Brett McMurphy is in the middle of the biggest week of his professional career. The former ESPN college football reporter has grabbed headlines this week for his investigative report that lead to Ohio State placing head football coach Urban Meyer on paid administrative leave.
The whole story was reported for and published on McMurphy’s personal Facebook page. He is a guest on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast on The Athletic this week. The headline from their conversation has been McMurphy’s assertion that in 2018 you do not need the backing of a major media company to break a story.
“When I first got to ESPN five years ago I thought, man, I’m at ESPN, this is awesome, it’s unbelievable. Obviously it raised my profile nationally and all that stuff. But what I found out in the last 18 months is you can stay relevant on Facebook or Twitter if you’ve got good information…people are gonna find you. In a weird way, we don’t really need these giant media corporations because we can get our message out. I think you’re seeing this with a lot of athletes that, basically when they have any type of news, they just post it on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, instead of going the traditional route of calling up a writer and having them break the story.”
McMurphy also described the reasons why and situation that lead to him posting such a long and well-researched story to Facebook.
“I was part of the mass layoffs at ESPN last April and I had 18 months left on my contract. So we had non-compete clauses in our contracts. What that means in simple terms is if I wanted to go work for another company I was free to but by doing so ESPN was no longer required to pay me the remainder of my contract. So to get paid the remainder of my contract…I could not work for a third-party. However, I was able to tweet on my personal Twitter account. Also put information on my personal Facebook account because that was not a third party.”
“So when I got laid off, I had a decision to make. You know, I could sit on my couch and eat lime Tostitos for the next 18 months, which I did a lot of anyway, and not work and hope I get a job in 18 months or I can continue to try to report news, break news, via Twitter or Facebook, and try to stay relevant. So when my contract is up in August of 2018, then hopefully I’ll be more attractive to be hired somewhere else. So basically that’s what I did. I said I’m gonna bust my ass and I’m gonna try to keep working.”
“I just figured the way the industry was, if I didn’t stay relevant or try to stay relevant, any value I had to a future employer 18 months ago would diminish greatly if I wasn’t doing anything for the following 18 months. So I kinda worked while I wasn’t working, if you will, and tried to stay relevant, and here we are.”
The story about former Ohio State WR coach Zach Smith and the domestic violence accusations made by his ex-wife is not the first major story McMurphy has broken exclusively for his social media followers. He was also the first to report that Mississippi State had hired Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorehead as its new head coach, that Scott Frost was leaving Central Florida for Nebraska, and that the NCAA was considering adding three new bowl games for the 2020 season.
Deitsch also asked McMurphy if he considered going to ESPN with the Ohio State story in hopes that it would find a larger audience that way.
“That didn’t cross my mind because by doing that I’d be telling them what story I had and then that would be a mistake cause then they would pursue it. And secondly, that’s not something that they would get a quick answer out of. I’d have to go through their legal department…Honestly I didn’t really think about it.”
“I didn’t have any thoughts of trying to sell this story to anybody. Certainly, I wasn’t paid. I didn’t pay Courtney Smith to talk to me or anything like that. I just said I’m gonna report this story and see what I can find out. I never would have envisioned it would have reached this point. Ultimately it started out that I heard there were some domestic violence issues with Zach Smith in his times at Florida. I did a couple simple public record requests. Got the information and then it’s been a marble down a mountain since then.”
The interview is absolutely fascinating. You can hear it here.
Dan Le Batard on Sports Betting and Journalism: ‘We’re All in This Changing Game’
“…the integrity of the results have to be something you trust.”
As sports betting continues to assimilate itself into the sports media space, questions surrounding the ethics around gambling for media professionals are continuing to be asked. League insiders such as Adrian Wojnarowski, Shams Charania and Adam Schefter are privy to information before it is released to the public, wherefore their decisions would not be seen as objective per se; that is, according to on-air host Dan Le Batard.
On Thursday’s edition of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, Le Batard began a discussion about the relationship between gambling and journalism. As a former member of ESPN, Le Batard has seen the launch of ESPN BET, a company-branded betting platform being operated by PENN Entertainment in 17 different states around the country.
Mandating that a large swath of people cannot bet on sporting events can be difficult to enforce because some people are more apt to break rules and engage in the practices regardless. For example, news of LeBron James’ business manager, Maverick Carter, admitting to using an illegal bookie to bet on basketball and football games in a federal investigation in 2021 was reported last week by The Washington Post.
“The integrity of the results – even though we’re talking about the refs every day and they have a disproportionate impact on the games – the integrity of the results have to be something you trust,” Dan Le Batard said. “Ultimately – and this is weird for gambling to have been in the shadows and illegal and shamed for a long time – you have to trust that nobody has insider information that’s illegal to have gathered, and so you have to spread a blanket around a lot of employees.”
Jeremy Tache added to the conversation, saying that an interesting aspect related to the entire ordeal is how Wojnarowski and Charania do not share social media posts affirming that a player is about to be selected in the NBA Draft. Instead, they use more vague, ambiguous language that implies that the pick is likely, but far from a guarantee.
Charania moved betting lines last year when he posted on Twitter that Scoot Henderson was “gaining serious momentum” at No. 2 with the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA Draft. In the end, the Hornets drafted Brandon Miller, allowing the Portland Trail Blazers to take Henderson third overall. “FanDuel is not privy to any news that Shams breaks on his platforms,” the company said in a statement to Action Network after backlash.
