It’s been part of the ESPN draft coverage in the past, but it was more conspicuous this year due both to the absence of an NFL Network alternative and to the fact that many more people were watching than usual.
For several of the draft prospects, the biographical information shared by ESPN included something regarding a personal hardship relating to a relative, in an apparent effort to make the players seem relatable. Whether it’s a parent who had a drug problem or a sibling who had cancer or whatever fact that can inject a human-interest angle, ESPN’s draft coverage routinely takes a gratuitous right turn, often without differentiating the unfortunate personal angle from pertinent data.
“Three-time captain . . . ran the 40 in 4.58 seconds . . . dog was once run over by a garbage truck.”
This year, ESPN took flak from media, fans, and players for it. To its credit, ESPN isn’t ignoring the noise.
“I heard [the criticism],” ESPN executive Seth Markman told Peter King. “It’s not unfair. It’s something we should self-scout for the future. It’s something we can examine. We didn’t want to be Debbie Downer, but we wanted to show how some of the players overcame major issues in their lives. Maybe how Javon Kinlaw drew inspiration from growing up homeless, or a player overcoming a father’s suicide to achieve his dream.”
Ultimately, the question is relevance. If there’s a real connection to the draft prospect, fine. But it should be done sparingly and only when the player’s story can’t be properly told without the information. If, for example, the player picked Purdue over Alabama because his late father played at Purdue, that’s got more relevance than the oh-by-the-way P.S. that dredges up a hardship that the player overcame but that has no independent significant to his path to the NFL.
The current approach, despite ESPN’s intentions, creates the impression that it’s picking unnecessarily at an old wound on a day that should focus on a future full of promise instead.