Jovan Belcher Coverage Praised, Panned

Did the media pay enough attention to domestic violence and the NFL star's slain girlfriend? 

Jovan Belcher (Getty Images)
Jovan Belcher (Getty Images)

“Ham-Handed,” “Credible,” “a Fraud”

News outlets were praised and criticized for their coverage of the murder-suicide involving Jovan Belcher, the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker who killed his girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself Saturday.

Not only did commentators evaluate coverage of the tragedy by CBS, ESPN and the NFL Network as a news event, but they also faulted or praised the emphasis given by print and broadcast outlets to the slain girlfriend, to the issue of domestic violence and to gun control as part of the story. NBC’s Bob Costas and Fox Sports Network’s Jason Whitlock were singled out for attention.

Richard Deitsch wrote Sunday for Sports Illustrated, “. . . CBS’s The NFL Today show disgraced itself on Sunday.

“Viewers understand that networks have bills to pay and can tolerate mild product placement. But common sense and decency should always carry the day, and 24 hours after Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered Kasandra Perkins (the mother of their three-month old daughter, Zoe), The NFL Today opened its pregame show with a ham-handed live advertisement for Garmin that featured host James Brown hawking the product (‘We would like to thank our friends from Garmin for helping navigate our open!’) like a GPS-happy P.T. Barnum.”

Deitsch continued, “. . . Yesterday, on ESPN’s Sunday Countdown, host Chris Berman began the show on the appropriate somber note, with the producers showing a live shot inside Arrowhead Stadium. Berman then sent the audience to reporter Ed Werder, a longtime journalist who had traveled to Kansas City. Werder provided what Werder always does: credible reporting. Given the news in Kansas City, ESPN, to its credit, canceled its comic segment with Frank Caliendo and its frivolous ‘Come On, Man’ segments.”

In the Times Union in Albany, N.Y., Pete Dougherty also praised ESPN but panned the NFL Network. “ESPN, still the place to turn for any major breaking sports story, followed journalist principles today before reporting the [identity] of the Kansas City Chiefs player who killed his girlfriend and then himself,” he wrote Saturday.

“Meanwhile, the NFL Network proved itself to be a fraud when it comes to breaking news.

“ESPNews reported the story when it broke and continued to update viewers, but did not identify the player as linebacker Jovan Belcher — even though numerous Internet reports did — until police released the name.”

Deitsch noted, “. . . Covering crime is not easy for a sports network, but it does reveal something about its journalistic DNA. As news broke Saturday morning from Kansas City, the NFL Network opted to continue airing its regular-scheduled programming (in this case, a repeat of Playbook AFC with Sterling Sharpe) while using the scroll at the bottom of the screen to update coverage.