So one of my favorite writers—and people—at SI.com is Richard Deitsch, my longtime colleague/friend and a guy who really knows how to cover the sports media.
Today, Rich wrote about the NFL Draft coverage and addressed, specifically, the way the network’s Suzy Kolber sprung an e-mail upon Mark Ingram, the former Heisman Trophy winner who was selected by the Saints. After receiving his jersey and hugging the commissioner, Ingram approached Kolber for the standard “moment” interview. Kolber asked a question or two, then read an e-mail the network had received from Mark Ingram, Sr., the former Giants receiver who’s now in prison. The son began sobbing uncontrollably, and ESPN had scored a big, mushy, emotional moment.
As I wrote at the time, it was classic emotional manipulation. ESPN didn’t catch much heat, because Ingram’s reaction was powerful and profound. But it easily could have gone otherwise—a “You read a personal letter from my jailed father on national TV in front of millions of people at the biggest moment of my life!?!?!? Are you fucking kidding me!?!?!” And Ingram would have been correct.
Anyhow, Rich interviewed ESPN’s Jay Rothman and asked, specifically, about this. Here’s the exchange:
SI.com: Why and how did Mark Ingram Sr. email Suzy Kolber with a note for his son?
Rothman: We reached out during the week to try to talk to him, knowing how proud he was of his son. It was a great father-son story. Suzy worked through the dad’s attorney to get hold of Mark Sr. and then Dad sent the email through his attorney for us to be able to read the email when he was selected.
SI.com: The moment was fantastic television, no question. But some wrote that moment was manufactured or manipulative. How would you respond to those who say ESPN created the news here rather than reported on it?
Rothman: There was not an iota of that at all. It was more from the perspective of being able to celebrate, knowing the story and knowing what a great kid he was. I’m a proud parent and many of us here are, and it was an opportunity to share a special moment with a kid. There was no contrived or manufactured intent. That was never the thinking. It was a more of a heartfelt thing and genuine. We were not trying to be disingenuous and manufactured. … I think the Dad wanted that read to him. The Dad did not send that through the attorney not to be read to him.
Seriously, this makes me want to vomit. I know ESPN is a business, and a business is all about ratings. But to spring a letter upon a son … to toy with a kid’s emotions in the name of manufacturing a memory. Well, it’s simply wrong, times 1,000.
ESPN should have been ashamed.