- ESPN’s leading NFL analyst, Adam Schefter, came under fire during the 2020 NFL Draft Thursday night after he tweeted: “For the first time in what feels like forever, a real live sporting event.”
- ESPN had hosted the 2020 WNBA Draft less than a week prior. Some fans interpreted Schefter’s tweet as disrespectful, and he subsequently apologised.
- The juxtaposition of ESPN’s treatment of the 2020 WNBA and NFL Drafts had already angered women’s sports fans; Schefter simply exacerbated the tensions.
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While many sports fans were excited for a night of “live sports”on Thursday – if you could call the 2020 NFL Draft that – one group was less than thrilled.
WNBA enthusiasts have long taken issue with some of ESPN’s decisions about coverage of the league. But that anger came to a head on Thursday night thanks, in part, to a tweet from ESPN’s leading NFL analyst.
“For the first time in what feels like forever, a real live sporting event,” Adam Schefter tweeted a minute after the draft broadcast began from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement-turned-studio.
The 2020 WNBA Draft, basketball fans were quick to note, had aired live on ESPN less than one week prior. And it had garnered more viewership than any draft in more than a decade before it.
“A whole entire professional basketball league has a draft last week,” SBNation’s Whitney Medworth tweeted in response to Schefter.
“Very weird erasure from a person who [checks notes] works for the company who broadcasted the event live!!!” SBNation’s Matt Ellentuck added.
Schefter apologised in a tweet a few hours later, saying he was “caught up in the moment of the NFL Draft and forgot about the WNBA Draft from last Friday night.” ESPN also emphasised that the tweet was simply an oversight an in no way meant as a slight to the WNBA.
But Schefter’s comments had already brought to a head existing tensions surrounding the network’s treatment of the league.
The 2020 WNBA draft – headlined by college basketball’s brightest star, Sabrina Ionescu – was not initially scheduled to air on ESPN’s main channel. Instead, the Disney-owned company planned to broadcast it on ESPN2, even though most live sports are on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fans were vocal in their opposition to the decision, which prompted the network to move the draft to its flagship channel during prime time.
But even then, WNBA enthusiasts were still frustrated that ESPN provided what they saw as insufficient coverage of the upcoming draft ahead of time, even though it was slated to be one of the league’s deepest in recent history.
SBNation writer Natalie Weiner shared her exasperation in a Twitter thread preceding the live draft on April 17.
“Not to beat a dead horse but why is it two hours before the WNBA Draft and I can’t find any women’s basketball on any ESPN affiliate while literally no other sports are happening?” Weiner wrote. “There is a whole week for meaningless NFL Draft rumours.”
there are NO OTHER SPORTS HAPPENING AND YOU STILL CAN'T GIVE WOMEN THE TIME OF DAY
— Natalie Weiner (@natalieweiner) April 17, 2020
Then came an instance of blatant disrespect from Michael Wilbon, who co-hosts ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption.”
As he signed off, Wilbon plugged the WNBA draft. But his lack of enthusiasm made it clear to viewers and, apparently, to co-host Tony Kornheiser, that he’d been told by the network to promote the event.
“Tremendous promotion, Wilbon, tremendous,” Kornheiser said,per Weiner.
“You like that?” Wilbon responded. “I’m a company guy.”
Frustration grew further during the WNBA draft itself.
Throughout the first round of the two-hour broadcast, fans and casual viewers lauded the ESPN production staff for the seamlessness of the broadcast. But after that – and again with no other live sporting events competing for airtime – the network simply revealed the later-round selections on a list displayed on screen after a commercial break.
Of the 36 women selected to WNBA teams, just 12 received a spotlight and an interview after they were picked, making it seem the network was treating the second- and third-round picks as an afterthought.
“ESPN is dedicated to working with the [WNBA] league to continue the momentum behind the growth in interest and support of women’s basketball,” an ESPN representative told Insider.
But by comparison, the first round of the NFL Draft was a four-hour affair. Each of the 32 draftees enjoyed their moment in the limelight and, presumably, many more picks will see their faces on screen during rounds two and three on Friday – the second consecutive night of coverage across ESPN, NFL Network, and ABC.
Plus, leading up to Thursday night, ESPN devoted a week of on-screen preparation and dialogue to the NFL Draft.
The NFL, of course, produces substantially more revenue – both in general and for ESPN – than the WNBA, creating a heavy incentive for the network.
But fans’ frustration about gender disparities in the media coverage of women’s and men’s sports goes deeper than just the WNBA. Many proponents of women’s leagues – including the National Women’s Soccer League, National Women’s Hockey League, and more – believe that media conglomerates like ESPN can and should do more to help promote women’s athletics by investing in, giving exposure to, and showing respect for female athletes across the board.
Schefter’s tweet was likely just a forgetful blunder. But even assuming that he simply did not remember that the WNBA Draft had recently occurred, his tweet nonetheless served as a reminder that many of the most influential people in the world of athletics deem women’s sporting events unworthy of acknowledging or remembering – not to mention watching.
Meanwhile, as fans tune into the remaining six rounds of this year’s NFL Draft on ESPN, the network’s decisions about how to allocate its seemingly unlimited airtime in a sports-less season perpetuates a hierarchy with which women are all too familiar.
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