Friday, January 16, 2009

ESPN vs. Al Davis

The latest in the continuing spat between Raiders owner Al Davis and ESPN's chief NFL correspondent Chris Mortensen is that Mortensen has apologized for declining to ask the Raiders to comment on a January 4th story he was about to run, saying that Davis&Company was negotiating to sell a minority interest in the Raiders to a billionaire investor who wanted to eventually move the team to Los Angeles.  The Raiders denied the story, and noted that Mortensen hadn't even bothered to ask whether the report was true, before running the piece. Mortensen later said he had decided to no longer run stories by the Raiders for comment, because they have a history of denying stories that are eventually proven to be true.  And he said the Raiders had "lost the privilege" of having him check with the team beforehand.

When an ESPN ombudsman looked into Mortensen's comments, at the request of the Oakland Tribune's Jerry McDonald, Mortensen apologized on both counts--for not asking the Raiders for comment prior to the publication of the January 4th story, and for saying the Raiders had lost the privilege of hearing from him beforehand.  

When the Tribune ran a McDonald story this week on Mortensen's apology, a close friend of mine e-mailed me and said in the subject line of the e-mail that Mortensen was a "crappy journalist."

I respectfully disagree.  Chris Mortensen is an excellent journalist who did a crappy thing.  He let his own bitter disgust with Al Davis and the Raiders cloud his professional judgement on what he (and every reporter) should do before running a story--give the subject of the story an opportunity to respond.  Remember, Mortensen is a reporter, not a columnist.  His integrity and credibility as a reporter is compromised if he doesn't fact-check, and in the January 4th story in question, he admits he didn't.  

At the same time, everyone in the business of reporting knows that Raiders management can not be trusted for a second when asked to comment on a pending story.  It's common knowledge.  And it's apparent that while Mortensen shares the same frustration with this reality that the rest of us feel, the reason he made such a mistake in judgement--or did such a crappy thing, if you will--is because he's understandably still stinging from an unprovoked and irrational attack on his character perpetuated by Mr. Davis himself. Remember, it was Big Al who called Mortensen a "professional liar" during that embarrassing and rambling press conference announcing the dismissal of Lane Kiffin as head coach.  Certainly, if there's a professional liar in this case, it's Al Davis, and by professional association, anyone who has the unfortunate responsibility of speaking on his behalf.  

And while we're on the subject of the NFL, I would like to take this opportunity to agree 100% with my esteemed colleague Stan Bunger, in stating my unequivocal opposition to the current NFL rules governing overtime periods.  It is outrageous, totally unfair, and completely illogical for an NFL playoff berth to be decided by a coin flip.  Which is, essentially, what happened in San Diego on the final night of the just-concluded season.  The Chargers and Colts went into OT, you might recall, the Chargers won the coin-flip and drove for the winning touchdown.  The Colts never got the ball.  And Peyton Manning said afterward that when the Colts lost the coin-flip, he assumed the game was over, that he'd never get a chance to run another play.  He was right.  

Detractors to Stan's and my position (John Madden included) say the Colts had a chance to stop the Chargers, but that their defense failed to do its job, and that's why the Chargers won.  True enough, but then why not give the Colts an opportunity to score a touchdown, and see if the Chargers defense can stop them?  The fact is that more than a third of the games that go into overtime are won on the first drive by the team that wins the coin toss.  When one analyzes the amount of money, blood, sweat and tears that is spent at each and every game, not to mention an entire season, the fact that the NFL allows games--including the Super Bowl--to be so heavily influenced by something as arbitrary as a coin toss is beyond belief.  

Like Stan, I am not recommending an adoption of the collegiate rule, which gives both teams the ball starting at the opponent's 25-yard line.  That's absurd.  Let's bring special teams into the equation.  Have teams kick off.  Allow teams to punt, when necessary.  See if one team can drive down for a go-ahead touchdown or field goal.  If so, then see if the other team can match the score, and extend the game, or win the game by scoring more.  In other words, beginning with the second drive of the OT (when both teams have had a chance to score on offense), then the first team that goes ahead wins the game.  

Thus, taking the Chargers-Colts game for example, if the Chargers won the overtime coin toss and drove down for a touchdown and a PAT, then the Colts would get a chance to do the same. If they got the TD, then they could extend the OT by kicking the PAT, or they could go for the win with a two-point conversion.  If they tied the game, they'd kick off back to the Chargers, and at that point the next team to score would be the winner.  I predict that such a rule change--or something similar--will be adopted by the NFL in the not-too-distant future.  And shortly after that, once he's had a chance to see it in action, I think even John Madden will agree it's for the better.  


Marc from Alameda said...


While I must agree that the Raiders apear to be a very difficult organization to work with, especially from a journalistic perspective, I still maintain the position that Mortensen seriously compromised his reputation/ethics by not checking with the Raiders. Even if they are disfunctional, difficult, and dillusional, it is a journalist's responsibility to do all the necessary due dilligence. Nice piece. Keep'm coming! How about a story on the poor and hidden process for NFL HOF selection. Still no Ray Guy? Egads.

Anonymous said...

there is a statue up of franco harris immortalizing the Immaculate Reception, so i'd be interested in hearing if madden wants to blow that up like three rivers...

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