During Monday Night Football ESPN stopped calling a tight game in the fourth quarter between the Redskins and the Eagles to allow Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland to address the Redskins signing of Reuben Foster. Foster, who was released by the San Francisco 49ers and has been accused of domestic assault for a second time in six months, was claimed on waivers by the Redskins last week and the trio felt compelled to address the issue during the broadcast.
The discussion which felt awkward, stilted and unnatural, potentially because it came as the Eagles intercepted a pass and the crowd was going wild in the background, didn’t break any new ground. Both Witten and McFarland said they believed the Redskins shouldn’t have signed Foster and that they opposed men beating women.
Which was a big relief.
Because before they came out against men beating women I was totally unsure whether Tessitore, Witten and McFarland were opposed to men beating women.
In particular Witten said this when Tessitore asked him whether the Redskins should have signed Foster: “100% no. I think the Washington Redskins used horrendous judgment in claiming this guy. And I understand that it’s an ongoing investigation. But, my family’s been affected by domestic violence. I understand the anguish that it causes. Young players just have to understand there is no tolerance for putting your hands on a woman.”
The discussion immediately provoked charges of hypocrisy against Witten because the former Dallas Cowboy star had played alongside Greg Hardy, who was signed by Dallas despite Hardy’s own past domestic violence issues. Here’s what Witten said then as a player when the Cowboys brought in Hardy:
“I think more than anything I think everybody knows (I’m against) domestic violence,” Witten said. “That’s unwavering. That’s something that I lived, my family lived. But that guy is a teammate of mine, so I think you have to look at it from that standpoint. As coach (Jason) Garrett says, it’s our job to invite those guys in and create a standard of how we do things. I think he’s done a great job since he’s been here. It’s not my job to decide who comes in. I’m a tight end. But I’ve been really pleased how he’s approached it and how he goes to work and what kind of teammate he’s been. The day he got suspended, the next day he’s in there working out, so I think that’s kind of the mentality he has, what kind of work ethic (he has) and what he’s trying to prove in Dallas.” […]
If ESPN knew Witten was going to say that he opposed the Redskins signing Foster — which they 100% did, there is no way this topic came up without substantial planning and discussion — then the network also had an obligation to ask why his opinion on Foster was different than his opinion had been on Hardy. That’s especially the case when the story about Witten’s opinion on Hardy is linked on ESPN’s own website.
I mean this is just basic, elemental research work for a television program that has dozens of production assistants, producers, and technical support. Furthermore, look at the video here, they intentionally pulled out of the game and went straight to the broadcast booth for Witten’s opinion.
This was a programmed, produced and planned segment that had probably been rehearsed several times before to ensure that Witten and McFarland weren’t blindsided by a tough social issue in the middle of a football game.
So in my opinion there’s no way ESPN missed this conflict between Witten’s opinion on Foster and Hardy. (If they did this is the most incompetent television broadcast of all time.) You absolutely, positively don’t want your top NFL analyst to look like a hypocrite on an issue this serious.
Yet no one on the broadcast asked Witten anything about playing with Hardy. This was unfortunate because if they had Witten could have expounded on the challenges that come with being a player on a team, who might disagree with a team’s decision, but also has a contractual obligation to continue his job performance even if he disagrees with a team decision, with the difference on having an opinion once you leave a team.
That’s a perfectly natural and nuanced discussion which could have intelligently examined the complexities of an issue like this.
After all, do you agree with every decision your boss makes at work?
Of course not.
Do you agree with every personal decision your co-workers have made in their lives away from work?
Of course not.
That’s an intelligent conversation worth having.
I believe once ESPN decided to address this topic during the middle of the game broadcast they had an obligation and responsibility to have a full discussion on this issue.
Yet they didn’t.
No one mentioned Greg Hardy at all?
Why not? I’ll get to my theory in a minute.
The next day Witten addressed the difference between Hardy and Foster on Twitter, but by then the story had mostly come and gone and Witten had been hung out to dry by his employer. That’s unfortunate because Witten has dealt with domestic violence issues in his own life and has been one of the most steadfast combatants of the issue through his Score Foundation, which you can read and support here.
