When we watch our English football games, we want to hear qualified commentators and opinionated co-commentators who aren’t too afraid to tell us what they think. Otherwise what we would end up with are sanitized broadcasts that are politically correct to the detriment of our viewing and hearing experience.
After Luis Suarez handled the ball yesterday in front of the Mansfield goal and then proceeded to score the winner in the FA Cup third round tie, ESPN UK commentator Jon Champion called Luis Suarez a cheat. Here’s exactly what he said in the broadcast that aired live in the United Kingdom on ESPN UK:
What Champion said was appropriate. He called a spade a spade. Luis Suarez’s handball was so blatantly obvious that Champion’s words shouldn’t have been called into question. But ESPN today issued an apology. Here’s what their official spokesperson said:
“We take our responsibility to deliver the highest standards of coverage to our viewers. ESPN’s editorial policy is for commentators to be unbiased and honest, to call things as they see them. Inevitably this can involve treading a fine line on occasion, especially in the heat of the moment. Comments during the Mansfield v Liverpool match caused offence where none was intended and we have spoken to our commentator about this incident.”
I completely understand ESPN’s policy of not wanting their commentators to be biased, but in this particular instance, I don’t believe Champion’s comments were biased. They were stating the obvious where he was bold enough to take a stand on something that the majority of viewers would agree with. For Champion not to say anything would have been an injustice.
ESPN’s viewpoint that Champion’s words “caused offence” are ridiculous. Liverpool club forums and blogs last night encouraged readers to make complaints against Champion, and ESPN’s move today was no doubt made to silence the Liverpool supporters. But in this particular instance, ESPN made a poor decision. Instead of backing their commentator, they decided to side with a small portion of their viewers. From a PR perspective, ESPN made a move to try to sweep the incident under a carpet. But to me, this is a sad day for commentators as others will likely think twice about stating the obvious in the future for fear of being reprimanded by their employers.