ESPN’s Ombudman and the Dan Le Batard saga

I think we all have our own opinions on the saga of Dan Le Batard and the baseball Hall of Fame. Quick recap: Le Batard gave his HOF ballot to Deadspin and let their readers fill out his ballot. He then approved the ten names that Deadspin readers voted in, and sent his ballot to the Hall. It was the way he chose to protest what he called was the sanctimony that has overwhelmed the Hall of Fame. He said he was bothered by the stance of many of his fellow voters against steroid era players and the moralizing that stance made. I find myself agreeing with Le Batard. Unless there is clear evidence that players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens used performance enhancing drugs during their careers, their achievements deserve to be recognized. He also knew what he was doing, telling Deadspin that he knew he’d likely be stripped of his vote, which he was. Short aside: banning him from games for a year as a member of the media is a dick move. One they could make, but a dick move nonetheless.

Ok, so there’s the story and the fervor has faded away in the last couple of weeks since the vote happened. But here’s what set me off again: ESPN’s ombudsman weighed in. Now, I have enjoyed Robert Lipsyte’s work on the whole. He’s been good, fair and brought an appropriate eye to ESPN. My issue here is that his take on the Le Batard saga carried the company water big time. Multiple times in the piece, he takes shots at Deadspin because they’ve taken shots at ESPN. It comes off as a total disbelief that people out there don’t like ESPN and choose to go somewhere else to read about sports.

He also makes mention that the front office in Bristol was butt-hurt because Le Batard didn’t offer them his ballot. Like they would have said yes to putting up a Sportsnation poll (who still watches that show?). They hold MLB rights. ESPN is not going to do anything that would make a broadcast partner look bad because it could affect the bottom line.
The rest of Lipsyte’s article can be summed up with the belief that Deadspin disrespected ESPN and the “sanctity of sports and the Hall of Fame” (quotes mine). My whole point at getting honked off about this article isn’t that I agreed or disagreed with Le Batard. It’s that the guy that’s supposed to be an independant voice wrote a 1,700 word piece that is summed up with this quote: “I welcome Deadspin’s frequently bracing antidote to cheesy sports coverage, but it’s no secret that Deadspin always has ESPN in its cross-hairs. It was wrong for Le Batard to embarrass ESPN, in much the way adolescents like to make their parents squirm. “ As an ombudsman, you don’t have to offer negative critiques against the company you’re looking at, but you can’t also then defend them because you don’t like some website taking pot shots. The whole thing could have been done without carrying the water for Bristol and really turned me off. I know why ESPN opened up to an ombudsman, but Lipsyte’s stance on Le Batard makes me question if he’s really going to do the job.

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