On May 29, ESPN’s Outside The Lines program aired an investigative piece on 7-on-7 summer football.
As part of the piece, Joe Schad confronted 17-year-old 7-on-7 participant DeonTay Thomas and Thomas’ 7-on-7 coach, 23-year-old Cory Robinson about a photo taken on a boat before a 7-on-7 tournament in South Carolina.
Though no NCAA violation has been traced to anything in connection to the photo of Thomas or his coach, in blindsiding the two on-camera about the picture, Schad’s implication was that Thomas and Robinson may have been involved in activity outside NCAA rules.
But while Schad employed “gotcha” journalism on an unsuspecting teenager and his 20-something coach, the ESPN Outside The Lines reporter completely ignored a startling detail about the website page where the same photo was originally located.
Just below the boat photo Schad characterized as a representation of the dubious nature of 7-on-7 football - on the same website page - was an ESPN publicity image of Mel Kiper, Jr.. Below that picture of Kiper was a message from the ESPN NFL Draft analyst pledging his “support” to the same organization Schad was castigating in his OTL hit piece.
After the Outside The Lines report aired, the photo of Kiper was removed from the website page though below is a screen capture of the page before the images of the boat and Kiper were removed:
Unlike 17-year-old Thomas and 23-year-old Robinson, who the NCAA has not charged with any wrongdoing, Kiper was not interviewed for the Outside The Lines investigative piece nor was his presence on the same website page as the boat photo in question even acknowledged by ESPN.
Though ESPN’s Bob Ley did note Kiper’s involvement in 7-on-7 football before Schad’s piece aired. Ley on May 29:
“ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr., has been involved in the sport.”
Less than 10 minutes later, following Schad’s report, Ley said:
“We mentioned earlier Mel Kiper, Jr., has had an involvement with a national 7-on-7 tournament. He is no longer involved.”
On May 29, after the Outside The Lines 7-on-7 piece reported by Schad originally aired on ESPN, an accompanying ESPN.com article recounting the on-air OTL piece was posted. At the bottom of the story read:
“Editor’s note: ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has had involvement with a national 7-on-7 tournament, but he is no longer involved.”
On June 3 at 7:30pm ET, the message at the bottom of the same Outside The Lines 7-on-7 investigative piece on ESPN.com had been changed to:
“Editor’s note: This story, initially published May 29, noted that Mel Kiper Jr. was no longer involved with a national 7-on-7 tournament. On June 3, ESPN released the following statement: ‘Mel had told us that he was no longer going to be involved, but later changed his mind and is maintaining his relationship with the tournament.’“
On June 4 at 10:30am ET, the message at the bottom of the same Outside The Lines 7-on-7 investigative piece on ESPN.com had been changed again:
“Editor’s note: This story, initially published May 29, noted that ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. was no longer involved with a national 7-on-7 tournament.”
Despite the latter claim that Kiper was “no longer involved with a national 7-on-7 on tournament,” Saturday I noted that ESPN Kiper was still formally involved in a 7-on-7 football-based business venture originating from the website 7on7u.com. A direct association which entailed an extensive network of Kiper-branded 7-on-7 events throughout the country culminating with a national tournament bearing his name,
Saturday I also noted the deletion of ESPN’s previous acknowledgement that Kiper had “changed his mind” and is “maintaining his relationship with the tournament.”
Those events led me to conclude that ESPN was actively covering up Kiper’s involvement in the same activity Joe Schad cited in verbally attacking a 17-year-old high school student-athlete during his May 29 Outside The Lines piece.
After my post detailing the coverup, ESPN, for the fourth time, changed the disclosure tag which followed Schad’s Outside The Lines story on ESPN.com:
Editor’s note: This story, initially published May 29, noted that ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. was no longer involved with a national 7-on-7 tournament. On June 3, ESPN released the following statement: “Mel had told us that he was no longer going to be involved, but later changed his mind and is maintaining his relationship with the tournament.”
The change was clear confirmation that a coverup had indeed taken place.
So why did ESPN delete its own, previous acknowledgement of Kiper’s 7-on-7 activities?
Maybe it had something to do with the Southeastern Conference’s ban on all things 7-on-7 on Friday.
Or perhaps ESPN suddenly hiding Kiper’s 7-on-7 business venture less than 24 hours after the SEC’s newly-instituted embargo on 7-on-7 football was merely an extraordinary coincidence.
Or it could’ve been the fact that the NCAA, as noted by Schad in his Outside The Lines report, had recently hired “seven full-time investigators” to combat what was portrayed by Schad as a dubious development in college football recruiting.
That is, the recent growth of 7-on-7 football. (Thanks to people like Schad colleague Kiper.)
In requesting guidance on why ESPN had reversed field multiple times in its portrayal of Kiper’s 7-on-7 business venture, I was provided the following statement by ESPN vice president, public relations for college, news and networks information Josh Krulewitz:
“We were doing a story on 7 on 7 football and felt in interest of disclosure we should note Mel’s association which we did.
“It’s pretty simple and fairly standard in media for entities to note similar things as part of reporting when there is a connection.
“And as the Editor’s note on the report clearly states, Mel initially said he planned to end his association, but changed his mind and decided to maintain his connection.”
Over the past 48 hours, I did ask an ESPN official - multiple times - why the network changed its tune so many times about Kiper. I also inquired as to who at ESPN had knowledge of Kiper’s 7-on-7 association before the Outside The Lines piece was aired and why Kiper was not asked on-camera about his photographic presence on the same website page as the image cited by Schad in his “gotcha” of Thomas and Robinson.
The above statement was the response I was provided to those inquiries, leaving open the question of why Kiper was given a pass by ESPN for his 7-on-7 activities while others, who have not been proven to have committed NCAA violations, were not.
And why ESPN would allow Kiper to be involved in an activity that his employer’s award-winning investigative unit, Outside The Lines, recently portrayed as a serious threat to the integrity of college football’s observance of NCAA rules.