#BruceFreed: Bruce Feldman suspension (or was it?) lifted by ESPN after impressive groundswell of support and outrage from fellow journalists

By now, most sports fans have at least gotten wind of the suspension (or was it?) of ESPN college football reporter Bruce Feldman and the outraged #FreeBruce movement that immediately ensued.

As first reported on Sports by Brooks on Thursday, Feldman was suspended indefinitely by the Worldwide Leader for his work on the recently released book, Swing Your Sword, by former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.

The same report, as well as a subsequent radio interview with Leach, calls out the fact that Feldman sought and received ESPN’s approval before aiding in the compilation of information for Leach’s book.  At no time after the book’s release did Feldman promote it; and while ESPN has offered no formal statement (until about an hour ago), his participation in the book is the apparent cause of this suspension.

bruce-feldman-suspensionMatt Hinton of the Dr. Saturday blog on Yahoo also had an interesting post on the subject, complete with a few excerpts from the book.

When looking at the situation in its entirety, a few things stand out:

1. The sheer volume of support from fellow journalists is overwhelming.

Countless members of the media have taken to Twitter with anything from kind words to encouraging people to cancel their ESPN Insider subscriptions.  In any line of work, true respect and accomplishment are best measured through the eyes of your peers and contemporaries.  Using that alone as a barometer tells you everything you need to know about Feldman.  The fact that he’s a tremendous writer is just icing on the cake.

2. The easy path here is to somehow tie this back to ESPN Analyst Craig James, whose personal (yet professionally constructed) case against Leach’s handling of his son Adam ultimately led to Leach’s firing.

Like any of these coach-athlete disputes, each party has their own side to the story, although in this particular case, James’ use of his position and unique opportunity to take to the airwaves was questionable at best.  Regardless, the fact that many people don’t think much of Craig James as an analyst or dislike the way he handled this scenario aren’t the issue here.

The issue is that ESPN, in an apparent attempt to back the reporting of Joe Schad and the behavior of James throughout this whole scenario, has chosen to essentially ignore the track record that Feldman has compiled over years as a talented and well-respected journalist.  Is the potential of losing one of the best in his sport and/or losing customers worth it just to save face based on how the incident was handled?  So far, the answer is yes.

3. There has been some speculation that ESPN will assert their motivation for the suspension was Leach’s ongoing lawsuit against the network.  Let’s assume for a second that’s true, which I suppose it could be.  Then why would you not release a statement to that effect as opposed to the always helpful “No comment?”

4. Craig James tweeted earlier today that he is a “respected colleague & friend of Feldman since early 90’s.  Surprised!”  I doubt many people will even believe this, but even if it’s true, I have no clue what good James thought would come of this.

5. I realize that some people delight in railing against ESPN at every opportunity, but for many people currently atop a soapbox (particularly those who aren’t members of the media), this reeks of hypocrisy.

If ESPN came and asked most sports fans to work there, people who be halfway down the road to Bristol by the end of the day.  I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t consider it myself.  It’s fun to pile on and join in the angry mob, but do that based on your principles of how to treat people with respect and decency, not because it’s fun to hate the bully on the block.  Would the same people be outraged if Feldman worked for a local newspaper or the Big Ten Network?  Would it bother them as much to hear about the same type of thing happening in another industry?  Because I have news for you, it does.

6. Earlier in the week, The Big Lead ran a post calling into question the credibility of Mike Barnicle, whose had a piece published on ESPN’s Grantland this week.

In short, the article spelled out multiple instances where Barnicle had either fabricated information in prior stories or plagiarized the work of others with no attribution whatsoever. The contrast between these two seemingly unrelated stories is apparent. Based on their actions, ESPN has condoned the breaking of two of the fundamental rules of journalism by allowing Barnicle to contribute content to their site.  Yet Feldman, who allegedly had permission to participate in Leach’s book and owns a pristine reputation in the industry, has been (was) suspended.  The only common thread is that ESPN chose to ignore the track records of both Feldman and Barnicle when making these decisions.

Based on the tremendous groundswell of support from the media alone, this story will continue to evolve in the coming days.  Many of the outraged will find their way back to ESPN online or on TV, and you can rest assured that Feldman will end up writing somewhere.  You can’t keep the biggest or the best down for long.

Update: Since I first sent this article to Jerod for posting, ESPN has released a statement according to The Big Lead.

As any rational person would point out, the fact that ESPN didn’t respond to this immediately makes their latest assertion a little tough to believe. Sports by Brooks has already fired back via Twitter that “ESPN is ONE THOUSAND PERCENT LYING about Feldman not being suspended,” so this is by no means the end of this story.

Ultimately people will believe what they want to believe. In the end, Feldman is back on the job, which is only good news for fans anxious for college football to start (like me). The other outcome, which was certainly unintended on ESPN’s part, is that Leach’s book just received a mountain of extra publicity. Given some of the excerpts I have seen, this incident won’t be the last time the Worldwide Leader is left to defend itself related to Mike Leach.

About the Author

Andy Bottoms

While Andy was born and raised in Indiana, he would like to point out that he grew up shooting hoops in his driveway and not against the side of a barn like you see in all the March Madness promos or in the middle of a field like Jimmy Chitwood. Andy ranks among the top bracketologists according to the Bracket Matrix and has provided his projections to Fox Sports for the past three seasons. When not compiling excuses for missing work during the NCAA Tournament, Andy enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters. He is a proud IU graduate and co-hosts The Assembly Call postgame show following every IU game. Twitter: @AndyBottoms