Last week, The New York Times reported that three ESPN College GameDay anchors — Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso — have had shoe contracts with Nike. We've known about Erin Andrews's endorsement deal with Reebok for some time, but the news that these three have worn Nike and agreed to speaking engagements for the company came as a surprise — even to their employer. ESPN claims it was "unaware" of those deals. That's understandable. Just watch the video above. Over the years, ESPN broadcasters have endorsed Reeboks, televisions, airline tickets, cars, car insurance, cruises, credit cards, golf balls, video games, beers, wings, pizzas, cookies, sodas, sports drinks, tacos, hamburgers, boobsy ladies in tight T-shirts serving hamburgers, and diets. They've peddled so much and so often, it's hard to keep track.
That's why the question that has persisted over the past week — does a Nike deal compromise the journalistic integrity of ESPN? — seems more than a little strange. ESPN is pretty much in the business of compromising the journalistic integrity of ESPN. I don't mean this judgmentally. It's just the nature of the network: The entertainment side of the operation will butt heads with the newsgathering side for as long as they're forced to coexist in the same sprawling compound. There are certainly questions worth raising about the endorsement deals, but this is, after all, an ESPN show built around the idea of hyping ESPN programming. Like everything else on that network, it's inherently compromised.