When news broke of Kevin Durant reportedly giving the Brooklyn Nets an ultimatum, it was the biggest story across the sports world. Well, on almost every outlet, at least.
The Worldwide Leader in Sports, ESPN, had little-to-no coverage of the superstar’s reported ultimatum to Nets owner Joe Tsai to either trade him or fire head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks. That was until Tsai spoke about the situation in the form of a tweet.
This caused some confusion in the sports media world.
Longtime NBA insider Ethan Strauss, who previously worked for ESPN as a Warriors reporter, told Alex Reimer of Audacy’s “Sports Media Mayhem” podcast about the nature of the beast that is sports media.
“It does have shades of the parasite taking over the host, doesn’t it. You’re supposed to have these good dynamics with your sources so you can get the big story. You don’t then ignore the big story because you’ve got a good dynamic with your sources. And it, to me, reveals maybe a fundamental misunderstanding of what sports fans what and are into,” Strauss said (10:38 in player above).
ESPN – and sports media in general – has seen a shift over the years given the rise of social media. While many pride themselves on being the first to report something – which is important – that may not necessarily be what fans want to see.
“Yes, there’s this competition to be the person who beats a press release on Twitter by a few minutes and to tweet the news of something out first, but that’s not actually drawing people into the sport and making them enjoy the sport more,” Strauss continued. “They want commentary on what’s going on and they often want opinion, they want analysis. And the issue with ESPN’s model currently is that they are promoting breaking the news first to the detriment of those other things that people actually want.”
Strauss then broke down exactly why it’s to the detriment of what most fans actually want.
“In order to break the news first you often need the say or so the help from agents or from GMs or from the league office. Now, in order to do that you don’t want to ruffle any feathers, so people get into this neurotic state in the company of ‘Oh my God, we can’t step on this person’s toes. We can’t step on that person’s toes,’” Strauss said.
Strauss no longer works for ESPN so he doesn’t know exactly what happened, but he shared some of what he saw during his time there.
“I actually don’t know whether it was dictated by Woj that you can’t touch this story because of Sean Marks,” Strauss said. “But what I do know is that Woj has jumped on people, jumped down their throats within the company, when they say things that his sources don’t want said.
“So perhaps at a certain point the institution is paralyzed because they have a sense that certain sources are the sources that you don’t really mess with and they know that the source is involved.”
Woj could have handed down a message, or he could’ve simply had his phone off. Whatever the case may be, it’s not a good working situation for ESPN.
“They’re just all scared,” said Straus. “And I don’t think that is a good emotional space to be operating out of, to be operating out of fear, when you’re the biggest company with the biggest megaphone.”
While Stephen A. Smith is a polarizing figure in the sports world, most people can agree on one thing: he speaks his mind no matter what. Strauss argued that ESPN may need to lean into that more as a whole.
“I think maybe they should take a lesson from that and adopt more of Stephen A. Smith’s mentality. Not completely,” Strauss laughed, “But just the mentality of ‘I’m going to talk about whoever if they’re in the news and they’re gonna be talked about.’ And not the mentality of ‘Oh my God, we have to break a story first on Twitter. We can’t offend such and such.’ Because then you’re subject to this ludicrousness of not talking about the biggest story in sports because of some GM that most people, frankly, have never heard of.”