Big Ben’s Case Shows ESPN’s Loss of Integrity

If my memory serves me correctly, ESPN spent about a day actually covering the Ben Roethlisberger sexual assault story. I think I watched one episode of SportsCenter in which they discussed the investigation regarding Roethlisberger and the twenty-year old from Georgia. Sure, they have been holding our attention about whether Big Ben will be on the field come Week 1 of the 2010 NFL Season. They have kept us itching to know what punishment Roger Goodell will hand out to the Pittsburgh football star. But nobody seems to care that he might (ahem) have raped a young college student.

This story finally solidified my gradually growing contempt for ESPN. Just as MTV evolved from a channel focused on music to a channel focused on True Life and other “reality” shows, ESPN is selling out. SportsCenter used to be a show that actually centered on sports. Instead of an overview of how a game played out, sports highlights are now just collections of “Top Plays.” Instead of analyzing an upcoming game, we are now bombarded with “Coors Light Cold Hard Facts.” Instead of hiring analysts based on journalistic merit, ex-athletes who can’t put a sentence together tell us that the underdog needs to “play tough” and “stick to the game plan” in order to have a chance at winning. The actual game just is not the focus anymore.

Now, it’s all about the Benjamins. With the emergence of “ESPN on ABC” earlier this decade, ESPN gained an even greater monopoly of the sports world. With the newfound power, they are able to pick and choose which sporting events, and even worse, which sports, will be popular and which will be forgotten. For(ever) years, ESPN has ignored the hockey world. While some of that can be attributed to the NHL’s despicable television deal with the Versus Network, much of it comes back to ESPN. The day the Atlanta Thrashers sent Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils, Pardon the Interruption spent a measly minute on a gigantic trade in hockey, instead focusing their attention on whether or not LeBron James wearing a Yankees hat meant he would sign with the Knicks this summer.

But hockey isn’t the only sport edged out by ESPN. Champions League soccer highlights are saved for the number nine spot on SportsCenter’s “Top Ten,” while Mel Kiper blabs about who he speculates the Houston Texans will take with the 20th pick in the NFL Draft. And even worse, by the day, sports highlights are being erased from SportsCenter in order to make time for analyzing the next NASCAR race. All of this angers me, but their lack of coverage of the Roethlisberger story makes me sick.

In 2003, Kobe Bryant was arrested for the sexual assault of a hotel employee in Colorado. For over a month, ESPN and every major news outlet theorized whether or not the sex was consensual. There were news conferences about whether Bryant’s wife would leave him. District Attorneys and other officials related to the case were constantly being interviewed. ESPN would even bring in their own legal analysts to guess how the case would end up.

This past Thanksgiving, besides those dwelling under rocks, everyone has heard of Tiger Woods’ infamous car crash. And ever since, we have heard more and more about what adult film star he cheated on his wife with and if his behavior on the golf course will change. We have seen pictures of him at the “sex clinic” at which he was supposedly rehabbing. And we have seen sincere apologies to the whole world about a matter that should be settled between he and his wife. Without his recent return at the Masters, we would still be listening to Andy North talk at length about whether or not Tiger will return to his old form. Where is this coverage about the Ben Roethlisberger case?

It comes back to ESPN. Roethlisberger is a (dare I say Caucasian?) Super Bowl winning quarterback in the National Football League, ESPN’s favorite league. With all of the other football players with arrest records, ESPN certainly hopes to keep one of its biggest stars out of the limelight. It is ridiculous that this story has simply flown under the radar. And this is not the first time that this has happened. Most people don’t even know that less than a year ago a civil suit was filed against him for the same charge of sexual assault.

Regardless of Roethlisberger’s guilt, ESPN has simply discarded the story. Is it because they don’t consider Roethlisberger as big of a star as Kobe Bryant or Tiger Woods? Possibly, but Roethlisberger is still one of the top quarterbacks in America’s most popular sport. Is it that Ben Roethlisberger is white and Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods are not? I hope that isn’t the case, but it certainly isn’t a ridiculous speculation, I can deal with hockey and soccer’s lack of coverage. I might even be able to deal with NASCAR getting more and more attention. But I certainly cannot be content with ESPN’s handling of the Ben Roethlisberger case.