September 18, 2008
The relationship between sports networks and the figures they cover has always been a twisted one, particularly when it applies to coaches or other authority figures. All too often, you'll see a guy who's a coach one year, a commentator the next, and a coach the year after that, bouncing back and forth as if each job is merely an audition for the next.
This knot of obligation and expectation is particularly pronounced in NASCAR, where you've got plenty of commentators who haven't even left their first job (driving, management, etc.) while pursuing their second. And, in at least one case, it's starting to get ethically awkward.
The Daly Planet has an excellent breakdown of the relationship between ESPN and Ray Evernham, a frequent guest on ESPN's NASCAR Now. Evernham is relaxed, witty, and knowledgeable, the ideal panelist on any number of NASCAR subjects. Any number, that is, minus one:
When Evernham is on ESPN, the questions and issues that he deals with involve everything about NASCAR except one topic. That topic is Gillett-Evernham Motorsports (GEM). While Evernham might talk about his cars and his teams during the race highlights, there is a code of silence at ESPN where Evernham is concerned that is simply not fair to NASCAR fans. Like all the other owners, Evernham should be fair game and he is not.
Over the last couple of weeks there has been a nasty GEM lawsuit involving Robby Gordon, rumors of GEM buying another race team and also GEM moving to Toyota for 2009. This week, Patrick Carpentier has been told by GEM that he is out at the end of the season. Tuesday, Mike Delahanty, the Sr. Motorsports Manager at Dodge actually jumped-into a NASCAR media conference call to try and quell rumors of problems with Dodge and GEM.
TDP, the top NASCAR media analyst on the web, calls out ESPN in very specific terms: "These NASCAR owners who double as ESPN announcers simply cannot walk down both sides of the street and expect their commentary to be received by the fans as unbiased."
He's absolutely right, of course, and it's an issue NASCAR and ESPN need to deal with sooner rather than later. This isn't a case of a former coach overpraising a mediocre team to get in good with that team's owner and angle for a new gig. This is a significant, relevant figure in the sport getting the kid-gloves treatment. And in a sport where allegations of preferential treatment have ruled since Day 1, NASCAR and ESPN should take steps to avoid yet another conflict of interest.
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