts to write this column. Once upon a time, before traffic tickets became headlining stories, before souls were sold to the highest advertiser, and before it became the “Pacman-as-Black-Man” Network, I was one of ESPN’s biggest fans. When cable TV was still considered “new”, when Chris Berman had no comb-over, when Bob Ley was his Sports Center sidekick, and when Australian Rules Football was their biggest sport going, I was there. After 25+ years, through all the ups and downs, I’m still here. But these days this former loyal sailor only has mutiny on his mind. As former NBA star Michael Ray Richardson once famously predicted: “the ship be sinkin’”.
ESPN Wednesday Recap: Yes, it’s true… Pacman Jones received some traffic tickets. But wait, it gets juicier: he was driving an orange Lamborghini! I know this because it was mentioned in the story title. Not a big web surfer? No worry. ESPN’s Wednesday afternoon TV show “Outside the Lines”, “NFL Live”, “Rome is Burning”, “Around the Horn”, “Pardon the Interruption”, and of course, “Sports Center” all had the story covered. Didn’t watch TV either? Well, ESPN came back with a brand new update Thursday . Surprised? Well, you shouldn’t be. ESPN has been baking this cake for an awful long time. You don’t agree? To members of the jury, we offer exhibits A – E:
EXHIBIT A – Stephon vs. Stephen .
A1) Stephon Marbury: In a recent column, we detailed why longtime community activist Stephon Marbury is an American hero. He has donated millions, given his time and heart (go to video 3 min marker), and his effort to revolutionize the exploitative sneaker industry through his $14.98 Starbury sneakers may be the beginnings of a social movement. The Saturday before last was just another day at the office as he hosted Starbury’s Give Back Day and All-Star Game in his New York City hometown of Coney Island. Marbury arrived with two 18-wheelers filled with 75,000 items of free merchandise from his Starbury line. This came less than two weeks after Marbury announced a pledge of FOUR million dollars, $1 million each to the NYPD, Fire Department, NYC teachers and EMT workers. Marbury stated: “I have been blessed, and I think it’s important to bless others.” Unfortunately, neither of these last two stories were enough for ESPN to bless its readers with one single article on its website.
A2) Stephen Jackson: Perhaps you wonder if it is under ESPN’s purview to cover off-court community service. Well, that all depends on whether it was ordered by a judge. Exactly one day after Marbury’s four million pledge, NBA player Stephen Jackson pleaded guilty to a felony count of criminal recklessness for firing a gun (in the air) stemming from an altercation outside a strip club in October 2006. While he did not receive any jail time, he did receive a $5000 fine, 100 hours of community service, and 3 separate articles of coverage on ESPN’s website.
Editorial oversight? Well, not quite. Since last August, when Marbury launched his revolutionary sneaker line, ESPN has contributed a grand total of four original website articles to this movement. In contrast, since Jackson’s incident you will find about 25 articles closely monitoring the developments of his gripping story. So, how do you milk 25 articles out of such an incident? For starters, location matters. ESPN editors looooooove strip clubs… even more than Pacman. But still, 25 articles? Oh, that’s easy. Delay of court date: That’s a story! ESPN’s “Police Blotter Awards”: Built-in story! Start playing really good basketball: “Jackson’s On-court Success Overshadows Off-court Problems” (well, not anymore!). When Reggie Miller had critical words, the story was “Former Pacers Great Miller Blasts Jackson’s Behavior”. When Mavericks owner Mark Cuban called Marbury’s new sneaker “the biggest business story of the year”; and said “The NBA has never done anything as impactful as what he has done”; and added “You guys [the media] should give him all the props in the world.”, ESPN followed up on those comments with no props and no story on its website.
AP Note: “COSELLOUT is aware that ESPN gets a great number of its articles as direct feeds through the biased Associated Press. We are also aware that as the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports”, it is under ESPN’s power to filter out or adapt any article that it sees fit.
