Sports network ESPN’s original movie debut this weekend features a red-sweater-clad Brian Dennehy tossing around swears and chairs in his portrayal of controversial college basketball coach Bobby Knight. Does this fictional account of a newsmaker ESPN frequently covers taint the journalistic integrity of the sports news station? Bob asks ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap.
ESPN’s Fictitious Knight
March 9, 2002
BOB GARFIELD: College basketball coach Bobby Knight is legendary for his profane on-court fulminations and his off-court battles with the press. Both were documented in John Feinstein's 1989 best seller A Season on the Brink. Now that book has been turned into a TV movie airing on ESPN. Feinstein calls the adaptation a cartoon, and ESPN anchor Dan Patrick isn't wild about having a fictionalized bio-pic aired right after journalistic coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament selection process. Here's Patrick on his ESPN radio show.
DAN PATRICK: I don't agree with the movie. I, I wish we weren't doing the movie. But we are.
BOB GARFIELD: If the mixing of news and entertainment affects anybody, it would probably be ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap who already covers Coach Knight without being on speaking terms with him. We asked Schaap if the ESPN foray into semi-fiction presents journalistic problems for him.
JEREMY SCHAAP: I don't think it affects my job at all. I, I think that Bob and most people are savvy enough to understand that there is a distinction between our news division as it were and the people who are producing the movies that we are now going to be producing I understand on a fairly regular basis. But my bosses -- I have to give them credit --have always kept up the fire wall and have tried to make the best of apparent conflicts of interest. I mean remember-- I work for ESPN which has billion dollar relationships with the NFL, with major league baseball, now with the NBA, with the NHL, and I don't think it's affected the way that reporters such as myself cover those leagues. Remember, we're also owned by Disney which owns the Anaheim Angels and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
BOB GARFIELD: In other words you're constantly interviewing your business partners as news sources.
JEREMY SCHAAP: Exactly.
BOB GARFIELD:But is there a, a clear cut fire wall between, say, Sports Center and the sports programming that people understand between the news divisions at the major networks and their entertainment sides?
JEREMY SCHAAP: Well I think it may be more blurred at ESPN; that's certainly the case, because this movie in particular has been so heavily promoted and promoted so frequently on Sports Center that we should be careful about that.
BOB GARFIELD:Ever since Bobby Knight began making the news through his chair-throwing and athlete-choking and so forth, he said the media is out to get me. And the media have always been able to say well-- actually no, Bobby - I mean we've got documentary evidence that you've done this, that, and that - it's on tape. But now he can actually point and say they are out to get me; look at this stuff they've made up about me. Make your job harder?
JEREMY SCHAAP: No, I don't think so. I don't think there's anything in there re-produced dramatically that did not happen that would be controversial. It's not as if there's a scene in there with him choking a kid that didn't happen. You know most people who've seen A Season on The Brink or, or who've read the book came away in some ways admiring Bob Knight. That was something that always infuriated him, because he hated the book. He thought it made him look like a bully; too profane; and of course all those things he is. Doesn't mean that he wanted to be portrayed that way.
BOB GARFIELD: Jeremy, thank you.
JEREMY SCHAAP: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Jeremy Schaap is a reporter for ESPN. [MUSIC]