Lost in the reports and debates regarding Tim Tebow’s Wildcat tap out is the fact that the situation sparked the latest case of ESPN-on-ESPN crime.
Actually, it was more like an ESPN Battle Royal.
It started when Rich Cimini and Jane McManus of ESPNNewYork.com jointly reported on Sunday that Tebow asked to be omitted from the Wildcat package in Week 16 because the coaching staff had skipped over him when benching Mark Sanchez. (You know, the same way the Broncos skipped over Brady Quinn when benching Kyle Orton in 2011.)
In an effort to control the damage, Tebow provided his version of the events to Adam Schefter of ESPN. In exchange for the exclusive scoop, Schefter obviously had no choice but to pass along Tebow’s tale as he told it, without scrutiny or skepticism or cynicism.
And Tebow didn’t say that he had asked out of the Wildcat package, necessarily putting the spirit if not the letter of the two ESPN reports at odds.
But the conflict didn’t become obvious until Schefter, Merril Hoge, and Ron Jaworski appeared on the air to discuss the situation, via USAToday.com. Schefter started by dutifully repeated what he had reported, without comment or opinion or editorial.
Enter Jaworski and Hoge, both of whom pressed Schefter for clarity as to the notion that Tebow told coach Rex Ryan that he didn’t want to play in the Wildcat package. Schefter reiterated the guts of his report, skipping over the most important piece of information, apparently because either Schefter didn’t ask or Tebow didn’t tell.
“To me, it smells like three-day-old fish, OK?” Hoge said of Tebow’s story, which came only from Schefter’s report. “I think he’s phony as a three-dollar bill. Because at the end of the day, what have I heard? That he will do anything at any time. You ask me to do it, I’ll do it. And all of a sudden now that’s unacceptable? That’s all of a sudden, ‘Now I want to play quarterback or I’m not gonna play Wildcat?’ . . . Tim Tebow, being the teammate he says he is, accepts that. Because he says I’ll do anything for the team. That’s all I’ve ever heard about him. Well I think this sound shows really what he’s about.”
Jaworski then tried to suggest that Tebow never said he wouldn’t play Wildcat quarterback, citing derisively (and with air quotes) that it’s merely been “reported” via “sources.” And in so doing, jumping off the top rope and landing on the work of Cimini and McManus.
Enter Schefter, who then explained that it was a “culmination of a full season of frustration and disappointment,” and that “somehow it’s morphed into ‘I’m taking myself out.'”
Hoge then made an observation that Schefter and Jaworski arguably ignored when subtly pile-driving the reporting of their colleagues, Cimini and McManus. “If you are for the team and that is what you do care about,” Hoge said, “then guess what? Whatever that coach makes, that decision, sure you can be upset, but you still do what you can for the team. You don’t make a rift, you don’t sit there and argue.”
Next, Jaworski revisited the question of whether Tebow said what Cimini and McManus claim he said. “I want Tim Tebow, if this was said, to say on Tuesday, ‘I told Rex Ryan I don’t want to take the Wildcat snaps,'” Jaworski said. “We’ve got a lot of hearsay here.”
And in that one swing, Jaworski again questioned the veracity of his colleagues’ original report and indirectly chided Schefter for not asking the obvious follow-up questions when talking to Tebow.
Either way, it should be no surprise that the implosion of Tebow’s 2012 season created chaos at the network that was devoted to covering it.