ESPN declined comment to PFT regarding the public back-and-forth between colleagues Kirk Herbstreit and Dan Orlovsky sparked by Orlovsky’s controversial remarks regarding Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. Orlovsky provided further comment regarding his remarks, but not about Herbsteit’s reaction to them, to Peter King of Football Morning in America.
Here’s the key paragraph from King’s column: “Orlovsky told me Saturday that people from a couple of teams did question Fields’ work ethic, but he regrets not having more ‘clarity and specificity’ in his comments. In other words, he should have said something like, This is not what I know first-hand, but in talking to people I know in the league, two teams questioned Justin Fields’ work ethic, and that could be a concern. It’s important that Orlovsky be free to pass along information he finds credible, but it’s equally important to put that information in context.”
That’s where I’ll continue to differ with Orlovsky. Just because he finds the comments “credible” doesn’t mean they are. The problem is that, by repeating them on a public platform, he makes them credible, even if they aren’t.
Orlovsky, as an afterthought in the video he posted to respond to what he called a “firestorm” created by his appearance with Pat McAfee, acknowledged that “this is also a season where teams are trying to say things to potentially get a guy to drop to them.”
Again, that’s the front-line reaction that Orlovsky, and anyone else in sports media, should have when someone from a team is anonymously whispering criticism about any draft prospect, especially the highly-regarded ones. Even if the source with the team who is saying negative things about a guy like Fields seems credible, there’s a chance that person deliberately has been misled internally by others higher up in the organization — others who are very skilled in targeting the more talkative members of the staff and creating a chain of “useful idiots” who will hear things said by coach or G.M. or other high-level executive and, deeming them credible, will parrot them to someone in the media who, deeming them credible, will repeat them in public.
So what should Orlovsky have done? First, he should have had the most important line from his video — “this is a season where teams are trying to say things to potentially get a guy to drop to them” — at the front of his mind when he heard what he heard. Second, if he truly deemed the information about Fields credible enough to repeat, he should have called others who know Fields before, not after, saying what Orlovsky said. Third, he should have bounced the information off others within ESPN who previously have wrestled with how to deal with such potentially sensitive issues in the past, because this is hardly the first time that a draft analyst was confronted with negative opinion about a Black quarterback that dusted off some of the racial tropes of which anyone in the business is or should be fully aware.
That’s ultimately the mistake Orlovsky made. He had a total lack of awareness. He lacked awareness regarding the manner in which teams use media figures to fuel potential draft slides that will cause a player to fall. He lacked awareness regarding the manner in which the negative opinions he shared on a public platform would be viewed when directed at a Black quarterback.
He also lacked awareness of the two most important objective pieces of evidence that would cut against whatever someone may have been trying to manipulate him to say: (1) Fields fought to have a 2020 college football season; and (2) during the playoff game against Clemson, Fields took a devastating hit to the midsection that caught significant and obvious discomfort, and he not only kept going but also had one of the best games of his life.
Moving forward, everyone associated with these kinds of pre-draft strategies should be fully aware of the fact that teams who like a given player will actively spread BS about him in the hopes he’ll slide. And that should always be the first reaction when things like this are privately said.