ESPN was the only cable network and the only sports outlet among fourteen recipients of the Columbia School of Journalism's DuPont award thanks to the reporting of Outside the Lines on youth football in America.
OTL was awarded alongside CBS News' coverage of the Newtown tragedy and WBZ Boston's coverage of the marathon bombings amongst others. It's the first time ESPN has ever received the honor.
With solid writing, reporting and research, this series of three reports uncovered serious problems with youth football in America, where three million children play annually, including a player paralyzed after being coached to use a dangerous tackling technique, coaches offering cash prizes for big hits and rampant gambling.
This important investigation added to the growing body of coverage about concussions and football with stories that graphically illustrated the problems and featured exclusive interviews with those involved in the controversies. ESPN’s reporting had an impact by identifying abuses and policy gaps as well as prompting an 18-month police investigation into corruption and gambling.
Tom Farrey, Paula Lavigne, reporters; Greg Amante, Simon Baumgart, producers; Michael Sciallo, associate producer; Nathan Hogan, Steve McCarthy, Erik Swanson, editors; Chris Buckle, senior editor; Dan Hardy, Trent Kamerman, Marc Lustig, Bill Roach, photographers; Nick Waligorski, animator; Dwayne Bray, senior coordinating producer; Tim Hays, Carolyn Hong, coordinating producers; VInce Doria, director of news.
It's a well deserved distinction for Outside the Lines, who has carried the flag for serious journalism and reporting at the network. Although much of ESPN's coverage of sports has become celebritized, OTL continues to do work on incredibly impactful, meaningful stories that go beyond the latest tweet from LeBron James.
And that's the great irony here. ESPN will be thumping their chests about winning this award today, and rightfully so. But when it counted most, they pulled the rug out from underneath OTL when they abandoned the partnership with Frontline on the League of Denial documentary which was truly ground-breaking work.
Then there's ESPN burying of OTL on Sunday mornings. Richard Deitsch has been chronicling OTL's weekly numbers since moving from ESPN to an undesirable 8 AM ET timeslot on ESPN2 at the expense of a Colin Cowherd football show. Thanks to that shift, OTL's viewership has been more than cut in half and Bob Ley has expressed frustration publicly as well on a Big Lead podcast.
ESPN's commitment to Outside the Lines only seems to be strong when it's convenient for the network. Bristol may revel in the glow of this award from Columbia University, but what happens next week when OTL's work goes largely unnoticed amidst the noise of Bayless, Smith, Cowherd, etc.
ESPN champions the journalism of OTL with words. Now let's hope they start doing it more consistently with actions.