The Media Column: At height of #MeToo movement, moralizing sportswriters still prop up beloved athletes with sordid pasts

Alex Reimer
October 11, 2018 - 11:49 am

Matt Sayles-USA TODAY Sports

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Last week, legendary NFL scribe Peter King generated headlines when he pledged he would no longer appear on Barstool Sports platforms, due to the company’s history of online harassment and misogynistic tone. King, a frequent guest on Barstool’s popular “Pardon My Take” podcast, made his announcement following the publication of The Daily Beast’s comprehensive takedown of the media goliath. 

“I just think that they have been unfair both to reporters in general, and particularly to women reporters,” King said on “Dale & Keefe” when asked to elaborate on his decision. “I think there should be a consequence in the media for people who act like that. I am just not a fan.”

In other words, King believes Barstool Sports mistreats women, so he doesn’t want to attach his name to them. Fair enough. But apparently, King doesn’t apply that same line of thinking to his Hall of Fame vote. The mastermind behind “Monday Morning Quarterback” –– err, “Football Morning in America” –– is one of the more vociferous defenders of serial rapist Darren Sharper’s Hall of Fame candidacy. King has repeatedly said he thinks the perennial Pro Bowl safety should be eligible for the Hall of Fame, despite his prison conviction for drugging and raping two women in the Los Angeles area. Sharper has been accused of sexual assault by 16 women in four states. 

“In my opinion, there’s 48 people who vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, if we get into the business of adjudicating players...based on what they’ve done off the field, where does it stop?,” King said on Katie Nolan’s podcast in 2015, per Complex

King’s blatant hypocrisy crystallizes the conundrum facing the Sports Media Industrial Complex: since the start of time, it’s been acceptable to separate an athlete’s personal life from his professional accomplishments. Sure, Jim Brown has a long and sordid history of beating women, but he revolutionized the running back position. Now let’s all stare at his statue. 

But times are changing. We’ve undergone a cultural awakening over the last year, and though there’s still lots of work to be done, some powerful men are finally being forced to pay some sort of price for their gruesome treatment of women. Bill Cosby is in prison; Harvey Weinstein is facing sexual assault charges; Matt Lauer no longer greets us on our television screens every morning. 

Yet, accused rapist Kobe Bryant is still a media darling. The NBA’s all-time scoring champion recently launched a line of beauty products for athletes, and it received the predictable fawning treatment from writers everywhere. As Deadspin’s Albert Burneko points out, ESPN and Sports Illustrated published lengthy pieces on the product, and neither mentioned the rape charge that was filed against Bryant in 2003. 

In recent years, Bryant has been portrayed as the Grand Poobah of basketball philosophy. Last spring, he was venerated for his work on “Detail,” his series on ESPN+ that featured him breaking down tape of current NBA stars, including Jayson Tatum. “The show is not for simple-minded people, the people that do that sort of stuff,” Bryant told the Washington Post. “They’ve got to grow up. We're looking at this show from a deeper level.”

Following his press tour for “Detail,” Bryant made the media rounds when LeBron James signed with the Lakers. He did an extensive sit-down interview with longtime ally Rachel Nichols and Stephen A. Smith asked him to “welcome LeBron to the family” on his ESPN radio show.  

Oh, and Bryant also won an Oscar for his basketball animated short-film on the same night three of Weinstein’s most prominent accusers took the stage and spoke about the impact of the Time’s Up movement. There was no mention of the Colorado hotel worker who accused Bryant of raping her in his room. Blood was found on the woman’s underwear, and doctors found a small bruise on her neck and tears in her vaginal wall two days after the encounter. Bryant’s team went on to shame the alleged survivor, bringing up her active sexual history and previous suicide attempts. The case was settled in a civil suit, and Bryant issued an apology to her, saying he’s “sorry for his behavior that night.”

At least that’s more than Ben Roethlisberger has ever done to acknowledge his accusers. The Steelers quarterback was accused of sexual assault in 2009 and 2010, and forced to miss the first four games of the 2010 NFL season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. 

While Roethlisberger remains a polarizing figure, his alleged hotel room sexual assault in Lake Tahoe –– settled in a civil suit –– and reported rape inside of a Georgia nightclub bathroom –– chargers were not filed, though the accuser never withdrew her claim –– never get mentioned whenever he’s ready to take a snap on “Sunday Night Football.” In training camp, Roethlisberger participated in a glossy sit-down with Sal Paolantonio, in which he spoke wistfully about the 2017 season. 

Of course, the praise Bryant and Roethlisberger receive looks downright innocent in comparison to the love that ESPN showers upon woman-beater Floyd Mayweather Jr. before one of his big fights. Smith's MTV Cribs-esque tour of Mayweather's lavish car collection is one of the more embarrassing moments in recent TV history. 

This isn’t to say Bryant, Roethlisberger or other sports stars with sexual misconduct allegations in their pasts should never be allowed to move forward. But neither of them have ever been held accountable, even in the modest form of temporary social alienation, for their reported assaults. 

If Bryant or Roethlisberger faced those charges today, the reaction would probably be different. Over the summer, for example, the Astros were largely lambasted for acquiring closer Roberto Osuna at the trade deadline, despite the fact he was serving a 75-game suspension for domestic violence. 

But many of the assaults that have forced Hollywood figures into exile took place years ago, too.  Cases are revisited retroactively all of the time.

Except in the world of sports. Before sportswriters and pundits stand on moral pedestals, perhaps they should look inward at the figures they continue to prop up. 

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MLB scheduling idiocy: MLB playoff games get trounced whenever they’re up against primetime NFL action. So, of course MLB scheduled Game 2 of the ALCS to go head-to-head with Chiefs-Patriots on “Sunday Night Football.”

In an email to me, a league spokesman said baseball decided starting Astros-Red Sox at 7:09 p.m. EST Sunday –– roughly one hour before kick-off from Gillette Stadium –– was the best way to maximize the audience. “Our goal in determining start times for Postseason games is to make the games available to the largest number of fans on a national basis,” the statement reads. “While considering the many factors that can influence the selection, we ultimately decided the best time to reach the national audience was starting the game in primetime.”

That’s crazy. The Boston market will be split, and there’s no way Astros-Red Sox has greater national appeal than Chiefs-Patriots, especially considering “Sunday Night Football” has been the most-watched primetime show on TV for the last seven years. 

MLB should start the game in the 4:00 or 5:00 hour. But the league has a nasty habit of making its product inaccessible in return for short-term profits –– hello, NLCS games on FS1 –– so this outrageous call is par for the course.

Give Tom Caron a raise: Tom Caron doesn't get paid enough money. The postgame crew on NESN has been laughably bad this postseason, with the low point coming at the end of Game 2, when Tim Wakefield incredulously said he still trusts David Price to pitch against the Yankees in a big game.

With Dennis Eckersley contracted to do national work for TBS, the lack of depth on NESN’s analyst depth chart has been exposed. The Steve Lyons-Jim Rice-Lenny DiNardo-Wakefield foursome leaves lots to be desired. 

Red Sox-Yankees dominate in ratings: Unsurprisingly, the Red Sox and Yankees drew massive ratings numbers during their four-game series. Boston's clinching victory Tuesday garnered a 23.9 rating in Boston, the highest-rated LDS game on any network in the market since 2008. On a national scale, Game 4 was the most-watched Division Series game on TBS since 2007. 

Still, even Red Sox-Yankees couldn't compete against football. Game 3 on Monday attracted a 3.4 rating nationally, whereas Saints-Redskins on "Monday Night Football" drew a 7.3. Even more of a reason to switch Red Sox-Astros to the daylight hours. 

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