espn-new england patriots

On Thursday night, Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch tweeted that ESPN would soon publish, and aggressively promote, a “hit piece” by Seth Wickersham about a growing rift between Patriots owner Bob Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

Immediately, a fanbase still bitter over ESPN’s reporting on Deflategate organized in anger, accusing the network of sensationalizing the story or pushing “fake news.” Before anyone had seen the piece, it was despised by an army of us-against-the-world Patriots fans.

When Wickersham’s story landed early Friday morning, it was not quite as sensational as advertised. The piece described Patriots brass knocking heads a bit about Brady’s controversial trainer Alex Guerrero and over the future of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. But in the end, it painted Brady, Belichick, and Kraft as proud men who inevitably fell victim to success. The most provocative line suggested that this “might be” the final year together for the trio.

But by the time anyone actually read the report, Boston’s fury and outrage had been unleashed. What Wickersham had written was less of a story than what people thought he had written. What could have been a piece the sports world discussed for a few hours before moving on instead became a national controversy, mostly because someone within ESPN leaked to Allen that it was coming, stoking the flames and building anticipation.

In the short term, ESPN will benefit greatly from all this attention, reaping huge traffic on Wickersham’s piece and spending all day discussing Brady, Belichick and Kraft on all its shows. But beyond the likely surge of interest, this whole ordeal will wind up looking like a blow to ESPN.

At this moment, people across America are debating whether the company has it out for the Patriots, whether it uses too many anonymous sources and whether the sensationalism sometimes apparent on its TV airwaves is reflected in its reporting. For all the criticisms leveled against ESPN, it’s typically tough to impugn the company’s investigative reporting. ESPN employs accomplished, experienced reporters (including Wickersham) who know how to get information others can’t.

Most knocks on, say, ESPN’s “embrace debate” TV presence come with a disclaimer about all the great reporting done by Outside the Lines and a cadre of talented magazine reporters. ESPN executives can’t be pleased to now see that side of the company under intense scrutiny. The one aspect of ESPN typically untouched by high-pitched anger now has a major media market intensely angry at it.

We’ll presumably never know who leaked information about Wickersham’s story to Allen. More likely than not, it was some anonymous copy editor, digital producer, or homepage editor. But whoever it was sure gave ESPN quite the headache Thursday night into Friday morning.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

  • Shame Hannity

    Dumb Nutz is the chubby, red haired freckled kid at the grown-ups table. He makes burping, farting, and other assorted noises, vying for attention, any attention. “Here’s a coloring book, kid. Try and stay within the lines and don’t chew on the crayons, ok?”

    • PAI

      Just block him. I don’t even see his dumb comments, outside of knowing he probably replied to you because there is one comment that is blocked.

  • mark hoffman

    So how is ESPN screwed? Everyone up here in New England already knew this. I want my 1 minute of my life back that it took to read this dumb story

  • The Man

    ESPN is as sleazy as they come, they’re going down fast and are desperately trying to save themselves. Thankfully for them there are millions of butthurt losers out there who hate the greatest franchise in the history of sports, the Patriots and will believe ANYTHING negative written about them. Kraft, Belichick and Brady have all come out and said this article is BS, a WickerSHAM if you will but the truth never mattered to ESPN when it comes to the Patriots, it’s all about making clicks and money off these morons who hate the Patriots and they swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

    WickerSHAM should be working for the National Enquirer.

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