ESPN Ombudsman Says Bruce Feldman Was Never Suspended, But Says ESPN Handled His Situation Poorly

By Jason McIntyre

Clearly, plenty of people are tired or confused or simply bored with this story. That’s understandable. For the eight of you still kind of interested … let’s tie a bow on this bad boy, shall we?

Bruce Feldman – who is more well-known for this kerfuffle than anything he’s ever written – got permission in 2007 to write a book with then-Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. When Leach was fired, Feldman spoke with one of his bosses, Gary Hoenig, who told him, “short of getting out of the book, you need to remove your name from the book and distance yourself from the book. I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? This could really harm your career at ESPN.’ ” Feldman, perhaps agreeing with Hoenig, went from being a co-author to an “editor.”

After Leach sued ESPN, Feldman didn’t circle back to ESPN, and none of the people at ESPN who knew about the book said anything to him. That’s a colossal brick on both ends.

(At a minimum, should Feldman have given his bosses a heads up a couple days before the excerpts dropped?)

That’s why, when the excerpts came out last week, Bristol suits were shocked at how the book exposed some pretty clear failures in journalism at ESPN (the Craig James/Joe Schad stuff that still is getting dusted under the rug). So Feldman was told to – and this is where it is semantics – cool out for a bit, which some (many?) took as “he was suspended.”

Kelly McBride, writing for Poynter, says repeatedly that Feldman was never suspended (as Sports by Brooks first reported) – “A suspension is a disciplinary action involving human resources, a record in your file and not being allowed onto the company premises for a period of time … Lying low and staying out of the public eye is different than being forced to stay home from work” – and his bosses at ESPN, Rob King and Chad Millman, essentially say that Feldman hasn’t tweeted because he’s paralyzed by nerves. Understandable. Will he show up at SEC media days this week?

I thought this paragraph by McBride summed up the debacle:

"Instead, this recent online fracas is a result of cascading decisions that were made with good intentions but without the proper attention to core values and loyalties. Had ESPN put its obligation to bring fans the best independently reported information first, everyone would have recognized that Feldman’s involvement in the book itself was a bad idea — a conflict of interest in the making. That first bad decision was compounded by additional conflicts that surfaced as ESPN reported on the controversy between Leach and a player who was also the son of a powerful ESPN commentator, material that ultimately became a chapter in the book. Feldman’s authorship of the book became untenable when Leach sued ESPN."

So, how long until ESPN decides that if you’re a reporter, you can’t write a book on someone you cover? [Ombudsman]