Rob Parker has survived.
That's the first takeaway from ESPN's announcement this afternoon. The controversial debater/controversy-igniter has been given a 30 day suspension by the network. I had thought Parker's job was in serious jeopardy before seeing his apology being read on SportsCenter this morning. That was a major sign ESPN's investment in Parker wasn't coming to an end.
However, perhaps the more interesting nugget from the ESPN statement is that there have been additional disciplinary measures taken against personnel at First Take and there will be "enhanced editorial oversight" for the widely criticized show:
“ESPN has decided to suspend Rob Parker for 30 days for his comments made on last Thursday’s episode of First Take. Our review of the preparation for the show and the re-air has established that mistakes both in judgment and communication were made. As a direct result, clearly inappropriate content was aired and then re-aired without editing. Both were errors on our part.
“To address this, we have enhanced the editorial oversight of the show and have taken appropriate disciplinary measures with the personnel responsible for these failures. We will continue to discuss important issues in sports on First Take, including race. Debate is an integral part of sports and we will continue to engage in it on First Take. However, we believe what we have learned here and the steps we have taken will help us do all that better.”
We reached out to ESPN wondering what exactly the enhanced editorial oversight meant and asked about specifics regarding those additional disciplinary measures. ESPN's response was "We have nothing further to add to the statement."
There are several layers to these two paragraphs:
1) In spite of perhaps the most visceral backlash to an ESPN commentary since Rush Limbaugh, Rob Parker has kept his job. But when he returns, whatever little credibility he had left as a pundit/instigator will have been thrown out the window. After this firestorm, either he will have truly changed for the better or he'll go back to the same old Rob Parker and the next time he goes way out of bounds to create controversy he will be fired. Given Parker's history, the latter is most likely, and ESPN will suffer a tumult of negative press once again.
2) ESPN is regretful about Parker's comments airing initially, but perhaps an even bigger mistake is allowing them on the First Take re-air. Earlier this year, a certain word Stephen A. Smith may or may not have said was scrubbed from the First Take replay. For it to not happen with Parker's inflammatory words was a stunning lapse in judgment. Then again, you should say the same thing about it airing in the first place as well. The fact that nobody initially saw a problem with Parker's comments at First Take to allow it on national television twice is a major cause for alarm.
3) Good news – this is a wake up call to ESPN's debate style programming. A significant line was crossed and there's hope in ESPN publicly declaring the First Take leash will be tightened. It's embarrassing for everyone associated and responsible for that circus to be dressed down in this very public way. ESPN is basically admitting the show cannot be trusted on its own anymore and will take steps to attempt to ensure this kind of race-baiting and stereotyping doesn't happen again. Maybe this means Skip Bayless will stop with his sideshow antics and name-calling and demeaning punditry, but I have my doubts.
4) Bad news – ESPN's commitment to debate style programming is stronger than ever. "Debate is an integral part of sports and we will continue to engage in it on First Take" does not give me great hope for the future.
There will be scores of individuals unsatisfied with ESPN's actions. Many have lost their jobs for saying much less offensive things than Parker. I have a difficult time calling for anyone to be fired, but it is somewhat encouraging that ESPN hasn't just disciplined Parker, but taken a public stance with regards to First Take.
How sincere ESPN is about making those changes and the "enhanced editorial oversight" for First Take will say a lot about Bristol as a whole moving into 2013. If the show devolves into the same charade we've seen for the last year, we'll know this was only a temporary move done to appease and fend off critics. If there is real change at First Take and beyond, we'll know ESPN is serious about preserving their own integrity.