Humans, Opinions and Chandler from FRIENDS

Human beings have opinions. This is one of the things I like about us. However, there are times in life when this part of our make up creates a problem, especially for those who work in the media. This is the situation Craig James and Mike Patrick, both sport analysts for ESPN, found themselves in while covering the Alamo Bowl between Texas Tech and Michigan State.

For just a little background on the story, the head coach for Texas Tech, Mike Leach, was fired for allegedly punishing a student athlete for sustaining a concussion and placed him in a dark room during practice. The athlete was Adam James, the son of Craig James. Due to this conflict of interest ESPN found itself, much like Chandler from the NBC show Friends, in a unique situation: Rock. ESPN. Hard place. 

Some people, including Don Ohlmeyer who serves as the ombudsman for the network, feel that either ESPN or Craig James should have decided to not allow the analyst to cover the Texas Tech game since he had such a vested interest. Now, if you have ever watched at least five minutes of a sports broadcast, you have probably noticed that the analysts share their opinions about almost everything. Like I said, humans have opinions on situations and it would seem that a situation involving a family member would permit an even stronger opinion.

Several different options that the sports network could have taken in the situation but let us look at this from an ethical theory standpoint.

Deontological ethics (Day 3), which focus on the actions of situations, state that certain actions are right or wrong no matter what the outcome might be. For this situation, allowing an analyst, or any journalist for that matter, to cover a story they could have a bias in is wrong because the network is obligated to cover the stories in an unbiased way. So if ESPN had based its decision on just that theory then they would not have allowed Craig James to the broadcast and would not have given much attention to the controversy.

Another theory of ethics is consequentialism (Day 3), or judging whether an action was right or wrong based on the outcome. In other words, the action itself does not really matter, just the consequences. In the case of ESPN, having an analyst with a strong bias cover a game is wrong because the outcome is having an unbalanced broadcast. We could even take this one step further and say that a possible outcome could be having fewer viewers since people often do not want to listen or watch a broadcast that is completely one-sided.

The PRSA Code of Ethics (Plaisance 2) lists several fundamental principles that PR professionals should adhere, such as Honesty and Fairness. If ESPN had used just these principles, they would have not allowed Craig James to cover the game. It was not fair to the other team nor was it fair to Mike Leach. The coverage mainly gave the perspective that Leach was in the wrong and it was the right decision to fire him.

In conclusion, I feel that ESPN and Craig James should have considered the fact that covering the game in this way was completely unfair to both Mike Leach and to his supporters. I also feel that since ESPN is the “world-wide leader in sports” they should have paid more attention to their involvement in this particular situation since most people look to them for their daily dose of sports news and information.

I leave you with one last thought, sports are naturally subjective and it is easy for analysts to let their human nature show and give opinions and be biased. If a network that is considered leader of something is not going to do it right, how can we expect anyone else to do what is right?


Media Ethics- Patrick Lee Plaisance

Ethics- In Media Communication- Louis Alvin Day

NBC television show FRIENDS


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