Last week’s arrest and police video of Bengal’s player Sam Montgomery getting arrested raises many questions and demands answers. It also raises a direct question that should be answered by ESPN.

Why did ESPN bury this story?

This is not hypothetical question, but is directed at the long-time great sportswriter and newest ESPN omsbudsman Robert Lipsyte, the only hope of getting a response.

For those new to the racial habits of ESPN, some context might be helpful. To state that ESPN loves to cover athletes of color that get arrested or suspended is an understatement. Doing so is their brand. For instance, below is a copy of yesterday’s top NFL stories on ESPN’s NFL website page. 

ESPN’s NFL Page Sunday July 6 at Noon

Now let’s take a closer look with the yellow highlights below. Five of the top eight stories are those where Black Athletes have been arrested or suspended. We have highlighted this below.

The list above is not abnormal for ESPN, and their formula is well-established. If there is any network who would prominently highlight Sam Montgomery’s arrest front and center, it would be them. ESPN loves covering speeding violations.

When Jadveon Clowney received a speeding ticket last December, ESPN issued three separate well-placed articles that produced over 3000 comments. The Dodger’s Yasiel Puig received his first ESPN article on a speeding ticket before he ever played a major league game. When Puig received a second one on December 29, Puig received four more articles. North Carolina’s PJ Hairston was an ESPN traffic citation monthly regular last year. One ESPN story began:

“A rental car driven by suspended North Carolina basketball player P.J. Hairston had a dozen campus parking citations over a two-month period, according to records released by the university Friday.”

Yes, parking tickets are news too — prime time news. While no athlete of color is too obscure to get a traffic citation, the well-placed speeding stories of Clowney, Puig and Hairston helped to produce over 10,000 total comments.

This ESPN context is the lens where the lone buried story of Sam Montgomery’s arrest must be viewed. Instead of even the bare minimum standard practice of reprinting the Associated Press story which was titled: “SC Trooper Threatened Taser Use on Lineman“, ESPN’s only reference to the arrest was contained in: “Bengals Bubble Watch: Sam Montgomery

The framing of the story is not the arrest or the officer’s conduct, but the fact that Montgomery, like many other Bengal’s players, might get cut in training camp. The little seen story — which ESPN triple-buried through is lack of visibility, bland title, and deliberate relegation to NFL “blog” section — received only five total comments. ESPN also did not post the video which was posted by the well-read sites of CBS SportsDeadSpin, and The Big Lead.

ESPN favorite targets for speeding violations tend to be young Black college athletes, but in Montgomery’s case, the target of scorn is the arresting officer.

For ESPN, that was the game changer.

When ESPN famously chose not to report a sexual assault lawsuit against white NFL star Ben Roethlisberger, the racial double-standard was so glaring and egregious that the omission immediately brought national attention from all quarters across sports media which then forced the then-ESPN omsbudman to respond.

ESPN is savvier these days, their brand is targeting Black not blue (or white either), and the buried story of the Sam Montgomery’s arrest will receive far less attention beyond this article. Also, given that ESPN scores high marks for racial and gender diversity with its sports reporters, many mistake ESPN for a progressive organization.

However, ESPN has become both the most diverse in its staff AND the most racist in their selected content — simultaneously. Decisions to routinely highlight the punishment of Black athletes happens at the editorial level where there is far less diversity in race, gender, thought, and power. And these are the folks who guide and control the racist discourse that can be found in every comment section where a Black athlete is punished — except for Sam Montgomery.

But again maybe, just maybe, ESPN omsbudsman Robert Lipsyte will address this issue.

Before being tasked with monitoring ESPN, Lipsyte was one of America’s greatest sportswriters who regularly championed racial justice, women’s rights, and LGBT equality. Lipsyte, who over 50 years ago co-authored the autobiography Civil Rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory stated in his memoir:

“Being with Greg in those tumultuous years of 1963 and 1964 informed the rest of my career, most immediately my coverage of Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali. We never stopped talking, mostly about civil rights and Vietnam as Americans went south in voter registration drives and to Asia to fight an illegitimate war triggered by the phony Gulf of Tonkin incident.”

In light of voting rights being repealed in 2014, segregation replaced by mass incarceration, and new Vietnams, not much has changed — except for the 40 billion dollar empire and influence that is ESPN.

So why did ESPN bury the Sam Montgomery’s arrest?

What would Dick Gregory Do?


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