Mark Ingram was one of the most-watched players at this year’s NFL draft, as a well-known Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama who stayed in the green room longer than expected before the New Orleans Saints finally picked him at No. 28. But what really has people talking after the draft is the interview Ingram gave to ESPN’s Suzy Kolber minutes after his name was called.
Ingram’s father, also named Mark Ingram, was also the 28th pick in the NFL draft, in 1987. But Ingram Sr. couldn’t be there with his son on Thursday night because he’s serving time in prison for money laundering and fraud. Kolber had corresponded with Ingram Sr. prior to the draft, and she read Ingram Jr. an e-mail from his father while they stood on the stage at Radio City Music Hall. Hearing what his father had to say left Ingram Jr. sobbing, and he couldn’t continue the interview.
To some, it was a powerful moment of raw emotion. To others, it was manipulative. Author and Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman wrote on his blog that he thought ESPN had crossed a line with the interview.
“You don’t spring this sort of letter upon a 21-year-old kid on national TV,” Pearlman wrote. “It might make for great viewing, but it’s dishonest, dishonorable and wrong. This is the life he’s been handed—a father behind bars; trying to overcome that and somehow get past it. He should be celebrated. Not exploited.”
Pearlman was joined by, among others, Pete Prisco of CBS, who called Kolber’s interview “an ambush of sorts.” Florio mentioned to me that Kolber used the same perky nonchalance when asking Patriots lineman Marcus Cannon about his cancer diagnosis.
Toni Monkovic has video at the New York Times‘ Fifth Down blog of Kolber’s interview, which has been one of the most-discussed moments of the NFL draft. From the perspective of the folks in Bristol, the mere fact that it’s being discussed may mean the interview was a hit.
ESPN’s Jay Rothman told Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated that he thought Kolber’s interview was not manipulative in the least.
“There was not an iota of that at all,” Rothman said. “It was more from the perspective of being able to celebrate, knowing the story and knowing what a great kid he was. I’m a proud parent and many of us here are, and it was an opportunity to share a special moment with a kid. There was no contrived or manufactured intent. That was never the thinking. It was a more of a heartfelt thing and genuine. We were not trying to be disingenuous and manufactured. . . . I think the dad wanted that read to him.”
So as far as ESPN is concerned, Kolber did what she was supposed to do. Even if it looked a little like Kevin Nealon as Bob Waltman on Saturday Night Live.