College football fans rejoiced Saturday as the 2019 season felt officially official with the arrival of Week 1’s Saturday slate of games. Part of that ritual tends to include ESPN’s College Gameday Saturday morning, where national audiences get a taste of what’s going on around the country and get up to speed on the storylines and off-field issues they need to know about. But one element of Saturday’s GameDay broadcast felt off to many.
The crew was in the midst of a discussion about the day’s game between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and South Alabama Jaguars when the focus shifted to Nebraska running back Maurice Washington. This would be expected, considering Washington is currently facing “a felony count of possessing a video or photograph of a person under 18 who is engaging in or simulating sexual conduct and a misdemeanor count of distributing that video without consent, leading to the person suffering emotional distress.”
More specifically, the sophomore is accused of sending a ten-second video to an ex-girlfriend depicting her performing oral sex when she was 15 years old. Washington is not involved in the alleged sex act and was not the one to record the video, which was allegedly sent before he arrived in Lincoln. Washington has a court hearing scheduled for this Tuesday in San Jose, California, and the unknown nature of how the legal case will play out led to plenty of speculation over whether or not Washington would play on Saturday.
So it makes a lot of sense for College GameDay to mention Washington’s situation and how it could impact the game. It was how they discussed it, however, that seems strange.
Deadspin grabbed video of the moment, in which Rece Davis sounded like he was reading a statement prepared by Washington’s or Nebraska’s lawyers.
“That is Maurice Washington in uniform. We’re not sure if he’s going to play. A highly talented running back. He had some legal issues. He was accused of sending a video of his former girlfriend in March 2018 that involved the girl. He didn’t participate in capturing the video nor was he depicted in it, but the girl was 15 years old so it has become a legal problem that has not been resolved.”
Nothing Rece said was wrong. It was certainly a factual reading of the situation, and no one would expect (or want) to hear Lee Corso’s and Kirk Herbstreit’s opinions about the legality of sending underage pornography. But while the statement strips details down to its essentials, it does so in a way that seems to skew them in a certain direction. By not mentioning the severity of the charges and downplaying the fact that we’re talking about a video containing underage pornography sent without consent, it could give the impression that not only isn’t this a big deal but Washington is, perhaps, the real victim here.
Would ESPN have been better off not mentioning it altogether? No, it’s news relevant to a sporting event. But it’s possible that their nervousness around playing to the center of the room and appeasing the #StickToSports crowd makes them overly tentative when it comes to topics such as these. However, there’s a difference between wanting to steer clear of politics and wanting to be a reputable news source that isn’t taking an angle (or at least appearing to do so).
For the record, after Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said, “we’re not running the ball very well right now” at halftime, Washington came into the game in the second half. Afterward, Frost said that it was a deliberate decision to make Washington sit out the first half but that he was now available to play until the court matter is settled.
Because, like we all already knew, football people will forgive just about anything if they think you can score touchdowns.