Yesterday in Los Angeles Superior Court, ESPN and AOL employee Jay Mariotti pleaded no contest, which has the effect of a guilty plea, to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence against his girlfriend as part of a plea bargain to avoid jail time.
Since Mariotti’s plea bargain to avoid jail time, I’ve talked to several sources at ESPN and AOL Fanhouse about the prospect of Mariotti maintaining his jobs at the two media companies.
Multiple sources at ESPN have confirmed to me that Mariotti is finished at the network. The only remaining question in Bristol regarding Mariotti is how company executives will handle the release of the news. Mariotti is a contract employee at ESPN, meaning he’s paid per appearance and has no binding contract with the network for future work.
Without Mariotti under contract, one could make the argument that ESPN is under no obligation to do any more than what it did yesterday regarding Mariotti. ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said after Mariotti’s plea bargain, “We have no current plans to use him at this time.”
“At this time” does leave the door cracked, but I’ve been told that Mariotti will not return to Around The Horn nor appear on any ESPN production in the future.
AOL Fanhouse though is, from what I’ve been told, taking a different tack on Mariotti’s future employ.
Since Mariotti’s plea, two sources inside Fanhouse have told me that Fanhouse editors are lobbying AOL upper management to keep Mariotti. Additionally, I’ve been told that Mariotti’s decision to plea bargain his domestic violence case was expressly designed as an attempt to save his job at AOL. (Mariotti’s future with the company will ultimately be decided by high ranking AOL executives, not Fanhouse editorial.)
So why would Fanhouse editors want to keep Mariotti?
Fanhouse editors still believe Mariotti’s high profile keeps the site more relevant in sports media. In other words, his opinions make news.
Perhaps that was previously true, but one could argue Mariotti’s national profile is almost completely derived from his daily appearances on Around The Horn. Those days are over. So the question is, will people continue to seek out Mariotti at Fanhouse now that his days as a nationally-televised tastemaker are over?
The other issue with Mariotti going forward is the job description he has created for himself over the years. Mariotti has built a 25-year career on making hyperbolic moral judgements about the subjects he covers - including casting aspersions on athletes accused of domestic violence.
The relevance of any columnist’s opinions is rooted in the credibility he or she personally brings to the discussion. Having now admitted to committing domestic violence against a woman, is it unreasonable to suggest that Mariotti’s credibility has now been sufficiently impugned as to render him significantly less relevant in sports media? If not irrelevant?