EXHIBIT B “ Who is Pacman Jones?:
B1) Memo to ESPN: WE GET IT! Loud and clear! Pacman Jones is no Boy Scout!!! We got it yesterday, we got it last week, we got it last month, and we got it last year! For those non-sports fans, Pacman Jones is an NFL football player with a very underwhelming on-field resume. Despite considerable talent and potential, he has still only played two years in the league, his team has never made the playoffs, and he has amassed only four more career NFL interceptions than you or me. Unlike other ESPN favorite black man pinatas (see Terrell Owens, Randy Moss) who have at least earned some of their fame via sustained on-field NFL excellence, Pacman is an NFL nobody by comparison. Except that he is a household name. Off the field, Pacman absolutely loves trouble[2]. And ESPN absolutely loves to cover his troubles. And it does so better than an all-pro cornerback. Every traffic ticket, every planned or delayed court date, attorney motion, plea possibilities, and player reactions has Geraldo waxing nostalgic about OJ. ESPN reinvented the term “make it rain” by devoting more than 100 website articles[3] and countless TV segments to the off-field life and times of Pacman Jones since November 2006. This figure does NOT INCLUDE about 50 more articles made up of: duplicative AP postings; the obligatory Pacman rap-sheet-recap whenever another NFL player falters; and other random NFL stories that offer any chance to slip in a reference[4] . By the way, ESPN also has a crack staff of web designers: Almost any new daily Pacman offering will include direct access close to 40 other articles in case you are part of the “sports-fan-in-a-coma-this-past-year” community!
B2) Who is Derrick Brooks? The media storm, surrounding Pacman is even more glaring when considering ESPN’s coverage of Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks. In the NFL, Brooks has accomplished every goal you could possibly imagine: He has made the NFL Pro Bowl the last 10 years; has won the Super Bowl; was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2002; and is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, such credentials have not translated into greater attention for his legendary commitment to youth off the field. Last month Brooks announced that he will open a charter school this summer (after years of neglect ESPN’s website devoted this one positive article). When it comes to education Brooks practices what he preaches: despite already being a millionaire, a demanding NFL career, and off-field obligations, he went back to school achieve his Master’s Degree in Business Communications in 1999. If Brooks were Pacman, ESPN fans might have been treated to copies of his 3rd-semester term paper followed by a discussion group in the comment section.
Marbury and Brooks demonstrate ESPN’s two general policies when covering heroic feats of athletes: 1) ignore altogether or 2) tokenism which takes the form of the “one and done” variety. Sustained updated coverage on positive off-court events is almost non-existent. After one good deed, stars like Marbury and Brooks have filled their media quota, but after 101 transgressions Pacman has not. ESPN’s freeze-out of guys like Brooks and Marbury (and countless others) make it that much more difficult to swallow the regular “what about his influence on the kids” sermonizing that accompanies its incessant Jones coverage. Its coverage shows that ESPN cares about kids the way Pacman cares about the law.
EXHIBIT C “ Barry Bonds: . We hold this truth to be self-evident that the media’s treatment of this man is not close to proportionate with his alleged sins. Just on general principle we refuse to hold your hand through this one with a long-winded explanation. However, The Starting Five is much more patient and has this piece and others for you to chew on[1].
EXHIBIT D – Lastings Milledge:
So, just how bad have things gotten with ESPN? They are now scouring baseball’s MINOR LEAGUES for new Pacmans. No, I’m serious! Recent article title: “Milledge’s Rap Sheet Grows”. His offense?: He made an offensive rap CD. Are you the least bit curious about his growing “rap sheet”? Okay, here goes:
“After hitting his first big league homer — a tying drive with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning — he perturbed players in both dugouts by high-fiving fans along the railing when he ran out to right field to take his position. Later, he was reprimanded for not running hard on the bases. He also arrived late to the clubhouse in Philadelphia for a day game.”
In other ESPN breaking news the Mets also have a 9-year old African-American bat boy who forgot to put the toothpaste cap back on! Oh, and for those scoring at home, ESPN has:
2 articles on Lastings Milledge rap CD, and
1 article for Marbury’s four million dollar pledge + Starbury 75,000 Item Giveaway Day + Derrick Brooks New Charter School.
EXHIBIT E “ESPN’s “Virtual Public Square”: . Two events happened this past Tuesday: The Major League Baseball held its Annual All-Star Game and Pacman got those traffic tickets. Its SIX-article recap on the All-Star Game garnered about 500 total reader responses. ESPN’s ONE Pacman netted over 1400 comments under “ESPN Conversation”. Here are some “conversation” samples selected from the very first 11 entries!:
  • billmoeller61: “Hey Pac, chain yourself to your couch and stay IN. You’re a freakin’ trouble magnet”
  • buccaneers21 “he probably has a million dollars worth of jewelry on his neck…Just another example of a guy growing up ‘hood’ and is stupid with his money. He will be broke by 28 and out of work, and too dumb to get a corporate type job. I can see him when he is 33 or something cooking up crack and trying to slang it on the streets”
  • rrobb0366For real. You’re driving a 300K car and you can’t afford to pay someone to make sure the license plates are straight? Chain yourself to the couch!!”
