ESPN's Laviska Shenault player card.

The ESPN/NFL Network and ABC coverage of the 2020 NFL Draft took a lot of criticism over the first two days in particular for an apparent focus on tragedies that have happened to drafted players’ families, from deaths to battles with drug addiction to struggles against West Nile virus. Current players like the Broncos’ Bradley Chubb expressed their disappointment, as did many media and fans.  But ESPN isn’t exactly apologetic about it, as per a statement they sent to Jordan Heck of The Sporting News:

Our NFL Draft coverage analyzes the prospects on the field and introduces the human side of the players by telling their stories, including the obstacles their families have overcome as part of the journey to the NFL. 

Telling players’ “stories” is one thing, but hitting the tragedy button time after time after time isn’t necessarily the best way to do that, especially on an event like this. And some of those “stories” are highly questionable as ways to introduce a player to a wide audience, especially when it comes to narratives like Tee Higgins’ mother’s struggles with addiction. There are a lot of other facts you could put up on his player card that wouldn’t cause any controversy. And it’s interesting that in Higgins’ case, the ESPN/NFL Network broadcast actually avoided this one, but the ABC broadcast brought it up:

Update: ESPN’s Seth Markman apologized for the Higgins graphic in a statement to Cindy Boren of The Washington Post Sunday:

“The Tee Higgins graphic should not have aired. It was a mistake and we apologize for it. We want our Draft coverage to personalize players and, where appropriate, acknowledge the obstacles they’ve had to overcome on their journey to the NFL. This graphic lacked proper context.” 

If players feel traumatic experiences did play a large role in their life and feel like sharing those stories, they have ways to do so in interviews with the media or in first-person pieces on sites like The Players’ Tribune. Those might be a better way to present this information than just putting it on a card of facts about the player, especially when you’re seemingly doing it for every other player at some points of the draft. But it’s notable to have this statement from ESPN, and to have them on the record with what led to this trauma-focused coverage.

[The Sporting News]


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.