So why did they do it? Why did the editors of ESPN The Magazine allow Maurice Clarett's dirty laundry to be aired in their backyard? Clarett obviously had an
axe to grind and ESPN gave him exactly what he wanted.
Well, ESPN says it is not to blame. It denies poor journalism was used and
claims anyone in the industry would have ran with the story.
"I think there's probably no media organization in the country that
wouldn't have gone with this interview," ESPN The Magazine editor Gary
Hoenig said. "Did we think everything (Clarett) said was absolutely
credible? We're asking the readers to make that judgment for themselves. We
believe that some of his allegations are provable because we've gone out and
done some of this investigation ourselves. But, there's certainly enough there
to make it worthwhile to have the public make the judgment."
There are some points that can be made in ESPN's defense. The magazine did
not go out "looking for a story." The author of the story, Tom Friend,
claims someone in Clarett's camp contacted him to set up the interview. He
admits the story just fell in his lap. He wouldn't say who set him up with
Clarett, preferring to be vague.
"Well, it was in early October," Friend said. "I got a phone
call from one of his associates who said, 'Would you be interested in talking to
Maurice Clarett?' And obviously I said, 'Yes.' I hadn't heard much about him.
He'd been out of the news. He'd been laying low.
"Everyone had talked to (former USC receiver) Mike Williams after he got
denied by the NFL, but no one had talked to Maurice. I thought it was an
opportunity to visit with him. I thought, basically, that the story would be
about, you know, how the last year has been. What's been going on with him. What
he looked like. What kind of shape he's in."
Friend didn't want to say exactly where he and Clarett met for the interview.
But the person that set up the interview was likely involved.
"I met him at someone's home," Friend said. "Very quickly in
the conversation he wanted to talk about Ohio State. How he felt wronged. How he
felt the NFL people thought he was no good. 'They think I'm a bum, damaged
goods, baggage.' (Clarett's associates) had made a call around the league to see
what the perception was and it wasn't good. He had heard there were comments
coming out of the Ohio State athletic department disparaging him and that didn't
make him feel good."
So, there you go. How could anything Clarett said be taken seriously? His
people contact ESPN and he admits he is still bitter towards the university.
Shouldn't that send up red flags that he can't be trusted and this is merely a
way of getting even with OSU for suspending him last year?
"Obviously when I hear a story like that as a journalist, I don't just
run and put it in the magazine," Friend said. "Reporting has to be
done along side that. Obviously when Maurice Clarett says something… you know
his history, you know there's an axe to grind, so we need to go further.
"You have to understand, there were other players saying the same thing
off the record. These other players also had some axes to grind. But, we
continued to (investigate) the story. We reported the story and players were on
the record now.
"I think in the process of journalism, we had the interview with
Maurice, we had other players on the record and we decided that was a story.
Even if Maurice says this alone, that is still probably a story, although that
wasn't my decision."
Like Friend mentioned, there were other players that told tales of generous
boosters and friendly professors. Never mind the fact that most of them were
dropouts, or criminals, or both. Why not interview some ex-OSU players who
actually played football at the school for four, or five years? You know, the
ones that could make it past remedial courses. Or the ones that didn't get
busted with drugs and guns.
"We did go to players who didn't have axes to grind," Friend said.
"A lot of players who didn't have axes to grind just didn't want to go
there. Ohio State is a big community and there is some fear."
Former OSU players like Marco Cooper and Sam Maldonado claim they were given
the bait n' switch trick by ESPN The Magazine. They say they were told that the
magazine was working on stories about their careers. However, the only places
their quotes appeared were in the multi-part series about Clarett.
"I didn't interview Marco," Friend said. "I think everything
was done above board there. I know he's taken back his comments, but in defense
of Marco, he's living there. He's living there and that can't be easy. Maurice
is not living there. It's a little bit easier for Maurice to hide.
"We have Marco's comments on tape. He is on the record. I don't know how
he can take that back now. He is on the record. It's just like Clarett's
comments. If someone goes on the record and tells you that, you are going to use
ESPN has a point in regards to having juicy comments on the record. That is
gold in the journalism business. But when those comments include claims such as,
"Mr. Such and Such gave me the money" it could turn into fool's gold
How does ESPN defend using these vague, second-hand statements? Why not
actually do some research and find the true identity of Mr. Such and Such so
people actually know he exists?
"We did pursue the identity of Mr. Such and Such and we have some
information and our reporting is ongoing," Hoenig said. "But we did
not have sufficient information to subject a private citizen to that exposure.
