ESPN’s Response To Jalen Rose’s Arrest Demands More Questions

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Last week, we learned that ESPN’s Jalen Rose had been retroactively arrested for a DUI earlier in the month of March. Rose faces a court date later this month. Interestingly, we first heard about the news from a local television station in Detroit, WDIV, who beat ESPN at what would seem to be their own story. The response from ESPN after news of the arrest broke was fairly swift – Rose was pulled off ESPN television.  It is this decision by ESPN and the fallout from their overall response to Jalen Rose’s arrest that is cause for discussion, analysis, and major questions for the folks at Bristol.  ESPN’s practical monopoly over the sports world puts them in a position where the most criticism, analysis, and questioning exists.  In the case of Jalen Rose, there are plenty of questions to be asked of the Bristol machine.  After the jump, check out the entire story and ESPN’s response to those unanswered questions we asked the network.

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*Jalen Rose: Fab 5 producer + ESPN analyst

-Here’s where Rose was first thrust into the monster that is ESPN promotion.  The family of networks heavily hyped ESPN’s Fab Five documentary.  The doc scored for ESPN in the ratings department as the highest rated under the 30 for 30 umbrella… surely it was helped by a cavalcade of hosts and analysts proclaiming that it was among the best documentaries the network had produced.  While it was well done, the Fab Five program was also one of the most unbalanced ESPN documentaries under the acclaimed 30 for 30 label.  Perhaps that should be no surprise though – Fab Five member and ESPN analyst Jalen Rose was an executive producer for the project.  Rose made himself a further part of the story with his incendiary comments about African American basketball players at Duke as “Uncle Toms.”  It was a controversial remark, even in the context of the documentary, yet it became more hype and more debate fodder.  The networks seized on that comment to create more publicity for Rose and the documentary and fill their hours of debate and discussion shows.

*The DUI arrest

-As the dust settled from the documentary controversy, we learned of Rose’s DUI arrest.  Except, as pointed out here at AA, the timeline was all disjointed.  The public first learned of Rose’s arrest weeks after the incident initially happened on March 11th.  ESPN, so often out in front of these stories, was beaten to the punch by a local TV station.  The initial response from ESPN was brief.  In one of the first ESPN.com articles about the story, a spokesman merely said the network was “looking into it.”  ESPN then made the decision to pull Rose from appearing on television until the case could be sorted out.  Or did they… an ESPN spokesman had this to say in a decidedly vague response to the situation…

“Jalen has accepted full responsibility for his actions. Both parties are taking this very seriously, and as a result, we’ve agreed that he will not be on our air while he addresses this situation.”

*Was Jalen Rose actually disciplined by the network?

-So, Jalen Rose was for all practical purposes taken off the air for his DUI arrest, or his refusal to initially tell management, or both.  It is still unclear.  Perhaps he was merely removed to avoid attention and embarrassment for both parties over the incident.  His public removal from the airwaves makes me think he is being disciplined in some manner, but it’s guesswork because of the lack of transparency.  Meanwhile, Howard Bryant, another ESPN personality who was recently arrested and charged with domestic assault, still sees his writings appear on ESPN.com.  Why?  In fairness, Bryant has disputed the arrest, but why has he not been pulled from ESPN platforms like Rose “while he addresses this situation?”  Where is the consistency in ESPN’s policy?  Does ESPN have a standard policy regarding taking its talent off their many platforms when arrests or embarrassing situations happen?  Remember, Tony Kornheiser was publicly suspended for two weeks for dissing Hannah Storm’s wardrobe.  It’s evident that there are many unanswered questions for the network.  From the outside, Bristol appears to operate in the same whimsical fashion as Roger Goodell’s personal conduct policy.  Without a clear explanation, the mystery surrounding Jalen Rose being taken off the air and the history of discipline from ESPN leads one to wonder about ESPN’s policies regarding its talent getting into trouble.

