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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

ESPN Made A Very Weird Mistake In Its Big Ray Rice Story

Illustration for article titled ESPN Made A Very Weird Mistake In Its Big Ray Rice Story

On Friday, ESPN's Outside the Lines published a thoroughly reported and damning story about the Baltimore Ravens' handling of the Ray Rice case. Based on new information, though, it's apparent that one major part of the story was awkwardly mishandled, for reasons that aren't quite clear.


One of the biggest revelations in the story is Rice's belief that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti tried to bribe Rice into staying quiet about the whole incident by promising him a future job with the team despite having just been released. OTL reported that Rice believed this to be the case based an a few text messages that Bisciotti had sent him. Here's how OTL wrote the scene up in it's original story:

Illustration for article titled ESPN Made A Very Weird Mistake In Its Big Ray Rice Story

The italicized bits of text led most people to believe that the text messages were being quoted by ESPN verbatim. Why would they be anything else? In the story's very next paragraph it's reported that Rice took screenshots of the texts and that one of Rice's friends "provided the text's contents to Outside the Lines."

Then came the Ravens' official response to the story, which presented its own version of the text messages, including Ray Rice's end of them:

Monday September 8, 7:44 pm

Ray: I understand the decision but I am thankful for what you have done for me and my family. Me and my wife will continue to work on us and being better but I just wanted to say thank you for giving me a chance

Steve: I'm sorry we had to do this. I still love you and believe that you will be a great husband and father If you ever need to talk just call

Tuesday September 9, 10:27 pm

Steve: I just spent two hours talking to Ozzie. It was all about you. We love you and we will always figure out a way to keep you in our lives. When you are done with football I will hire you to help me raise Great young men. I still love you!!!

Ray: I know it's a rough time for all of us I love all of you and that will never change for life!

Steve: I will help you make it a great life indeed. I give you my WORD

Ray: That means the world to me and my family we greatly appreciate you and thank you.

In a statement released last night, ESPN admitted that particular portion of the story was confusing, and did not contain the exact messages themselves, but rather the reporters' paraphrasing of them. Here's the statement, via Pro Football Talk:

"We understand the confusion surrounding our use of italics and recognize we could have been more clear," ESPN said Tuesday in a statement. "Most importantly, the information in our story about the contents of the texts was consistent with what the team released."


None of this means that OTL's story is bullshit or has been undermined to the point that it should be ignored—if Rice told OTL that he believed that the Ravens were trying to bribe him, then they were right to report that—but it does make for some head-scratching at the way the story was edited and presented. The reporters certainly seem to have had access to the full exchange—why not just dump it in the story? And why italicize here, when that usually indicates direct quotation?

The answers to these questions aren't clear, even after ESPN's statement. But between this and Bob Ley going on TV and strangely reporting what appeared to be a groundbreaking bit of information, only to have ESPN slowly and awkwardly walk the report back over the next few hours, it certainly looks like Bristol's machine slipped a few cogs Friday.