You can make the case that nobody is as important to ESPN as Adam Schefter. ESPN is so reliant on him, it’s hard to imagine how he would be replaced. It’s not a next man up thing where the damage is limited to one show or one announcing booth. Schefter’s departure would rip a huge hole across ESPN’s shows and platforms.
By design, Schefter is everywhere. He dominates Twitter. His stories dominate ESPN.com. When he breaks news (which is literally just about everyday), he’s on whatever is currently airing on ESPN and when he isn’t on television breaking news, he’s often on ESPN Radio. His role is greatly appreciated and compensated as ESPN puts an incredible value on not having to credit an external reporter in their reports and on their ticker.
Schefter is basically on call all the time. If something happens in the NFL, it’s almost a coin flip that you’ll see Schefter a) break the news b) go on tv to talk about it. You’ll see Schefter in studio, live at his own home, or often a static photo if his face face when he’s calling in. This was him an hour ago when I started writing this. He’s now on NFL Live. He’ll probably be on 2-3 more platforms by the end of the day. He’s everywhere all the time.
By and large, Schefter has been a perfect employee for ESPN. He delivered the goods, avoided the culture wars, and was generally held in a neutral to positive regard by most fans (at least until recently). Schefter even was the subject of a pair of highly coveted HBO Real Sports segments.
But all is not well with one of ESPN’s most reliable and fruitful relationships, and it’s become hard to ignore. After a series of embarrassing controversies for Schefter (which we’ll get into in a minute), Schefter has seemingly lost a considerable amount of credibility, which was on full display last night in the reaction to this report.
Oklahoma has targeted Cardinals’ HC Kliff Kingsbury as one of the potential replacements for Lincoln Riley, league sources tell ESPN.
Kingsbury has one year remaining on his contract after this season.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 28, 2021
Giving Schefter the benefit of the doubt here, sure….someone at Oklahoma did a temperature check on Kingsbury’s interest in the job. But as we all know, it’s not really a plausible scenario and Schefter is pretty clearly being used to help Kingsbury and his agent procure an extension with this info now public. Maybe Schefter owed a favor. Maybe he was banking one for later. Maybe he thought this .25% chance this could happen qualified it as actual news. Either way, the report was mocked far and wide on Twitter.
"Adam tweet this."
"OK buddy." https://t.co/4TksP6v7xW
— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) November 28, 2021
As always in these situations…think about who benefits from this getting out there https://t.co/nK8coybx5o
— trey wingo (@wingoz) November 28, 2021
This makes a lot of sense if you consider that the only requirement for a Schefter tweet is a text from an agent. https://t.co/kjn06V0aaR
— Elika Sadeghi (@elikasadeghi) November 28, 2021
I love when Schefty goes full “get agents more money for their clients so the agents will keep giving me info” mode pic.twitter.com/aV6PVv5vyi
— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) November 28, 2021
It was bad editorial judgement, and one Schefter probably would want back. A year ago, this would have drawn nothing more than an eye roll or a snicker, but not after the past few months.
Last month, emails surfaced from Schefter to then-Washington GM Bruce Allen in 2011, related to a story on a CBA dispute. Schefter sent Allen an entire story draft, with the comment “Please let me know if you see anything that should be added, changed, tweaked. Thanks, Mr. Editor, for that and the trust.”
Schefter and ESPN were forced to go into damage control over the situation.
Statement from Adam Schefter pic.twitter.com/rBjBl9Km6b
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) October 13, 2021
Earlier this month, Schefter suffered another high profile journalistic setback that saw him make two half assed apology attempts for his indefensible reporting of the Dalvin Cook lawsuit.
What we saw last night with the backlash to Schefter’s reporting is that these incidents undoubtedly dinged his credibility and that more media savvy folks are pushing back at the constant flow of scoops Schefter serves up. Such a development comes in an inopportune time, as Schefter is the final year of his current deal with ESPN with various sportsbooks reported to have interest in him.
I doubt ESPN has cooled on Schefter and this throws any wrinkle in Schefter’s plans when his contract ends. Similar to Schefter leaking interest in Kliff Kingsbury, who benefits with all these reports of interest in Adam Schefter’s free agency? Maybe I’m old school, but even in today’s media climate, the words spoken in the movie The Insider still hold a bit of weight.
“I’m Lowell Bergman, I’m from 60 Minutes. You know, you take the 60 Minutes out of that sentence, nobody returns your phone call.”
Translation: It’s hard to see Schefter leaving ESPN in the same way it’s hard to see Kingsbury going to Oklahoma.
What’s most interesting to me is if ESPN and Schefter perhaps begin to think through the viability and sustainability of the newsbreaker role, which is nowadays a hybrid between journalism and tweeting things that are texted to you because you work at ESPN, your social media following is the largest, and you are generally trusted. The position does require good reporting skills, but also seems to have devolved into a dick measuring contest that requires your agency to email team officials and agents a powerpoint deck on why they should leak to you.
I can’t help but think can a Schefter, a Woj, a Passan really stay atop this perch for any given period of time without a) losing credibility b) not going insane by how tied to their phone they are.
We must’ve been in different small groups cause I remember him answering a call on one while texting on the other to break the news of Emmanuel Sanders re-upping with the Steelers.
Idk how ones brain handles that much
— Greg Mroz (@GregDMroz) October 14, 2021
As much as this piece is critical of Schefter, can you really name anyone who would actually be better at his job than he is? Is newsbreaking at this level even an attractive job? It seems like high volume sports media day trading that requires a lot of blind trust with sources that always have an agenda. It doesn’t feel sustainable.
The monthly stepping on a rake by Schefter or any newsbreaker is seemingly accelerating the whatever sustainability the position has. Trust erodes quickly, even if this feels like it’s mostly something that is isolated to Twitter. Sure some of this will blow over, but whether Schefter stays or goes, I think ESPN has to realize that having only one primary newsbreaker on call all year long while their brain melts from staring into his phone all day long is maybe something that isn’t sustainable, manageable, healthy, or logical journalistically. I think it’s time to realize there has to be a better way of doing this.