In fact, Witten, a genuinely good dude, might be the most outspoken advocate against domestic violence in the entire NFL. If anything, ESPN should have given him a chance to expound on his foundation and the difference he’s tried to make in his own life.
But they didn’t do that at all.
Here’s what Witten said on Twitter yesterday.
Thanks for your opinion, Robert. Privately, I let my opinion be known and agreed to disagree. That day after practice I chose not to be divisive. Prob went too far. On Monday with platform and no longer member of a team,I spoke my mind. Would love your support w/
SCORE Foundation https://t.co/0ipiGwX1Hi
— Jason Witten (@JasonWitten) December 5, 2018
Now we can certainly debate whether the best place to have a nuanced and thoughtful discussion about the challenges of domestic violence is during the fourth quarter of a competitive football game — I happen to think it’s a bad fit — but once ESPN made the decision to have Witten speak on the issue, they had an obligation, I believe, to actually let him speak on the issue and not duck the fact that his comments on air were substantially different than than comments he’d made about Hardy just a couple of years ago.
So why didn’t they do that?
I think it’s simple — because ESPN is promoting Greg Hardy as part of its new deal with the UFC.
Yep, the same Greg Hardy that the Dallas Cowboys signed despite his domestic violence issues is currently being promoted as a reason for ESPN customers to sign up for ESPN+.
Hell, it’s a top story on ESPN.com right now.
The headline in big bold letters is:
Former NFL player Greg Hardy to debut with UFC on Jan. 19 in Brooklyn
Included in that article, which finally discusses Hardy’s past NFL issues in the seventh paragraph, is a handy detail on why ESPN might not have brought up Hardy on their most watched television program Monday night: “The Jan. 19 UFC Fight Night will mark the first live event of a five-year deal between the UFC and ESPN.”
So ESPN has no issues at all with ripping the Washington Redskins for signing Reuben Foster, a man accused of domestic violence, but the network itself is fine with promoting Greg Hardy, a man who was found guilty of domestic violence — the charges were later vacated when the alleged victim didn’t appear in court — in an actual event where he’s fighting on their network? (To be fair, at least this time Hardy is fighting a man).
Isn’t ESPN behaving in a pretty similar fashion to the Washington Redskins? They’re taking a man with domestic violence in his past and trying to make money off of him. That’s especially the case because ESPN is putting many of the UFC events on ESPN+, which means ESPN is directly profiting off UFC fans signing up for their over the the top digital network. The more popular Hardy, and other UFC stars are, the more money ESPN makes on ESPN+.
Now let me be clear, I believe that if you aren’t in prison you should be able to make a living in sports or any other endeavor in this country. I believe in redemption and I believe in forgiveness and I believe in a man or woman’s ability to atone for past mistakes. I don’t have a personal problem with what the Redskins, the UFC or ESPN are doing.
But isn’t this the height of hypocrisy for ESPN?
On Monday night you rip the Redskins to high heaven for employing a domestic abuser on your most watched program of the week and then on Wednesday you ask sports fans to tune in an watch a former NFL domestic abuser — while signing up for ESPN+ too — fight on your network?
What’s more this isn’t just any event, it’s the very FIRST event you’ve ever done with the UFC and your own website is using Hardy’s status as a former NFL player to draw attention to that fight and bring more fans to view the event.
And don’t you think it’s awfully convenient that ESPN didn’t bring up Greg Hardy with Jason Witten at all on their broadcast despite the fact that it’s incredibly relevant to the discussion?
Then two days later they announce Hardy is one of the top draws for the very first event they’re doing with the UFC?
There’s no way this was an accident, ESPN knew exactly what they were doing.
They hung Jason Witten out to dry in the hopes that no one would notice their own blatant hypocrisy on this issue. They knew they’d get ripped if they didn’t address the Foster signing by the Redskins, but they also knew they’d open themselves up to criticism if they discussed Greg Hardy and then announced him as a top draw in their brand new deal with the UFC a couple of days later. So they let Witten be the media fall guy for being a hypocrite instead of their own network’s behavior.
It’s an incredible bait and switch, but it’s also really unfair to Jason Witten.
ESPN’s the true hypocrite here, not him.
Unfortunately, most won’t notice that at all.