Apr 28, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; A general overall view as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft at the NFL Draft Theater. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While the 2020 all-remote NFL Draft broke the mold in several positive ways, it also set a new low for cringeworthy coverage of the Draft’s prospects.

That year, both ESPN and NFL Network went overboard with “trauma porn” coverage of the players selected, perhaps most notably mentioning Tee Higgins’ mother’s past drug addiction. It was over the top, and felt like something out of an I Think You Should Leave sketch rather than a sports network’s live coverage of the Draft.

The networks have learned their lesson from the scathing criticism received in 2020. After ESPN stood by their coverage, saying it “introduces the human side of the players,” ESPN’s Seth Markman apologized to the Higgins family for the graphic.

In a feature at the New York Times this week, Markman admitted that the network realized they needed to tone it down and balance out their coverage.

“We still think that’s a big deal, to acknowledge the obstacles they’ve had to overcome in their journey to the N.F.L.,” said Seth Markman, who has led ESPN’s draft coverage for 11 years, and who apologized to Higgins in 2020. “But what we realized that year is that we can probably do a little better job balancing and making sure that not every story is about those obstacles and those backgrounds. Not everybody has to be a kind of a clichéd bit of storytelling, if you will, and I think that year it was.”

NFL Network’s Charlie Yook shared similar thoughts.

“You don’t want everyone to cry every time,” Yook said. “This is a celebration of a dream coming true. It’s not a game of gotcha. We want to tell your story and it will be unique to the player.”

ESPN has also been moving away from awkward green room coverage following the 2013 Draft, when Geno Smith went the entire first round without getting picked and lingered in the green room.

“Every time someone got picked, the camera would look at me, and it created this perception of negativity that wasn’t there,” Smith said.

Figuring his name wasn’t going to get called, Smith left before the end of the first round so he could celebrate his mother’s birthday. His departure, though, led to suggestions that he was bitter.

“As TV producers, we were sort of like, this is going to capture ratings and this is going to be a juicy story line, and make sure we have cameras with these guys,” Markman said. Now, “we don’t need to show these kinds of guys who are supposed to be having the best days of his life and it turns into a nightmare. Let’s not take advantage of him in this situation.”

That feels right. Focusing on the dwindling cast of players in the green room after picks, even when they might not have been a good fit for the team that just picked, is a bit cruel. The networks have so many graphics and other footage lined up and they don’t need the ten second shots of the last player in the green room after every pick. It adds nothing to the broadcast.

Anyway, the three days of the Draft can be a slog at times, and finding topics to talk about can be a challenge. But if you’re running into those issues so early in the Draft, as we saw with Higgins (the 33rd overall pick in 2020), maybe it’s time to rethink your coverage strategy. It’s clear that both ESPN and NFL Network have done that.

[New York Times]

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.