Yesterday, the NFL-Adam Schefter Pipeline was hit with another problem when an ESPN insider received a tip about a Minnesota Vikings runningback Dalvin Cook's agent. The tip claimed that Cook had been a victim to domestic violence and extortion. The Minnesota Star Tribune reported on Tuesday that Cook's ex-girlfriend had filed charges against him for assault, battery and false imprisonment. You can read the entire Star Tribune article here. It details both sides of the allegations.
We are not here to make a judgment on any pending litigation or on the dispute itself. However, we are here to look at the narrative and reporting that has surrounded these allegations over the past few days.
It's not difficult to see that Zac Hiller, Cook's agent, knew about the lawsuit coming out and wanted control of the story. Hiller turned to Adam Schefter, the favorite NFL shill. Schefter and ESPN aren't exactly impartial reporting outlets, it's not secret. While there are many reasons why the ESPN/NFL partnership is still close, 2.6 billion reasons to be exact -- that said, that partnership has produced a unique brand of non-threatening comment that has become the industry standard. ESPN has gained a lot of trust through its name recognition and has attracted a lot of viewers and readers. Although their writers and hosts can critique underperforming players and coaching decisions and situations such as the Jon Gruden emails and others, they cannot bite the hand that feeds. It's not an option.
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The NFL does more than just give them broadcasting rights. Schefter has been trusted by executives, agents, and other league insiders for many years. This has allowed him to gain valuable information, break major stories, and also put him in the difficult position of making sure those sources are happy. While he might fact-check the stories with his source at times, most of the time he accepts what his sources have to say. It's not worth the effort. It works for him most of the time, until more serious cases arise. Cook used Trimble's allegations to help him frame the story to put himself in a positive light. He was unwittingly, but perhaps not willing, to assist in his goal. Despite the fact that the case is still in the midst of court proceedings and there are allegations of domestic violence by both sides, the public will only be privy to the verdict of one party. This is due to Adam Schefter's failure to report half the news at Hiller’s request.
Schefter's work in PR for the NFL regarding players who have been accused of causing harm to women has been criticised before. Schefter interviewed Greg Hardy, a former Dallas Cowboy who was charged with assaulting his ex-girlfriend. This happened in the same time as the NFL attempted to improve its public image through domestic violence. Schefter's interview cannot be described as that. After Hardy had denied any wrongdoing in the matter, Schefter went on Dan Patrick to call Hardy "this is a man who has managed the wrong words at the wrong times" and "a changed type of guy." He even voiced his disagreement with Hardy's assertion that he hadn't assaulted the woman despite the fact that there was photographic evidence at the time.
Schefter later apologised for not asking for comments "from all sides" regarding the Cook story, and promised to "slow down” on sensitive topics such as this. Despite the NFL's supposed zero tolerance rule, domestic violence allegations against NFL athletes and players are often not taken seriously by either the league or the public. The league and the public will often forget about domestic abuse allegations, even if there is a video or a confession. Deshaun Watson is just one example of this. There are many others to name as the NFL presents their efforts to prevent domestic abuse -- Josh Brown and Adrian Peterson, Tyreek Hills, Antonio Brown -- the list continues. To have ignored Cook's allegations in this case and instead focused on his victimization and litigation, is part of a trend to ignore domestic violence charges against professional athletes. Fans are more than happy to overlook their idols' flaws and faults. Cook can use this platform to declare himself victim and get public support, even though no one really knows the whole story.
Schefter, who has no knowledge of the dynamics and abuse in domestic relationships, now gives more ammunition to Cook's fans. Is it possible that people are so eager to attack and demonize anyone who is a victim of the NFL, such as Cook? Although there is an answer, it's not the best reflection of our core values.