Robert Lipsyte’s time as ESPN Ombudsman occurred during a rather tumultuous period at the Worldwide Leader. There was ESPN’s decision to pull out of the PBS Frontline “League of Denial” documentary, the Grantland feature on Dr. V, the transgender woman who committed suicide and Bill Simmons. Lipsyte was Ombudsman number 5 at ESPN and was eventually replaced by Jim Brady under a new title “Public Editor.”
Lipsyte told Dave Zirin on his Edge of Sports podcast that he didn’t regret taking the position and enjoyed his time as Ombudsman, but he didn’t think any of his articles led to any change at the Worldwide Leader saying “ultimately I don’t think it had much effect at all.”
Zirin asked, “You don’t it much effect at all?”
Zirin: “You don’t think you changed the culture there at all?”
Lipsyte: “Oh, no.”
Zirin: “Not even a little bit?”
Lipsyte added that anybody who might have been impacted by what he wrote and perhaps thinking about changing the culture a little bit “would have probably been purged in their layoffs in the last year or two.”
It’s interesting to see that Lipsyte would think that way, but if you look at ESPN during his time and the articles he wrote, ESPN really didn’t change or listen to his suggestions. He told Zirin that going in, he had a very positive view of ESPN saying that many staffers were like “Senate staff policy wonks except that all of their policies had to do with sports instead of legislation and public affairs.” And when he got to see how the sausage was made so to speak, he said advertising standards were changed when they felt any type of threat.
He said he enjoyed his year and a half as Ombudsman, but by the time his term was up, he had had enough and said he would not do it again if asked.
Lipsyte was one of the more impactful Ombudsmen/Public Editors at ESPN as he certainly had plenty of events to write about. Whether the current and future public editors will have as much to be critical of or be allowed to be critical as Lipsyste was all depends on how much responsibility ESPN gives the position.