There was a very strange minute of television last week. After Ingram was drafted by New Orleans at No. 28 overall — the same position his father went in 1987 — Suzy Kolber presented/confronted the son with an email from the father.
Mark Ingram Sr. has been in a Texas low-security prison for the past year on money laundering and bank fraud charges. He is scheduled for release in 2014.
In the email, Senior told Junior how proud he was. Junior took a moment to compose himself, then told his father he loved him and has always looked up to him. Heartrending for anyone with a heart. The sentiments were legitimate, patriarchal pathos worthy of Sophocles. Ingram's tears were real. It was TV gold.
Kolber, after reading Ingram the letter, stepped aside. But standing back to let the story play itself out is a disingenuous move when Kolber and ESPN created the story.
The "Gotcha" interview is an old, somewhat icky journalism convention. It's when you surprise a subject with new information designed to make them look bad, without alerting them to the information's existence in the first place. It's done to elicit spur-of-the-moment reactions, true, but mostly it's called into action when an organization knows there's no way the subject would sit for an interview if they knew about the potential bombshell. ESPN is no stranger to the Gotcha, perhaps most notably confronting Miguel Tejada with evidence that he had lied about his age and even his birth name.
Tejada stormed out of the interview, stunned, needing to collect his thoughts. It was compelling TV. Ingram had no such escape, being put on the spot on a live national broadcast. It was also compelling TV.
This isn't in the same category as Miguel Tejada, because the news was positive and Ingram ended up coming off in a positive light. But it was still a Gotcha, a made-for-TV moment concocted by a network for its own benefit, and trumpeted as some sort of candid moment.
How candid was it? ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz gave us some background. Apparently Kolber and Ingram Jr. had connected a couple of weeks ago and Kolber had asked if she could contact the incarcerated Ingram for her pre-draft reporting; standard operating procedure, Krulewitz says. Since he has limited email privileges and all correspondence went through Ingram Sr.'s lawyer. Kolber heard nothing back until the middle of the draft when she received the email, via the lawyer, that she later read on air.
It's unclear whether Ingram Sr. intended it to be read publicly, or if it came as an answer to a more general "what would you like to say to your son" question.
Kolber describes the scene:
I saw Mark was looking over my shoulder as I was reading it on my phone. It was so unique that I asked him if there was anything he wanted to say to his dad. I didn't know he was going to get that choked up. The best part of the whole thing was how incredibly eloquent he was in that moment to say what he did. To be able to look into the camera and address his father. It was brief, to the point, and so filled with love.
Rewatching it, it's hard not to feel a little weird. Jeff Pearlman did a complete 180 from last night to this morning. A "dishonest moment?" We're not sure we'd go that far. But on the biggest night of Mark Ingram's professional life, a day that should have been his and his alone to enjoy and process and remember the way he wants, a shrewd reporter and some fortuitous timing made it ESPN's moment, too.