Posted by Adam Jacobi
Mike Leach's new book, Swing Your Sword, was released Thursday, and Leach's co-author on the book was famed scribe Bruce Feldman (The Meat Market, 'Cane Mutiny). Small problem: Feldman also writes for ESPN.com's Insider section, and that may prove to be something of an issue when Leach's book contains a litany of complaints against ESPN on-air personality Craig James for his role in getting Leach fired from Texas Tech.
And yet, according to reports, Feldman was given the green light to proceed with the book, and he never engaged in any promotion for the book before or after its release. Non-issue, then, right? Well, wait:
ESPN college football writer Bruce Feldman was suspended indefinitely during a conference call with three ESPN officials this morning.
[They] informed Feldman today that he has been banned from writing for any ESPN entity, is forbidden from appearing on any ESPN platform, is not allowed to Tweet from his Twitter account nor participate in any promotion of a recently-released book in which Feldman played a role.
Such is the report from Sports by Brooks, anyway, and thus far there's been nothing to indicate the report isn't accurate. Feldman, who's normally a fairly active tweeter, has been silent since Wednesday on his ESPN-branded Twitter account @BFeldmanESPN, and no other ESPN personalities are commenting on the matter.
Just about everybody else in the world is commenting, however, and "Bruce Feldman" became a trending topic fairly quickly Thursday night on Twitter. Twitterers made use of the #freebruce hashtag early and often, especially after Sports Illustrated writer Andy Staples canceled his ESPN Insider subscription in protest:
Now, since ESPN hasn't released its side of this story yet, and since all we're working on is one report from one media outlet, it would be premature and assumptive to rake ESPN over the coals for this decision at this point. All reports indicate that Feldman was given the go-ahead to help write this book before the ugliness between ESPN and Leach. So if there was some amendment (whether explicit or tacit) to the arrangement after ESPN became directly involved, obviously, that would be relevant information that hasn't been released yet. We're all operating with limited information, and rather than build 1,500-word arguments based on assumptions that could be disproved by a single PR release before sunrise Friday, it's probably best to wait and learn more from the parties involved.
That all said, it's worth noting that, generally speaking, suspensions from organizations (whether sporting, media or otherwise) rarely improve the product being put out. Dez Bryant getting banned by the NCAA for the rest of his senior season didn't make Oklahoma State or the Big 12 any better or more entertaining, for example, to say nothing of what the NCAA lost when it wouldn't let Ohio State RB Maurice Clarett or USC WR Mike Williams get drafted or come back and play after their second seasons out of high school in 2004. Rules are rules, but taking talent off the field makes what happens on the field worse.
Obviously, that's not to say that all suspensions or other disciplinary actions are inherently bad -- discipline is important, and to keep the examples in college football, nobody would argue that Lawrence Phillips didn't spend enough time off the Nebraska squad after his domestic assault charge during the 1995 season. So yes, clearly, suspensions or firings/dismissals serve a well-needed purpose.
Yet, based on what we know now, Feldman didn't do anything wrong. He helped write a book that a whole lot of people really wanted to see written, and it wasn't even that one about ESPN itself that so many past and present ESPN employees gave testimony for -- under their own names, no less.
No, instead, ESPN is apparently degrading its PR standing (to say nothing of its paid Insider product, to which Feldman actually contributes) in order to punish Feldman and push this notion of ESPN as a faultless company that virtually zero of its consumers actually believe. It's extremely difficult to find a benefit to the company itself in this decision. The product is worse. The public perception is worse. The journalistic freedom within is now demonstrably worse. Exactly what is ESPN trying to accomplish here?
The appearance is that Craig James used his position at ESPN to force enough public pressure on Leach to be ousted from Texas Tech, and is now using his position within ESPN to force Feldman from the ranks at Bristol. If either is inaccurate and James would like to see Leach or Feldman restored to their previous statuses, by all means, we'd be glad to document such a statement. If not, it's hard not to think that ESPN is being used as a bully pulpit, and if that means a college football world without heavy involvement from Leach and Feldman, then college football is worse off for it, and that's no role for ESPN or any other major college football media organization to hold.