ESPN’s Tug Of War Over Terrelle Pryor

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Cognitive Dissonance
: “An uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously”

You’ll have to forgive the psychology minor in me, but cognitive dissonance perfectly explains the feeling I get when the subject of Terrelle Pryor comes up on ESPN, especially considering Pryor’s fate in terms of the NFL Supplemental Draft is about to be determined.  Yes, I know, I’ve turned into a frequent critic of ESPN, especially when it comes to their journalistic decline in relation to their quest for world-domination.  As I’ve argued before, the problem with ESPN is that they want you the viewer to compartmentalize and separate all of the WorldWide Leader’s different tentacles.

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We’re supposed to compartmentalize Joe Schad’s reporting on Texas A&M joining the SEC from ESPN’s investment in the Longhorn Network, forgetting the fact that Schad has proven to be a fraud.  We’re supposed to compartmentalize ESPN cozying up to athletes at The ESPY’s to their “hard-hitting” reporting on those same athletes.  We’re supposed to compartmentalize The Heat Index from The Decision.  We’re supposed to compartmentalize how ESPN covers the leagues they are in business with from the presentation of those events.

The same is true when looking at the singular case of Terrelle Pryor.  On the one hand, there’s Terrelle Pryor the cheating Ohio St. quarterback. On the other, there’s Terrelle Pryor the reclamation story.  Not even before ESPN had finished digging up dirt on Pryor, which of course was followed by his expulsion from the Ohio St. football program, ESPN sought to build Pryor back up on his quest to enter the NFL’s Supplemental Draft.

Matt talked about the media’s vicious cycle of building up athletes, only to tear them down, and vice versa.  But, ESPN has skipped the cycle completely with Terrelle Pryor by simultaneously building him up and tearing him down.  One minute, Pryor is the subject of severe rules violations, the prototypical athlete breaking or bending the NCAA’s rules.  Minutes later, he’s laughing with Jon Gruden who’s extolling THIS GUY as a great person and football player.  How can Terrelle Pryor be a victim of Don Goodell’s hammer of justice at the same time he’s a villain for taking advantage of his fame?  And yes, it is more complicated than the a student-athlete making the jump from college to the pros…

ESPN’s journalistic arm has been after Ohio State for many months.  In fact, if you ask some fans, ESPN has an agenda to bring down Ohio State while ignoring other renegade programs in the ACC (North Carolina), the SEC (Auburn), and the Pac-12 (Oregon), all conferences who don’t have their own network competing with ESPN.  Those people may actually be right, but that’s another story for another day.  What’s certain is ESPN’s reporters and columnists have come after Ohio St. and their former star QB with all guns blazing, perceived agenda or not.

First, there were the endless reports on TattooGate.  Then, the endless stream of allegations and investigations delving further into Pryor’s supposed activities at Ohio St.  Breathless reports of Pryor receiving free golf (gasp!) and free rental cars.  Sensationalized stories appeared on ESPN’s front page of Pryor’s license being suspended, followed by barely a peep when it was quickly reinstated.  There was the predictable columns focusing on Pryor’s “tainted legacy” as early as June.  But most of all, it was the still unproven allegations launched by ESPN’s Outside The Lines that Pryor had made thousands more selling other memorabilia.  The sensationalized reports and stories even featured the mysterious snitch, a shadowy figure with his voice altered to hide his true identity.  And as we all know, those types of people only appear to get the REALLY bad guys… like Terrelle Pryor.

But something strange was happening during ESPN’s crusade to tear down Terrelle Pryor the college QB.  Before an OTL rerun could even air, Pryor’s ESPN rehabilitation tour was well underway.  It started with Pryor’s appearance on Jon Gruden’s QB Camp.  While Gruden had hammered other QB prospects on intricate route combinations and reading defenses, Chucky could only lob Pryor softballs like “What’s an audible?” and “What’s your favorite color?”.  Many analysts across the family of networks projected Pryor’s future in the league like he was a future MVP.

But Pryor’s promotion across ESPN hasn’t stopped there.  Every NFL blogger on ESPN’s website has had their turn at projecting Pryor onto teams in the league, in some cases multiple times.  Pryor’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has been given numerous ESPN platforms to state his client’s case for getting into the NFL’s Supplemental Draft.  Just Monday morning, Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg were nearly begging for Pryor to just be let in to the NFL; after all, Terrelle Pryor is just a victim of Ohio St.’s impending NCAA violations stuck in some terrible limboChris Mortensen even wrote his own manifesto stating the case for Pryor to make it in the NFL.  The coverage of Pryor’s quest to enter the NFL has passed the point of reporting a news story and reached the level of unending fodder.

Now, of course, Terrelle Pryor is no victim by any stretch.  But, ESPN has left viewers in the position of two dissenting, yet simultaneous storylines involving Pryor: one as the cheating college QB, the other as the persecuted NFL prospect.  It’s a better story for ESPN’s journalistic interests to continue to investigate Terrelle Pryor’s doings at Ohio St.  Let’s not pretend that ESPN won’t forget Ohio St. or Pryor any time soon, see Pat Forde’s latest hit piece here (meanwhile there is barely a word from ESPN on UNC’s academic fraud and recruiting violations or Cam Newton’s father selling his son to the highest bidder, Georgia Tech’s sanctions that went under the rug, or Oregon paying for phantom recruiting services, but I digress).  At the same time, it’s a better story for SportsCenter and Mike and Mike to build Pryor back from the ashes as the latest NFL success story.

Only the optimist could argue that ESPN has presented Pryor’s unique journey without adding to the drama of his circumstances, both in vilifying his college days while supporting his case to enter the NFL.  Can ESPN have its cake and eat it too?  Can Terrelle Pryor really be a greedy villain and persecuted underdog at the same time?  The WWL would like us to think so, but my “authority” as a psychology minor says otherwise.  What do you think?

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