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ESPN Must Suspend Pam Shriver for James Blake-Wimbledon Incident

It’s one thing for a sports analyst to be accurately critical of an athlete’s performance.

It’s quite another to do so within earshot of the athlete while he’s engaged in play. And worse, proceed to spark a war of words when informed that he hears you.

After her antics at Wimbledon, Pam Shriver should be suspended. At least. 

ESPN needs to react to this.

Last season, ESPN “broke” the story about former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach mistreating a football player by allegedly confining him to an equipment shed. It turned out that the player was Adam James, son of former SMU and NFL running back Craig James. Craig, by the way, happens to work for ESPN as a college football analyst.

At the time, I was disgusted with the way the network allowed Craig James to stay centrally involved in the story. At one point early on, they even interviewed their own employee and splashed his version of events across televisions everywhere. So much for objectivity. They eventually gave the same opportunity to Leach, but at the time it was a rather damaging lack of journalistic balance.

Further, Craig James kept working college games as the “case” was basically being tried in the court of public opinion. ESPN should have enough integrity to pull him until his legal matters were settled. Though subsequent articles attempted to report on both sides of the issue, it was difficult to see past the glaring conflict of interest. 

Now, along comes an apparently loud-mouthed Pam Shriverworking at Wimbledon. An analyst for ESPN, the former tennis professional was providing commentary for James Blake’s first-round match against Robin Haase. Blake lost the match, continuing a spate of uninspired and apathetic play that has come to stain his dwindling career.

Shriver criticized Blake while the match was in progress. That is her job, more or less. The problem is that she did it loudly enough for Blake to hear her. Then made matters worse.

Rule number 1 for covering games has to be that no announcer, anywhere, ever, should disrupt actual game play. Yet, when Blake informed Shriver that he could hear her, what did she do?

She mouthed off about it. No apology, no lowering of the voice. Instead, she attacked Blake for turning to speak to her.

Here’s how the exchange went down:

SHRIVER: Usually, if you haven’t played, or only played one or two matches, you’re actually quite eager. You might not be match-tough, you might miss a lot of shots, but mentally you’re not burned out.

BLAKE: Amazing you used to play tennis. I can still hear you.

SHRIVER: James just yelled at me. I’m way above the court, but evidently he can hear me. He’s got rabbit ears.

BLAKE: You have to be an ass about it, too? And act like I’m at fault?’

SHRIVER:  And there he is, talking again.

He’s talking? 

Anyone who participates or watches sports should be infuriated by this incident, even if it is….ahem….only tennis. Like golf, tennis is a sport that demands silence and good manners. It should not have to tolerate uppity sportscasters.

Shriver’s ego clearly ran away with her brain – she should have simply apologized and/or spoken more quietly rather than antagonizing the struggling Blake. It doesn’t really matter that her analysis was correct, what matters is that she escalated the incident into a real problem. If anything, she spoke louder following his response.

Could Blake have turned the other cheek and ignored her? Of course. And clearly, he should have been focused on his opponent rather than the braying emanating from the booth.

But announcers are not the news. They are not the story. Their purpose is to bring the sport to the fans through description and commentary. Shriver’s actions are reprehensible.

The question is, what will the network do about it? In all fairness, ESPN has taken suitable disciplinary action before. It suspended Pardon the Interruption‘s Tony Kornheiser when he made inappropriate remarks about anchor Hannah Storm’s attire. It suspended Bob Griese when the college football color man made an off-color comment about NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya. It fired Steve Phillips in the wake of his affair with an intern.

But what Shriver did, actually interfering with a live event…bickering with an athlete, is far worse than any of those offenses.

So which will it be? The ESPN that took action in the wake of poor behavior? Or the ESPN that forged ahead in the face of a blossoming conflict of interest?

At the least, Shriver should be pulled from Wimbledon coverage and suspended.


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