SBD/April 19, 2017/Media

ESPN Explains Decision To Use Majority Of Morning Coverage On Hernandez' Death

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ESPN devoted a majority of its airtime this morning to the hanging death of former Patriots TE and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez, a development the net’s Rob King called “appropriate” considering the circumstances around the news. Reports of Hernandez’ death broke around 6:30am ET, shortly before the initial live version of “SportsCenter” was set to air at 7:00am. King, ESPN’s Senior VP/”SportsCenter” & News, was able to get live on-air reaction to the “sudden, very sad turn of events” from reporters such as Adam Schefter, Michele Steele and Jason Reid within the first 30 minutes of the show. “This is a true opportunity for our news-gathering operations to immediately document what was happening in real time,” he said. The net drew some criticism on social media for the amount of coverage spent on Hernandez, who has not played in the NFL since ’13 and was convicted of first-degree murder in ’15. Twitter users compared ESPN to TMZ and said the net was attempting to paint Hernandez as a sympathetic figure. However, King said, "This is a striking conclusion to a very tragic story about a sports figure who at one point had the world at his fingertips." Another theme seen online was that "SportsCenter" should not push Hernandez ahead of a busy sports calendar that includes NBA and NHL playoff games. King responded to that by saying, "This is a moment when sports touches real life.” He added the last time ESPN went wall-to-wall on a story like this was the death of Marlins P Jose Fernandez in the early hours of Sept. 25.

FOREVER TIED TOGETHER: Hernandez’ death comes on the same day the Patriots are slated to visit the White House and meet with President Trump to celebrate the team’s Super Bowl LI victory. King said the “confluence of events” certainly factored into the decision to go heavy on Hernandez coverage. He added the tone around the Pats’ visit will become more jovial as the day progresses. At least one ESPN personality was taken aback that the team would proceed with the White House visit. Bob Ley on-air this morning said, “I am stunned -- stunned -- that they’re going to go ahead with the ceremony today.” He added what should be a celebratory event will “forever be linked” to Hernandez’ death. King noted ESPN “spent a lot of energy trying not to draw conclusions” about the timing of the hanging.

GOING BEYOND SPORTS NETWORKS: "SportsCenter” certainly was not the only news outlet to cover the Hernandez death, as all three network morning shows led today’s broadcasts with at least a passing mention of the breaking news. FS1’s “Undisputed,” NBCSN’s “PFT Live” and ESPN’s “First Take” also devoted their first segments to Hernandez. King said news outlets such as ESPN have a "responsibility" to cover stories that stray away from the playing field and noted it often is just a "matter of feel" for how long to stay with such a story. Curiously, NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” did not appear to go in-depth on the news, mentioning it only during news briefs. An NFL Network spokesperson noted the net did broadcast live from outside Hernandez' house when he was first arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd in '13.
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