“That ultimately can heavily influence the way that people are gambling because the lines don’t change instantly on who’s going to go to what time,” Tache said. “That’s the stuff where we saw ESPN sort of institute, ‘Hey Woj, you can’t tweet out draft picks before they’re actually made,’ but I wonder how much that actually had to do with gambling more so than even spoiling the draft for people.”
The reason Le Batard started the conversation was because of Meadowlark Media’s content and distribution deal with DraftKings Network. Matt Barnes’ and Stephen Jackson’s All The Smoke Productions recently inked a contract with the two entities as well, bringing their popular podcast, All The Smoke, and other programming to the platform. Le Batard’s program is also now available to watch using the new Bleacher Report Sports Add-On through Warner Bros. Discovery’s Max streaming service.
“There are so many impeachments on integrity that can come from so many angles,” Le Batard said. “Never mind just referees; it’s everybody now. We’re all in this changing game [where] something that has been stigmatized is now legalized, and we all play by a set of rules that are different for me [and] that are different for you.”
Mike Ryan Ruiz, producer of the program, argued that regulation pertaining to sports gambling is a good thing, conveying how several leagues themselves have demarcated the behavior. The NFL has issued suspensions to players for gambling, along with college football – perhaps most noticeably surrounding the Iowa and Iowa State sports betting scandal. The action of wagering on games has seamlessly assimilated into a penchant for sports fans, and more advertising and convenience projects the industry to further boost these companies.
Determining how to keep the objectivity of journalism and subjectivity of wagering disparate is an ostensible reason why employees at media outlets are limited in these practices. Moreover, Dan Le Batard insinuated that an athlete could do a friend favors by prioritizing how they play for monetary gain, something Ruiz pointed out has been happening all over Europe and that the sports world is dealing with.
“Yes, it’s more accessible now, but gambling scandals are as old as sports are – be it Black Sox; be it Pete Rose,” Ruiz said. “This is something that sports have always had to navigate, and it’s actually easier now with their league partners playing ball with them.”
New Sports Illustrated Owner to Staffers: ‘No One is Important’
“I am not important…. The amount of useless stuff you guys do is staggering.”
Following reports of artificial intelligence writing articles for Sports Illustrated and posting them under human pseudonyms, there have been changes pertaining to the executive leadership of its parent company. The Arena Group’s chief operating officer Andrew Kraft and president of media Rob Barrett have been fired, which took place before a conference call with company staff on Wednesday afternoon.
According to Michael McCarthy and A.J. Perez of Front Office Sports, the protracted conversation lasted more than 90 minutes and featured majority owner Manoj Bhargava, who also owns 5-hour Energy. Sources told Front Office Sports that the departures of Kraft and Barrett, however, were unrelated to the AI report from Futurism.
Throughout the call, Bhargava emphasized that he has control over Sports Illustrated and other outlets owned by The Arena Group. This came after the Sports Illustrated Union released a statement that conveyed how writers were “horrified” by the Futurism article and demanded “answers and transparency” from its parent company.
The Arena Group laid off 17 employees earlier in the year as Sports Illustrated looks to solidify a transition from print to digital media, which included a 21% growth in the sector within its third quarter earnings report. Moreover, the company’s sports properties reached the No. 2 sport in the Comscore sports properties rankings on the quarter, something it called “a milestone achievement for the brand.” It was concurrent with a 600,000-follower increase on social media during the quarter as well. Nonetheless, comments from Bhargava revealed his thoughts on the publication, which included a plea for employees to “stop doing dumb stuff.”
“No one is important,” Bhargava said to staffers, according to what a source told Front Office Sports. “I am not important…. The amount of useless stuff you guys do is staggering.”
After the meeting, The Arena Group provided a statement to Front Office Sports about what transpired and the nature of Bhargava’s involvement in the discussion. Furthermore, the source stated that no mention of the Futurism article was made over the course of the meeting.
“Today, Manoj [Bhargava] conducted a virtual town hall and spoke with the staff of The Arena Group, and took questions,” The Arena Group said in a statement. “Also today, some adjustments to the business have been made to improve the efficiency and revenue, and also some changes to senior management have been made.”
Bhargava, under his venture capital company Simplify Inventions, purchased a 65% stake in The Arena Group for $50 million, along with a five-year, $65 million advertising pact. The Arena Group was previously known as TheMaven, Inc., and consists of more than 265 media brands within the categories of lifestyle, finance and sports. As part of the deal, Bridge Media Networks, a Simplify Inventions subsidiary, was also added under The Arena Group portfolio, and Simplify Inventions also received $25 million of preferred stock in the Sports Illustrated parent company.
Sports Media Reacts to Joe Castiglione Winning 2024 Frick Award
Castiglione’s colleagues and contemporaries were more than complementary when finding out he took home the award.
Longtime Boston Red Sox radio announcer Joe Castiglione was announced Wednesday as the 2024 Ford C. Frick Award winner given by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The 76-year-old Castiglione has been the voice of the Red Sox since 1983, calling all four of the team’s modern-era World Series victories.
Several across sports media offered their reactions and congratulations to an MLB broadcasting legend.
Even University of Oklahoma Director of Athletics Joe Castiglione had to make sure he congratulated his good friend with the same name.
Joe will be honored during Hall of Fame induction weekend in Cooperstown in July.
Jordan Bondurant is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. He’s a multimedia journalist and communicator who works at the Virginia State Corporation Commission in Richmond. Jordan also contributes occasional coverage of the Washington Capitals for the blog NoVa Caps. His prior media experiences include working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Danville Register & Bee, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, WRIC-TV 8News and Audacy Richmond. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @J__Bondurant.
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