Of ESPN’s decision to air a softball chat between “SportsCenter” anchor Jonathan Coachman (above, left) — a former WWE commentator — and current WWE Divas champion Ashley Fliehr aka Charlotte that made no mention of a recent storyline that alluded to the 2013 death of her brother Reid, The Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Dave Meltzer opined, “the segment makes the news department of ESPN look like a joke” (“once you deem WWE worthy of coverage, even if it’s commercial in content, you then can’t ignore real pro wrestling and WWE related news, such as the Jimmy Snuka indictment and criminal proceedings, the Billy Gunn firing over steroids, the death of Nick Bockwinkel, or the controversy here”). Awful Announcing’s Joe Lucia echoes Meltzer’s complaint, asking, “Imagine if ESPN started covering say…Arena Football, and only showed game highlights, interviewed players about themselves, and broke a news story on occasion. That would come off as pretty weird, inauthentic, and half-assed, right?”
There are plenty of negative things that happen, including failed drug tests, disciplinary suspensions, and backstage confrontations. But then again, those happen in every sport – and ESPN covers them inside and out. If a wrestler sports entertainer fails a drug test, will it be a topic on SportsCenter? If there’s a backstage altercation that results in someone getting fired, will that be reported, or will it fall by the wayside?
If ESPN continues to cover only the positive and essentially act as a mouthpiece for WWE, it’s a real bad look for ESPN. Why does WWE get special treatment that the NFL, NBA, MLB, etc don’t get? That could lead to some ugly backlash towards the Worldwide Leader that they weren’t expecting.
Some backlash, sure. But ESPN seems fully prepared to withstand the fallout from Bill Simmons’ baiting of Roger Goodell. The percentage of ESPN’s audience that’s fully aware of the circumstances surrounding David Fliehr’s passing is pretty small, and it’s almost impossible to imagine how Coachman could’ve brought the angle up without things getting incredibly awkward. Charlotte didn’t script the scenario and is in no more a position to defend the company than Coachman is to defend Curt Schilling. Certainly there’s solid reasons to ask Vince McMahon or Paul Levesque why they thought it appropriate to call attention to the heroin overdose of Ric Flair’s son in order to generate cheap heat, but that’s a far longer discussion than Coachman’s given time for (and how many tough questions has he asked of guests from any sport, ever?)