There are rules that we have to play with that limit the amount of information
we can expose in a piece like this. As long as we're willing to say, 'This is
what Maurice says,' that's one thing. But when we're putting our own credibility
on the line, we have to be very careful about accusations we're making about
individuals - especially private individuals."
Whatever ESPN wants to say, a lot of journalists wouldn't have used the
"Mr. Such and Such" comments. It would be too easy for Clarett to make
something like that up. But Friend still defends his piece.
"I think it's not sophomoric," he said. "I think we tried to
do the reporting on it and get these names (of the boosters). Of course we
tried. We tried our best. (Clarett) wasn't going to say. I wish we had it
documented. In a perfect world, we'd have every name. But we went to the
dealerships, we went to Jim Tressel, went to Dick Tressel… or attempted to go
to these people, and tried to do all the reporting around this.
"When Clarett's talking about the boosters, I don't think a coach can
control all these kids. But he says the coaches would bring him in their office
and say, 'Have you met such and such?' And if that's the way he wants to talk -
if he doesn't want to name the names - that's his prerogative. He's saying a
coach came to him and said, 'Have you met such and such? You should meet him
here. You can go over to his house.' He's saying it was set up by coaches. You
don't think every journalist would run that?"
Hoenig says he has been in the business for a long time and says the decision
was an easy one to run the Clarett series.
"Maurice was willing to go on the record about a lot of specifics,"
he said. "Anyone that was in my business would have felt compelled to put
it out there - especially if they had the information that we had."
But ESPN might be getting into a shady area. Are they going to run a story
every time an athlete comes to them with an axe to grind?
"Any high-profile player of Maurice's status, on a team with a big-time
football program like Ohio State's, that came to us with this kind of story, and
was willing to go on the record, would get this same kind of forum," Hoenig
The editor warns that Clarett is not much different than many other athletes.
"There is almost no story you can do where the subject of the story
doesn't have some kind of axe to grind," Hoenig said. "Sometimes it's
not as obvious as this one, but they have a point in wanting to talk to the
press. It's our job to sort through that and give the reader something to make
their own judgment by, and that's what we did here."
There have been strong rumors that Clarett was paid for his story, but the
magazine denies it.
"We would never do that in a million years," Hoenig said. "And
anyone who suggests that is making an insult to the standards here at ESPN and
ESPN The Magazine. It's absolutely not true. I know it's not true because we
never gave him a dime."
OK, fair enough. Maybe ESPN gets the benefit on the doubt on that one.
Clarett had plenty of incentive to crawl to them with his story, even with no
promises to fill his wallet.
But where ESPN did cross the line was the way it piled on. It really didn't
have many facts to report, so it juiced up the stories as much as possible. And
why so many stories on this situation? If the magazine truly wanted to be
unbiased and let the public make its own opinion, why run six stories, all of
which bash OSU in some form? Where is the balanced reporting ESPN claims to
Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger is perplexed as anyone.
"I really don't want to talk about ESPN and their role in this
story," Geiger said. "I've talked to my commissioner and to others
about what their agenda might be and we're all a little mystified."
One good thing has come out of all of this: Geiger has proven once again why
he is one of the best ADs in the business. Instead of sitting back and letting
Clarett and ESPN take their shots, Geiger is firing back. He is defending his
university and is confident the allegations will be disproven.
Geiger says he doesn't want to talk about ESPN's role, but at this point,
he's forced to.
"I've been an athletic director for 33 years and in the business for 43
years and I have never seen an institution attacked in this way before and I
think that for us to be silent… I'll do the best I can," Geiger said.
"I can't violate the things that my lawyers have told me I can't violate,
but I think it's very important for our university, for our fans, for our
students, for members of my staff, who I'm so very proud of, it would be wrong
to be silent. They deserve to have somebody stand up and say that we're doing
well, we're proud of our program, we stand by our program, and we'll
Geiger wonders why ESPN would only interview former players that were unable
to make it at Ohio State if the magazine was truly interested in balanced
"The unusual aspect of the allegations that have come through ESPN is
that the individuals that they have selected as examples struggled and I can't
say more than that," Geiger said.
Note: Messages from Bucknuts.com to ESPN The Magazine have not been
returned yet. The above quotes from Gary Hoenig and Tom Friend were borrowed
from interviews from ESPN Radio's The Dan Patrick Show and WBNS 1460 The
Fan's The Big Show, with Kirk Herbstreit and Damon Bruce.