  • edoblin “This guy should be banned from the league for being stupid.”
  • UCoBenetton “Pacman really! You didn’t think the Tennessee cops would notice your orange $275K Lamborghini? REALLY?!!”
  • cedfa “Wow. His life has become a tragic joke. How can anyone ever defend this moron.”
  • gravyboat63 “Adam just don’t get it and he never will…”
Editor’s Note: By popular demand more posts were belatedly added on July 17 for more context beyond the first 11 entries.
  • DBPIronmen “I can’t wait till …he gets kicked out of the league. Then again, some rap group will probably pick him up and give him more money to make it rain with. He fits in nicely with that crowd…”
  • buccaneers21 “anyone see the youtube clip of pacman at the 3-6 mafia concert, and hes talking in the camera actin all gangsta and talking all ghetto fabulous. its pretty funny, i couldnt understand a dam word he said. with so many people with IQ’s under 80 in this country i am still surpised america is still the super power that it is”
  • Rowdy1946 - “IS there possibly anyone on earth who is any stupider than this clown???? HE honestly thinks that HE is the law and whatever he wants to do is ok… …WHAT PART of ILLEGAL…do you people not get??? AND ALSO.. THE DRAFT should be reinstalled… it would definitely teach a few people HOW to grow up..and not expect everyone to do things for them…”
  • buckeye_josh - “i think adam jones proves @ least one thing: you can take the thug out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the thug…seriously…switching license plates? good grief…”
  • bubbafolv - “Hey Rick your Grandmother and mother dealt with racism, not you!!! You probably don’t even understand it. Pacman is just scum, get over it. You are a no nothing idiot… Ask the girl he punched in the face for his singles if he deserved to get pulled over… He punched a girl and you still defend him because of his skin color, your the only racist on the board.”
  • Gatrsec - “Paris Hilton spent time in jail for less than this, so Jones should be assigned his own cell — Oh wait a minute, he is black, so the law doesn’t apply to him.”
  • ed0057 - “Rick17 – there are laws now because of the wrongs committed in the past that greatly benefit individuals of color. Is this fair to us that were not alive or did not have ancestors here in the US during slavry. Isn’t this wrong as well that we should be made to suffer for crimes we or our bloodline did not committ”
  • renner52osu…You are correct in what you are saying, but those people aren’t doing anything about it. This is a whole seperate issue, but look at the role models for the black community. AWFUL. Glorifying money and getting rich quick and the many other things that are, let’s say, in poor taste? I think a lot of fault lies there…is that racist to say? Because its damn true…”
  • seadiv88 “Pacman. . . are you still going to have an entourage when you’re in the unemployment line? “. . . . Welfare, welfare, welfare check. Everybody come and get their welfare check. . . .”
Everybody pile on now! This “Pacman therapy” goes for more than 1400 comments. You might be surprised to learn that ESPN has a “comment moderator” who removes the most bigoted or unnacceptable quotes. This Pacman column is symbolic of ESPN comment sections on virtually any article of black athlete misbehavior. There is a distinct “public square” pattern to them. It usually doesn’t take too long for the discussion to veer off into criticism on any and all black men (Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are staples, & any black athlete who as much as jaywalked will be revisited) But of course, “Pacman-as-black man” is just a metaphor. ESPN rotates its Pacmans just to spice things up. Pacman is Michael Vick (1800 comments) today. He is Barry Bonds tomorrow. He is Terrell Owens the day after. And if Mr. Jones never returns to the NFL, ESPN will find more Pacmans, so that its largely white male readership can vent all day and bond all night over one common cause, indivisible, with freedom and Pacman for all. Internet anonymity often empowers readers to break free from this “oppressive PC culture” to voice their true opinions on black men in a way that is completely distinct from conversations when white athletes mess up. And in this virtual public square, ESPN is the “World Wide Ringleader”.
Jury Deliberation:
After luckily stumbling across this freshly posted MUST READ interview on The Starting Five, we will defer to NBA player Etan Thomas for this portion of the proceedings. Besides, it will be quite refreshing to: 1) have an athlete actually speak for themselves beyond the soundbite constraints of sports media; and 2) A player will assess the media instead of the other way around.
