Dave Zirin wrote an excellent column yesterday on the striking media silence surrounding the absence of Thabo Sefolosha from these NBA playoffs. Sefolosha missed much of the regular season due to injury, but is widely regarded as one of the Atlanta Hawks’ best players. He had returned to health in time for the postseason, but just before they began in mid-April, Sefolosha had his leg broken during a scuffle with five New York City police officers (blocks from where I grew up). We don’t know all the details, but eyewitness accounts, including from Sefolosha’s teammate Pero Antic and available video evidence strongly suggests that Sefolosha was the subject of an unwarranted attack.
Whether Sefolosha’s presence in the lineup might have altered the outcome in the Hawks’ current series with LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers is anybody’s guess. But the real issue here, says Zirin, is the near total silence of the sports media. Zirin notes that when discussing the Hawks-Cavs series Thursday morning, Sefolosha’s absence briefly came up on Mike and Mike, with Greenberg quickly waving the topic away by saying, “we all know what happened there.” Other media outlets, including the champion talkers on TNT’s Inside the NBA, have ducked the topic altogether.
This particular passage in Zirin’s column was especially interesting:
After I fired off a series of tweets about why the media was not discussing this story more, three people from ESPN reached out to me to talk and say that they agreed. To be clear, this does not usually happen out of ESPN HQ in Bristol. People don’t air their anger with the company except in extreme circumstances. The only other time I’ve had that experience of people reaching out to me from inside the tent was when ESPN pulled out of its partnership with PBS’s League of Denial documentary about the NFL and head injuries. They did not want me using their names or exact words, out of concern of reprisals. Regarding Sefolosha, it’s fair to say that they were frustrated about the lack of resources, airtime, and enthusiasm devoted to what they saw as a monster story. They also said that they were rebuffed when they raised devoting regular time to it on ESPN’s flagship show SportsCenter. The only concrete reason one received was “people not being particularly interested in the Hawks compared to other teams in the playoffs.” They all conceded that there was little audience appetite for more Hawks coverage, but believed that the story was bigger than just the fortunes of one team.
I was able to connect with Rob King, ESPN’s Senior vice president, overseeingSportsCenter, for comment. He e-mailed me the following: “The suggestion that there has been a broader decision to spike the story is ludicrous and disappointing. We understand with great clarity the potential significance of this story and continue to report it. As for ‘discussing it more on SportsCenter,’ this is a story that deserves greater illumination, which means information, not mere discussion. That takes reporting, and that’s how we’re proceeding.” (my bold)
As Zirin noted, King’s response was, to say the least, odd. To suggest that ESPN only covers issues once it has thoroughly and responsibly gathered all the facts is, to put it politely, a sick joke. Indeed, fact-free bloviating is, one might say, at the heart of much of their programming. Surely, there will be a spike in coverage if Sefolosha’s potential NBA Player’s Association-aided lawsuit against the City of New York moves forward. But the aversion even to mentioning the circumstances surrounding Sefolosha’s absence from these playoffs by ESPN’s phalanx of professional talkers is striking.