ESPN digresses from sports coverage to tabloid journalism

The well-known channel for sports analysis indulges in gossip and baseless rumors


Anotification from ESPN pops up on your phone’s lock screen, and the headline confuses you. It reads: “Kim Kardashian and Kendall Jenner arrive at U.S. Open for Serena Williams-Venus Williams quarterfinal match.”

ESPN has long been a trusted source for individuals who seek detailed and relevant sports news. But as of recently, ESPN seems to be lacking integrity by pandering to the latest gossip and baseless rumors.

ESPN — a joint venture between the Walt Disney Company and the Hearst Corporation — can be reached by about 90 million household televisions in the United States. And of course, like any good $40 billion company, the network is looking to expand the number of households it reaches. Being the Disney-owned network it is, the means by which it seeks to maintain its dominance in sports broadcasting channels has turned more to the “E” in ESPN.

American cable is notoriously expensive for what it is, and ESPN is one of the biggest reasons for this. On average, an American household with cable pays $90 a month, and almost half of that goes to the sports channels that come with most services. Sports in the United States mean money, and ESPN has turned towards tabloid journalism to get a bigger slice of the pie. In a time when people spend the majority of their free time looking at their phones, eye-grabbing headlines and flashy announcements are bound to bring the most views and subscribers.

TMZ-style reporting brings more money, but often at the cost of journalistic integrity.  The copious amount of reporting on gossip about athletes degrades the show. ESPN calls itself “the worldwide leader in sports,” but has become increasingly less deserving of such a title.

ESPN has long been criticized for focusing on certain players and teams, sometimes even displaying a blatant bias towards them.

Recently, those getting the spotlight from ESPN include Lebron James, Stephen Curry and Tom Brady, but the network has also chosen to focus on certain issues of questionable importance, such as Deflategate and the Ronda Rousey-Floyd Mayweather Jr. feud. According to Le Anne Schreiber, the network’s former ombudsman, the industry is driven by ratings.

But has the “give the people what they want strategy” ever been journalistically correct? ESPN has made a variety of choices that step far from the realm of sports news, such as the memorable debate between Richard Sherman and Skip Bayless that culminated in the “I am better at you than life” remark.

What began as an appearance by the Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback on ESPN’s “First Take” quickly spiraled downwards into a debate that displayed Sherman’s outspoken personality as well as Bayless’ tendency for bold statements.

Commentators such as Skip Bayless and his co-anchor Stephen A. Smith produce loud conversation, intrepid statements, and a general uproar in sports news.

But the reason shows like “First Take” and “Pardon the Interruption” attract so many viewers is because, after all, people watch television for easy entertainment. And to many, a heated debate is sometimes more eye-catching than rational analysis of sports news, so ESPN carries on, reaping in the earnings that ultimately end up in the hands of Disney executives.