*Poynter’s point of view

-Here’s where the Rose-ESPN dynamic becomes more interesting… and perhaps confusing.  ESPN’s new ombudsman, the Poynter Institute, chipped in with their debut article about the arrest story.  Poynter was presented with a perfect opportunity to discuss ESPN’s ethical policies, the questions associated with Rose’s arrest, and subsequent “punishment.”  The article first focuses on Rose’s concealment of the arrest from ESPN.  If that’s the reason for his being taken off the air, this would make a clean break with the Howard Bryant situation.  Naturally, it’s not all that clear.  Here’s what the prestigious independent voice had to say…

“However, there’s nothing in the contracts for Rose or anyone else on air at ESPN explicitly requiring them to notify management when their personal life is likely to become a news story. And although ESPN’s written policies address when the criminal activity of those they cover becomes a story, there’s nothing to suggest how and when the network will cover similar issues for its own.

Until there’s clarity in contracts and policies, this likely will happen again, given the number of on-air and online talent that ESPN employs.

Rose has admitted his blood alcohol content tested over the legal limit and apologized, explaining that he did not recognize that he was legally impaired. Orlando said she wasn’t sure how management was going to discipline Rose. He’s off the air for now, while the network awaits the outcome of his April 20 court appearance.

In addition to creating policy, ESPN’s response to Rose’s concealment of the DUI citation will go a long way in communicating to other ESPN personalities what the network’s expectations really are.”

Poynter had an immediate chance to ask some tough questions of ESPN and give hope that the ombudsman position would bring a real impact to the way ESPN deals with these kinds of stories and its relationship with the viewing public.  Despite their best efforts, we’re left with an even murkier quagmire.  ESPN evidently has no policy about “explicitly requiring (talent) to notify management” and yet the bent of Ponyter’s piece leans towards Rose being reprimanded for not telling the network about his arrest.

If there’s no specific policy in place to reprimand him for hiding the DUI arrest, why has he been pulled from television by ESPN (according to an ESPN spokesman to the Detroit Free Press)?  You can see why there’s so much confusion here.  

Unless there is transparency to millions of viewers and consumers with regards to ESPN’s policy, the network suffers from looking like they are trying to hide behind a veil of secrecy.  While I don’t believe that ESPN purposely covered up the Rose story like some fans in the Poynter article suggest, ESPN allows those kinds of questions to be asked in lieu of having no definitive statement about the matter and leaves bloggers, fans, and analysts alike blindly throwing darts at the board to guess what exactly happened.

*The bottom line

-With so many questions about the Jalen Rose situation, AA went to ESPN directly for a comment on the matter.  We asked ESPN to clarify if Rose has actually been disciplined by the network and if so, was he being disciplined for the DUI or for the concealment of the DUI?  To both questions, ESPN referred us to their original statement – “Jalen has accepted full responsibility for his actions.  Both parties are taking this very seriously, and as a result, we’ve agreed that he will not be on our air while he addresses the situation.”

We also asked about any sort of action towards pulling Howard Bryant while his case is ongoing in light of Jalen Rose being taken off the air and received a “no comment.”  When inquiring about any ESPN policy or standardized response regarding arrests, controversial incidents, and discipline from ESPN, the network responded, “As you would expect, we do a thorough review of each situation and respond accordingly.”

Admittedly, I was disappointed to be referred only to the original statement on the subject of Rose’s leave of absence, but we thank ESPN for taking the time to respond to AA.  Still, with the lack of a concrete statement from ESPN, the Jalen Rose story raises many questions revolving around ESPN’s disciplining of talent and relationship with viewers that still go unanswered.  For a network that spends a large amount of time critiquing disciplinary measures taken by the major sports leagues, Bristol needs to take a meaningful look at its own measures and lack of transparency, and maybe that goes for other sports media entities as well.  I can’t help but think there is a credibility gap with many viewers in relating the Rose story and ESPN’s own positions, ethics, and standards for its network personalities.  Even after asking ESPN directly and hearing from the ombudsman, we still don’t specifically know why ESPN pulled Jalen Rose from appearing on the air.  Hopefully bringing some of these issues to light will cause ESPN to take a serious glance at these questions and provide more transparency to sports fans in the future.

Matt Yoder

About Matt Yoder

Managing Editor of Awful Announcing and award winning sportswriter. Bloguin consigliere. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

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