On Oct. 9, Atlanta Hawks swingman Thabo Sefalosha was found not guilty on three misdemeanor charges with regards to an altercation with a member of the New York Police Department in April. Sefalosha’s camp contended that officers were unduly aggressive and confrontational during his arrest, resulting in Sefalosha’s broken leg and missed playing time.
Prosecutors presented a less flattering picture, describing Sefalosha as being uncooperative and combative with officers, resulting in the need for use of force. Now that the trial has ended, Sefalosha’s group has publicly mulled filing a civil case for $50 million against the NYPD and New York City. Michele Roberts, head of the NBA player’s union, has stated that the NBPA would back Sefalosha if such a case were to come to fruition.
There are a lot of stories here. This is the all-too-frequent narrative of the questionable nature of excessive force by the police against a black man; the story that no one understands what really happened; the story that everyone and their grandmother has an opinion about how it reflects on every cop in this country, or every black person in this country.
The circus of confusion and obfuscation blunders onward, impervious to logic or fact. That’s the bigger takeaway from this entire ordeal.
What’s also deeply concerning is the minimal reporting surrounding the event by a worldwide leader. ESPN’s lack of coverage of this hugely important event was as confusing as it was inexcusable. Simply for the reasons above, this should’ve been a recurring conversation on SportsCenter since it happened in the spring.
Questions about race and identity have dominated the national discourse for a few years now, and, from a purely journalistic standpoint, it’s baffling to consider why exactly ESPN shied away from this. It could be that ESPN didn’t want to insert itself into a realm in which someone might say something inexcusable on the air, but, as a news organization, that’s a risk it has to be willing to take.
And, it has. There was no shortage of coverage on the Ray Rice debacle, which produced as much nuanced discussion as it did misguided spouting. But, as with anything, you take the good along with the bad, and you should be thankful that the good was there.
For ESPN to largely ignore this trial—which, by the way, Fox Sports and Yahoo Sports did an excellent job covering—represents a lack of taste for anything beyond fluff. Even from a ratings standpoint, Sefalosha’s injury came in the middle of an NBA playoff series, drastically altering the Eastern Conference championship picture. How was this not bigger news?
A few ESPN personalities have done a good job keeping this news at the forefront. Jemele Hill, Bomani Jones and Michael Smith have discussed the trial at length since it began a few weeks ago, but, besides them, the coverage has been virtually non-existent. All the while, the intricacies of football inflation have been hammered at again and again, every day for months on end.
Moralizing is easy. That’s why Steven A. Smith and Skip Bayless, his partner in crime against journalism, can swing from the ankles at moral softballs. They can turn their noses up at Derrick Rose for sitting with an injury or take potshots at Tom Brady for liking his footballs a little softer, but when it comes to discussions that require a little thought, they’re silent.
ESPN is a sports news organization. This was sports. This was news. This was an opportunity to really take a leading role in an important national discussion, and they passed it over in silence.
Bernstein is a member of the class of 2018.