On Media Omissions:Nobody wants to read about an athlete making positive contributions to our community and society as a whole. That doesn’t make the top of [ESPN's] Sports Center. When an athlete makes a charitable donation, responds in a crises i.e. Katrina, 911, the catastrophe of inner city schools etc., that is not shown. But let an athlete get arrested, or better yet, accused of something that there has been no conclusive evidence toward, that will be at the top of every sports news outlet across the country. The problem with this is that it skews public perception of athletes as a whole because society and “the mainstream” are only given one side. I think that it is important to show both sides of the equation. People tend to believe everything that they read. If you constantly bombard them with negative images of a certain group, they will begin to believe that this is an honest representation of the entire group as a whole. Especially, if they are not being shown anything different. I think they have a responsibility to not only point out the negative, but shine some light on the positive as well.
On Suppression of “the Thinking Athlete”:Back when I first wanted to come out publicly against the war in Iraq, I surprisingly was having a lot of trouble finding a media outlet who would allow me to use them as a vehicle. I went to the Washington post, the Washington Times, New York Times, every publication I could think of, and nobody would touch the story. Dave Zirin [Edge of Sports] was working for the Prince George’s Post at the time, and he was more than happy to publish my article. The piece was called, “I Am Totally Against This War. This was back in 2004 when it wasn’t too popular of an opinion to be against the war in Iraq. Now, most people, even Republicans, are speaking against this war, but not back then.”
On Media Double-Standards:I see bench clearing brawls in baseball. I’ve seen them drop the bat, rush the pitcher, and the entire team spill onto the field throwing blows, but it’s never blown up in the media the way it is when basketball players get into a fight. In hockey they were actually complaining that there wasn’t as many fights as there used to be. But when something happens in basketball, the ENTIRE CULTURE of the NBA is demonized. Then, somehow, they bring hip hop into the discussion, which always seems to happen for some reason, and there is this big problem. And something needs to be done. We become labeled as thugs. That is something that really bothers me, but it is an unfortunate reality that is our present day society.”
VERDICT:
That reality that Mr. Thomas speaks of has been directly fostered by ESPN. Each week another ESPN writer or TV staffer will weigh in about “how Pacman just doesn’t get it”. And while that may very well be true, I wonder if ESPN will ever get it? Will it get that its love affair and one-sided portrayal of black athletes as criminals is doing far more damage to “the image of black men” than 1000 Pacman Jones? Does it get that it is directly increasing the level of racial ignorance (at best) and racial bigotry (at worst) amongst its predominantly white male readership at a time where national hate is on an ugly rise? ESPN diligently does its market research and continues to give its audience what it wants instead of what it needs. ESPN calls itself “The World Wide Leader in Sports”, however, by engaging in a very dangerous form of “retail racism”, it keeps: following, not leading; pimping Pacman not promoting positivity; and recycling no news instead of providing new news. To ESPN, “Pacman-as-black man” is money in the bank, he is their cash cow, he “makes it rain” EVERY day. And with that, the jury verdict is in: ESPN’s coverage has been nothing short of criminal.
Related Thanks: The alternative sports website The Starting Five was just discovered by the author this week, and I would like to extend a special thanks not only for the Etan Thomas interview, but also for providing truth in sports coverage in an age where sensationalism seems to be mainstream norm.
[1]If Pacman’s long rap sheet is not printed here, it is only because that would be redundant with the 2 million google entries that have become a national conversation, largely fueled by ESPN’s non-stop coverage. It is worth noting that, ironically, Pacman Jones– despite numerous court dates– hasn’t actually been convicted of anything. This fact is not so much a defense for his propensity to find trouble, but it is a quite relevant juxtaposed to ESPN’s media attention.
[2] This is a CONSERVATIVE figure. In addition to the “more than 100 articles”, there are another 50+ articles that are duplicative postings by the Associated Press or sidebar references to Pacman’s troubles that have NOT been counted. Of those articles counted about 70% of ESPN’s articles were written directly about Pacman Jones off-field transgressions with another 30% featured him as a central related figure (e.g., Roger Goodell’s discipline policy; part of an ESPN mockery list; or other contrived connection, etc.).
[3]See Patriots signing of Randy Moss; Titans signing of Nick Harper; or a speech given to youth by Troy Vincent.)
[4] This statement factors in 1) Bonds alleged steroid use (yes, this author believes that Bonds, like about 70% of the league, used steroids);  2) that he is approaching sports greatest record, and 3) his often prickly personality. These considerations while being weighed extremely heavily do not explain his media treatment. Perhaps a future column will document how Barry Bonds received worse media coverage BEFORE steroid allegations than Roger Clemens received AFTER steroid allegations.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” – Elie Weisel