Has ESPN Turned Into the TMZ of Sports?

Since 1979, ESPN has been the premiere source for sports information, highlights, games and opinions of some the greatest athletes we have ever seen play their respective sports. It seems, however, that over the past decade they have slowly been turning into a centerpiece of controversy, intrusion and just another outlet for trash reporting. Have they become just another tabloid, willing to sell its soul for another piece of dirt regarding an athlete's personal life?

I work for a company called OpiaTalk. We help retailers make the most of their organic traffic -- our social commerce widget turns browsers into buyers, hyper-converting and driving opted-in leads at 4-5x industry average. To be honest, ESPN is a prime candidate for us, both the network itself as well as the sports leagues they represent and the customers who patronize said leagues. But do I want to generate more revenue, leads and customers for ESPN? Right now, I don't. Here's why:

I am in no way trying to protect the men and women from the sports world who commit heinous and violent crimes. I believe ESPN has the responsibility to report on the issues surrounding our favorite sports, and sometimes, unfortunately, those happen to be moral and legal issues. However, it is not ESPN's responsibility to uncover facts and break stories that will potentially lead to the demise of someone's livelihood and public persona. In my opinion, ESPN needs to leave such underhanded 'investigation' to outlets like TMZ, whose entire existence is based on exploiting the weaknesses of public figures.

My biggest issue is that ESPN currently seems to have a "witch hunt" mentality. Since it is freshest in our minds, let's look at the Ray Rice controversy. What he did was disgusting and atrocious -- there is no debating that, and that's not what this is about.

This is about the 'reporting' that ESPN did (and continues to do) on the atrocity.

My first issue is the insensitivity that ESPN demonstrated by repeatedly showing the inside-the-elevator video, with no respect for the victim, nor any other victim of domestic violence. We saw it once, and you warned us it was graphic, but that is where integrity was thrown out of the window. It seemed like ESPN was hitting repeat on the video while former Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets Head Coach, Herm Edwards gave us his interpretation of what was unfolding. I had to watch as one ESPN investigative sports journalists showed and broke down the video in SLOW MOTION from the point of outside the elevator until the end of the video. It's unbelievable and disrespectful to the audience that they believed this was acceptable.

My second issue is their relentless pursuit to determine who saw the second video, who didn't, and whose reputation was at risk. It seemed like they wanted to see who they could destroy, and that's not their job. It's pathetic that the same network that sensationalizes the NFL on Sundays, blasts its existence and processes Monday-Saturday. ESPN: If you're going to spend resources on this issue, how about doing some actual reporting and pressuring the NFL to do something about its inadequate domestic violence policies? I don't care who's responsible for not pursuing the second tape -- I want to know how ESPN is going to address the issue of domestic violence.

Finally, here is where ESPN lost all credibility in my eyes. In their 'investigatory' article trying to uncover some sort of damning evidence in order to try to get someone from either the Baltimore Ravens or the NFL fired, they 'uncovered' text messages from Steve Bisciotti to Ray Rice. They claim these were received hours after Rice was released by the Ravens, and initiated from Steve Bisciotti. Here are the texts:

Steve Bisciotti: Hey Ray, just want to let you know, we loved you as a player, it was great having you here. Hopefully all these things are going to die down. I wish the best for you and Janay.
Steve Bisciotti: When you're done with football, I'd like you to know you have a job waiting for you with the Ravens helping young guys getting acclimated to the league.

In response to this, Steve Bisciotti released the actual transcript of the texts, which he claims is verbatim:

Ray Rice: I understand the decision but I am thankful for what you have done for me and my family. Me and my wife will continue to work on us and being better but I just wanted to say thank you for giving me a chance
Steve Bisciotti: I'm sorry we had to do this. I still love you and believe that you will be a great husband and father. If you ever need to talk just call.
Steve Bisciotti: I just spent two hours talking to Ozzie. It was all about you. We love you and we will always figure out a way to keep you in our lives. When you are done with football, I will hire you to help me raise Great young men. I still love you!!!
Ray Rice: I know it's a rough time for all of us. I love all of you and that will never change for life!
Steve Bisciotti: I will help you make it a great life indeed. I give you my WORD.

Not only was the conversation initiated by Rice, but the text messages reported by ESPN were taken completely out of context and pieced together to benefit the story. But what benefit are they providing to us, the sports enthusiasts, by manipulating evidence to contribute to a man's demise? In this piece, they never even mentioned the fact that the Baltimore Ravens donated $600,000 to the House of Ruth and formed a three-year partnership to help victims of domestic violence. They also neglected to mention that the NFL just hired four female advisors to shape their new domestic violence policies, leaving it a brief passing scroll on the "Bottom Line." ESPN doesn't even seem to be searching for any of the positives that have come to this story, they seem to only want to dig for the negative.

This report led ESPN to proclaim that Rice believed he was being bribed by Bisciotti. Whether or not a bribe was involved is a conversation for another day. But wasn't Rice's name dragged through the mud by ESPN just a few days ago? How is he now, according to them, a credible source claiming he was being bribed by an owner with a proven track record of good deeds and love from players and staff? Answer: It's a feeble and lazy attempt to generate ratings at the expense of people's jobs and livelihoods.

On a personal level, I come to ESPN because I want to know who is going to win the AFC North, which teams are going to make the World Series in the National and American Leagues, and to catch up on my daily sports news. On a professional level, I'd love to work with them if the respect I used to have for them was reinstated. I want to know ESPN stakeholders actually care about the truth and care about the athletes, teams, coaches and staff about whom they report.

I believe this used to be the case, and could be again.