Bruce Feldman's suspension at ESPN, which was never actually a suspension despite being a suspension, somehow dragged on for more than a month, with Feldman's last ESPN-sanctioned tweet coming on July 13. Thursday, Feldman uttered, announcing he's moved on to CBS Sports. He then went on the Dan Patrick Show to talk about the Mike Leach book that got him suspended in the first place due to its unflattering (accurate) portrayal of ESPN golden boy Craig James.
Which is the perfect setting, of course. Patrick is a fellow former ESPNer who's had plenty of things to say about his ex-employer. Feldman teed off on ESPN and James, saying he lost faith in his longtime bosses after being the first ESPN.com hire 17 years ago.
ESPN approved me doing the book with Mike Leach. They had benefited from my access, asked me to come on SportsCenter the day Leach was fired. I said, "I want to be clear, you identify me as writing a book with Mike Leach, not about Mike Leach."
They said yes and I did several SportsCenter hits that day. They asked for my help to set up a Leach interview after he had been fired. I knew that Leach was gonna sue them, in the spring of 2010, at that point he'd gotten the documentation and they had under-oath depositions with Craig James, which are all in the back of the book for the readers to see. It's record.
When I had went to my bosses at ESPN Magazine, up the food chain, they were clear on it. They knew what was gonna be in the book. They knew there was gonna be a lawsuit. Six months before the book went to print, I talked to ESPN's lawyers. So when it came out in mid-July and Norby and Vince or whoever got really angry, they shouldn't have been surprised.
But what were they angry about?
I don't know. "We gotta figure out what to do about this." What's the "this?" You guys approved the book, you were told about the lawsuit, you were told about everything.
I should point out Norby Williamson runs SportsCenter, Vince Doria is the news director at the mothership. That meeting ... is it just a coincidence, or did you actually get suspended for being a part of this book?
I was told I couldn't tweet, don't do any radio, don't blog, the SEC Media event was the following week, which I'd already registered for and booked my travel to Alabama, was told you cannot go to that ... The day after the conference call, when ESPN put out that "He didn't get suspended, but he's resuming his duties" press release, that day, the editor-in-chief of ESPN Magazine Chad Millman put out even more restrictions on me.
They also put out a do-not-book notice to their talent produces. They basically stopped me from being able to do my job.
Did you consider yourself suspended?
Yeah, because I was basically in complete limbo. Covering the SEC is a big part of the job. The fact that they said a week later I still couldn't do that. I had a chat every Friday, and I was told I couldn't do that. The stipulations at ESPN Magazine added on top of that, there were so many things.
And if you think about it, ESPN can play semantics with their PR people, but a couple of weeks before I had that conference call, Gary Belsky, who was the editor-in-chief and is stil with the company reached out to me, and said, "Look, we want to extend you for another three years."
I brought that up on the conference call, and Vince Doria, he got all bent out of shape, and the word he used was "credibility." He said I had credibility issues. I'm going, wait a minute, you guys put Craig James on the air. You're talking about my credibility?
A week later, I'm in Bristol and the three-year extension and raise became a one-year deal with no raise. Something changed. There was some kind of disciplinary action.
Did they want you to quit?
I think they did, yeah. Why else would they do that? I've been in the company 17 years. I was literally the first hire on ESPN.com. I was there when there were two PCs in the whole place. They nominated a bunch of my stories for national magazine awards. I was behind a pay wall, and my Insider numbers had doubled, and I said to them, "What am I gonna show you in one year that I haven't shown you in the previous 17?"It's like ESPN ... if you're not a part of their agenda and you're a problem for them, you can't exist in that world. If you can't trust the epeople you work for you have a problem. That's why I'm so excited about going to CBS. I've spent time with these guys and seen what they're about, and I feel really good.Why did you quit?If you don't have any faith in the people who you work for because you've seen when their backs are against the wall and they are not truthful, that's a problem.Did you find ESPN's priority is journalism or business?It's business. I think everybody knows that. Whther it's the Longhorn Network or any of these other relationships. It's complicated. It's always been coplicated, but it's gotten significantly more so in the last few years. It's a huge company. No matter what came of this, it's still all about ratings and TV contracts.Your thoughts on Craig James?If he ran for office, I probably wouldn't vote for him. My feelings on him are probably not as favorable as the people who run ESPN.Do you think he lied to get Mike Leach fired?
Well he hired a PR firm, yeah, he did that. Under oath, he tried to say he never hired Spaeth Communications, and there's all kind of documentation in the book showing that he did. ESPN got stuck with it.
In what world is it a good idea to take as gospel the word of a PR firm hired by someone who happens to be in the middle of this investigation? Somebody should've taken a five steps back and said, you know what, we're gonna let CBS or Yahoo! or Sports Illustrated take the lead on this one.
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