Thursday Bruce Feldman was suspended indefinitely by ESPN for his involvement with the new Mike Leach book, Swing Your Sword.
During a Thursday conference call that included ESPN Vice President and Director of News Vince Doria, ESPN THE MAGAZINE Editor-in-Chief & ESPN Books Editorial Director Gary Hoenig, ESPN.com Editor-in-Chief Pat Stiegman, ESPN attorney Wendy Kemp and ESPN Executive Vice President, Production Norby Williamson, Feldman was asked why he didn’t get approval from anyone at ESPN to work on the Leach book.
Feldman responded by noting that, on the contrary, he had obtained approval to collaborate on the Leach book - in writing - from ESPN Books executive Neil Fine. After Feldman informed the ESPN executives on the conference call that he had indeed observed proper company protocol, he was shamed anyway for his involvement in a project that - via public documents - portrayed ESPN in a negative light. (Documents obtained by Leach’s legal representatives.)
(Stiegman ordered Feldman to stop working during conference call)
One ESPN executive, while citing the public blowback from the book, threatened Feldman during the Thursday conference call: “We dont know how this will affect your future here.”
Before the call ended, Feldman was told by ESPN.com Editor-in-Chief Stiegman that he was to stop working for the company until further notice: “Do not do any work until we tell you to. No tweeting, and no chats.”
Following the news on Thursday that Feldman had been suspended indefinitely by ESPN, a torrential outpouring of support for the writer ensued on social networking sites, with #freebruce and “Bruce Feldman” soon trending on Twitter and Facebook immediately featuring a “Free Bruce Feldman” support group.
In response to the profound, public backlash from its decision to suspended Feldman indefinitely, Friday afternoon ESPN released the following statement pertaining to Feldman’s status at the company:
“There was never any suspension or any other form of disciplinary action. We took the time to review his upcoming work assignments in light of the book to which he contributed and will manage any conflicts or other issues as needed. Bruce has resumed his assignments.”
Though ESPN claimed Feldman was never suspended, the network did not say why the college football writer would then need to - as noted in the ESPN statement - ‘resume his assignments.’
After the statement was released, ESPN Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications Chris LaPlaca sent out the following Tweet:
Love Twitter, but we’ve all just seen its danger: rumor presented as fact. Feldman never suspended.
To give LaPlaca a chance to confirm his personal contention that Feldman was “never suspended” by ESPN, I Tweeted the following, repeated inquiry to LaPlaca on Friday afternoon: “Did Pat Stiegman tell Bruce to stop working? Yes or no?”
LaPlaca refused to answer the question. Though he later Tweeted:
Sports analogy: coaches take time outs 2 discuss developments. The game briefly stops but is not suspended. It resumes. Same thing here.
Because, despite repeated inquiries, ESPN’s LaPlaca refused to clarify his contention that Feldman was “never suspended” by the company, it is impossible to conclude that ESPN and LaPlaca aren’t doing anything other than obfuscating the truth of the matter.