ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter’s track record when it comes to the line between being an independent journalist and a mouthpiece for the NFL has been spotty at best. Friday, he blurred that line once again with a highly condemned reaction to the news that Deshaun Watson would not face criminal charges over allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
Friday, a Harris County grand jury declined to indict the Houston Texans quarterback after a police investigation that began following lawsuits filed by 22 women accusing him of harassment and sexual assault. While nine criminal complaints were brought before the grand jury, they returned nine “no bills,” which means that criminal proceedings have concluded.
Watson still faces 22 civil lawsuits over those allegations stemming from massage sessions. So to say that his legal troubles are over would be a misinformed understatement, though this does appear to clear a stumbling block for NFL teams to consider trading for him.
So now it’s down to the civil case and the NFL’s investigation for Deshaun Watson. No criminal charges for him, which was a stumbling block for teams’ interest. We’ll see where it all goes from here.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 11, 2022
You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand that a grand jury’s decision not to indict a defendant doesn’t necessarily mean they think that person is innocent. It means that at least a number of people on the jury do not feel there is enough probable cause to move forward with a trial. Unlike a trial jury, a grand jury is not here to determine guilt or innocence.
Following the announcement of the decision, Schefter tweeted about the news. But instead of sticking to the facts and how it applies to the NFL, as Ian Rapoport did, the ESPN reporter decided to inject some extremely pointed commentary about Watson’s presumed innocence.
“This why Deshaun Watson, from the beginning, welcomed a police investigation: He felt he knew that the truth would come out,” wrote Schefter. “And today, a grand jury did not charge him on any of the criminal complaints.”
This is the kind of comment you might expect Watson’s agent to tweet, not the supposed impartial reporter tasked with covering the NFL for ESPN. And Schefter was rightly crushed for it by many of his peers.
Good heavens this is a horrible tweet https://t.co/ySfj3hoByN
— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) March 11, 2022
This is an extremely bad tweet for a reporter.
— Sam Blum (@SamBlum3) March 11, 2022
What a terrible tweet. https://t.co/DHcvs0Tg00
— Caroline Darney (@cwdarney) March 11, 2022
“The truth” being used in this sentence makes me sick. https://t.co/XkgOmrXN4w
— Ricky Hollywood (@EricaTamposi) March 11, 2022
No truth came out. Just because he wasn’t charged does not mean he’s fully innocent. https://t.co/7xUJLKStUV
— Brett Alper (@TheRealAlper) March 11, 2022
There is a Grand Canyon of difference between a grand jury not charging him and him not engaging in the conduct all those women have accused him of doing. https://t.co/zUDOHjrVgU
— David P. Samson (@DavidPSamson) March 11, 2022
This is nasty work https://t.co/kSu9Ykl3tw
— Kofie (@Kofie) March 11, 2022
This tweet reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how the legal system actually works. https://t.co/D2S1HYHWf8
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 11, 2022
Just a soul-seller https://t.co/EIZhCrWIvz
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) March 11, 2022
It would be one thing if Schefter was tarnishing his reputation for unbiased coverage but it’s effectively the latest in a long line of instances where he’s found himself doing spin for the NFL, either purposefully or not. He’s been accused on several occasions of allegedly doing an agent’s work for them in generating buzz around their client.
Last year, it was exposed in the Jon Gruden email leaks that, in 2011 he had handed a story over to then-Washington GM Bruce Allen, whom he referred to as “Mr. Editor,” so that he could look it over before Schefter reporting it.
In October Schefter suffered a journalistic setback that saw him make two half-assed apology attempts for his indefensible reporting of the Dalvin Cook lawsuit. Schefter appeared to have carried water for a person about to be publicly outed over domestic abuse charges and understandably looked terrible for it.
We’ll see how long the tweet makes it and if there’s any kind of clarification incoming from him or ESPN. Regardless, the fact that Schefter continues to step on rakes like these on a consistent basis would seemingly be cause for concern for any employer, but it doesn’t seem to have had much impact as of yet. We know that Schefter remains a hot commodity in the breaking news world and has plenty of suitors lined up if the day ever comes that he’s no longer with ESPN, but for all the news coverage he generates, there’s an unforced cost that comes with it and it doesn’t really feel like that’s going to be fixed anytime soon.
UPDATE (6:57 p.m.): Schefter threaded a response to the initial tweet with further context.
“This was a poorly worded tweet that deserves a proper response,” wrote Schefter. “It was intended to provide insight into the strategy of Watson’s legal team from its POV. I should have been clearer. As legal experts have explained, a lack of an indictment alone does not mean someone is innocent.”
This was a poorly worded tweet that deserves a proper response. It was intended to provide insight into the strategy of Watson’s legal team from its POV. I should have been clearer. As legal experts have explained, a lack of an indictment alone does not mean someone is innocent.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 11, 2022