By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The relationship between ESPN and fans of the New England Patriots has been a bit dicey over the past few years — and with good reason.
The disdain felt by fans toward the network stems largely from not only Chris Mortensen’s incorrect report that turned “DeflateGate” into a national hysteria but also by the network’s refusal to remove or correct the report from existence for several months. There’s also more: an 11,000-word story full of cheating accusations from 90 unnamed sources; the spreading of a false story of the Patriots filming the Rams walkthrough, followed by an apology seen by very few viewers on a late-night airing of “SportsCenter”; an air of antagonism from the public editor (who’s an unabashed Jets fan), Dan Le Batard and Max Kellerman; shady speculation on Chandler Jones by Cris Carter; and a possible Spygate jab in the middle of a Patriots game on Monday Night Football (prior to which then-ESPN analyst Ray Lewis delivered a pump-up speech to the Patriots’ opponent). Just to name a few.
As a result, fans in this region have not held the continent’s largest sports network in the highest regard. One Patriots fan made headlines by refusing to let ESPN use his photo of Bill Belichick, just like another Patriots fan refused to let the network use his video of Brady working out during his suspension.
All of that is to say … there’s a history.
It was interesting, then, to hear ESPN’s Jim Trotter — a longtime NFL writer who was a guest on the podcast of Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch — speak about Roger Goodell and the NFL. Trotter sounded a whole lot like folks around here.
“Ultimately, I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy in the NFL,” Trotter said when asked about his coverage of the NFL. “So for me, one of the things I’ve tried to do is just focus on exposing some of that and just being honest about it. I’ve had these conversations with the league … It’s funny, because people think that I don’t like Roger Goodell. And I’ve said to them, I don’t know Roger Goodell. I would never say I don’t like him. What I don’t like is hypocrisy and people who want to insult your intelligence, and I think that too often that’s what the league does with the public. And I think if the league just owned up to certain things, we might not like it, but we’d at least respect the honesty.”
Just one example of Goodell’s hypocrisy came when the commissioner stated two years ago at his Super Bowl press conference that he is “available to the media almost every day of my job.”
“[My access to Roger Goodell] is not good,” Trotter explained. “You talk about insulting people’s intelligence, when he gets up at his state of the league address and says that he’s available to the media almost daily … I can’t tell you how many requests I’ve put in for Roger and not [been] allowed to interview him. I’ve heard that from other colleagues. So no, there’s not a lot [of access]. Really the only time that you get him is at the state of the league address or at the league meetings or something along those lines.
“But obviously, if it’s a particularly sensitive topic, you’re not going to get him at all,” Trotter added of Goodell. “Whether it’s domestic violence, whether it’s the drug policy, whether or not it’s his relationship with the union and the players association, those sorts of things if you place a call to him — at least I can speak personally, I won’t speak for anyone else — you don’t get a call back.”
Another problem, according to Trotter, is a lack of transparency from Goodell and the NFL executive office.
“There are times when the players are disciplined, obviously we know about that. And if owners are disciplined at times, we don’t always know about it,” Trotter said. “When you have a personal conduct policy and you tell us beforehand that owners and team executives are going to be held to a higher standard, and in black and white in that policy it says you are subject to discipline for all these various things including fraud, and yet we’ve had two ownership groups who have been involved with fraud cases. One was convicted, and that’s the Wilf family [in Minnesota], and one paid a $92 million fine to settle the fraud case, and that’s Jimmy Haslam with Cleveland. And yet neither of those owners were publicly disciplined, and yet player have been disciplined for the most minute of things.
Trotter added: “How can you hold yourself up and say that you’re being consistent and you’re applying the policy evenhandedly when you have things like that that go on?”
Trotter has covered the NFL since the late ’80s, for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Sports Illustrated and now, ESPN. He’s also the president of the Pro Football Writers Association Of America. So his words carry a bit of weight in the football world.
The podcast was interesting and covered many different topics, including discussion about the voting process for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and why he did not vote for former commissioner Paul Tagliabue. But the comments on Goodell and the league proved to be particularly relatable and interesting to fans in New England.