ESPN has apparently suspended writer, journalist, and all-around good guy Bruce Feldman for his participation in Mike Leach's new book "Swing Your Sword". I have not yet had a chance to read Leach's book, but if ESPN wanted to send a message about it, they perhaps couldn't have given it more publicity than they did in suspending Feldman.
I had the opportunity to deal with Feldman when I reviewed his book "Meat Market". The book is excellent, and Feldman followed the review up by doing an interview with me. You'd expect that kind of attention when an author is promoting a book, but that wasn't what sold me on the guy.
It was the podcasts he did with the guys at In The Bleachers. Hell, he even spent a season picking games with us (I suck at that, so you know). I knew the guys running the site a while back, and they commented on how gracious Feldman was to them, that he was genuinely pretty decent. Given that (at the time) we were seen as just a bunch of bloggers, sitting around in our underwear in our mother's basement, that's a helluva statement. Thing is, if you ask around, Feldman is one of those guys that always takes the time to respond to people. You know, a decent human being, which are apparently in short supply these days.
It really isn't that hard to guess why Feldman was suspended, despite (allegedly) having permission to work on the Leach book. I've recently finished reading the book "Those Guys Have All The Fun" about ESPN. At first, I was skeptical (much like I was with John J. Miller's Roosevelt book), but once I picked it up, I was enthralled. I'll spare you the whole details (and do a full review later), but "Those Guys" details the beginnings of ESPN and takes you all the way through to present day. You're told the story of an evolution - the fledgling network that changes how we consume sports to a network that cannot stand any criticism, especially if that criticism comes from within.
Leach's book doesn't have a lot of nice things to say about Craig James, but it's not like that should be a shock to anyone. It shouldn't have been much of a shock to ESPN either, but given their history (In "Those Guys", Bill Simmons talks about getting in trouble for a podcast a full four-and-a-half months after it was released), the suspension is right on par. Never mind that ESPN has the largest conflict of interest known to mankind, wanting the appearance of a news organization while jealously protecting the interests it serves (cough, Ben Roethlsberger story, cough), this is who they are - petty, thin-skinned, and narcissistic.
Unfortunately for ESPN, this suspension will backfire. Feldman is immensely popular, and if you had to make a choice between listening to Mike Leach or Craig James do commentary, how many of you would pick James?
Ultimately, the suspension makes James more unlistenable than ever while Feldman will be fine. He's an excellent writer and if ESPN doesn't bring him back, someone else will pick him up. If he's looking for a home where he can be free to write whatever he wants, perhaps he should consider SB Nation. We're not bound by petty constraints and the network continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Proof? Tonight I'm in the living room now, fully clothed, and the gin is Bombay Sapphire.