The Washington Football Team email scandal has created far more problems for non-employees of the team than for anyone who ever worked there.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter became ensnared in the situation, thanks to an exchange he had with former team president Bruce Allen in 2011. Schefter sent an article to Allen before publishing it.
“Please let me know if you see anything that should be added, changed, tweaked,” Schefter wrote. “Thanks, Mr. Editor, for that and the trust.”
The story caught a surprising amount of interest and attention, given that the average fan cares not about the manner in which the sausage is made. But it’s one thing to hear people explain in isolation the mechanism that gives an “insider” a head’s up on transactions that will be announced five minutes later. It’s quite another to see what the insider does to get in position for such a gratuity.
As Myles Simmons, who previously worked for the Rams and Panthers, said on Wednesday’s #PFTPM, multiple teams will inform their in-house media operations that Schefter will be breaking the news, and that the team will then announce it later. That type of deference doesn’t happen accidentally or spontaneously. It requires the careful cultivation of a relationship that will put Schefter at the front of the line — ahead of even the ever-growing army of reporters who literally are on the payroll of the NFL.
Appearing on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning, Schefter addressed the situation.
“I’ve learned for a long time in this business not to discuss sources, or the process, or how stories are done, but I would just say that, basically, it’s a common practice to run information past sources, and in this particular case, during a labor intensive lockout that was a complicated subject that was new to understand, I took the extra rare step again to run information past one of the people that I was talking to,” Schefter said. “You know, it was an important story to fans; a host of others, and that’s the situation.”
After spending the full day trending on Twitter, Schefter issued a statement on the ESPN PR Twitter account. (But NOT on his own Twitter account, which has 8.625 million followers. In contrast, the ESPN PR account has only 121,000 followers.)
“Fair questions are being asked about my reporting approach on an NFL Lockout story from 10 years ago,” Schefter said. “Just to clarify, it’s common practice to verify facts of a story with sources before you publish in order to be as accurate as possible. In this case, I took the rare step of sending the full story in advance because of the complex nature of the collective bargaining talks. It was a step too far and, looking back, I shouldn’t have done it. The criticism being levied is fair. With that said, I want to make this perfectly clear: in no way did I, or would I, cede editorial control or hand over final say about a story to anyone, ever.”
The radio comment and the statement have some mild differences. He said “extra rare” on radio, and only “rare” in the statement. Also, the radio comment included an explanation but no expression of regret. Indeed, when one of the hosts expressed support for Schefter’s decision to send the article to Allen before publishing it, Schefter expressed appreciation.
Thus, at some point between Wednesday morning and Wednesday afternoon, Schefter either changed his mind or someone suggested that he change it. Regardless, the situation provides a valuable look behind the curtain; whether this kind of stuff is “rare” or “extra rare” or “not rare at all” will depend on whether other emails regarding other stories surface, regardless whether those emails were sent to Allen or other Washington coaches/executives or other employees of other teams or the league office.