Being selected in the NFL Draft is a special moment for any player who gets to experience it. Years of hard work, practically your entire life, has built up to this one occassion when it all pays off. There's still more work ahead, but draft night is something special.
Many of the prospects who are lucky enough to make it in the NFL Draft have their own personal life stories they've dealt with. Whether it be a parent who died when the prospect was young, or a relative with a medical condition that made an impact on the player.
And if you've been watching the NFL Draft on ESPN, then you probably know all about these stories. Because they've been abundant, and hard to miss. While personal stories of overcoming tough life obstacles has always been a part of the NFL Draft broadcast storytelling, for some reason this year there seemed to be more of them.
So much so that it's actually become a talking point of the NFL Draft, with many viewers left wondering if this is all really necessary. One viewer was Broncos pass rusher Bradley Chubb, who was the fifth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
I understand everybody has a story & motivation, but ESPN doesn’t have to highlight the worst moment that happens in some of these folks lives. Am I tripping?
— Bradley Chubb (@astronaut) April 24, 2020
One of the more widely criticized cases was when the Bengals drafted Tee Higgins in the second round. ESPN put up a graphic of his "Get To Know" card which included facts like his hometown and his basketball career. Then at the end it added, "Mom, Camilla, fought drug addiction for 16 years."
@espn this is disgusting on your part, Tee Higgins is enjoying his entrance to the NFL. And y’all have to announce his personal family business, by putting his moms drug addiction battle. Y’all should be ashamed of yourselves. pic.twitter.com/0oO1LbVZGr
— Roy Resendez (@royresendez32) April 24, 2020
ESPN VP of Production Seth Markman released a statement Sunday apologizing for the Higgins graphic.
“The Tee Higgins graphic should not have aired. It was a mistake and we apologize for it. We want our Draft coverage to personalize players and, where appropriate, acknowledge the obstacles they’ve had to overcome on their journey to the NFL. This graphic lacked proper context.”
A similar card was made for Laviska Shenault, a wide receiver who was drafted to the Jaguars. His third fact on his "Get To Know" card read, "Mother, Annie, contracted and survived West Nile virus in 2012."
In addition to these cards, the broadcast frequently brought up stories about prospects with sad piano music playing in the background. One extreme case was when they were telling the story of Javon Kinlaw's childhood and said he "walked over dead bodies" to get his home.
ESPN also spent a few minutes on the suicide of Jordan Love's dad, going into detail about how his father’s blood pressure medication may have played a role. These are good stories to share in the right setting when the prospects feel comfortable talking about it, but literal seconds after hearing their names called felt wrong and almost exploitative.
The company provided the following statement to Sporting News regarding their overall draft coverage:
"Our NFL Draft coverage analyzes the prospects on the field and introduces the human side of the players by telling their stories, including the obstacles their families have overcome as part of the journey to the NFL."
People on social media couldn't help but take notice of how often this was happening.
ESPN NFL Draft producers when they find out a draft pick grew up in a loving household with both parents present pic.twitter.com/yLDP0UmEsb
— Matthew A. Cherry (@MatthewACherry) April 25, 2020
Draft pick: “I had a tragic death in my family”
— Josiah Johnson (@KingJosiah54) April 25, 2020
ESPN needs to stop brazenly exploiting this draft class’ family tragedies. It’s ridiculous to see details about the death of these guys’ family members right above their career highlights.
It was even worse last year but it’s still terrible this year.
— Emma Vigeland (@EmmaVigeland) April 25, 2020
ESPN: Let me tell you about this draft prospect’s worst childhood trauma
— Cameron Magruder (@ScooterMagruder) April 24, 2020
ESPN DRAFT PROFILE
Name: Tee Higgins
Strengths: Ridiculous hands, huge catch radius
Personal: As a child watched the vicious landlord Chiu-Feng slaughter his entire family, lives only for vengeance against the dastardly land barons of Sichuan province
— BUM CHILLUPS (@edsbs) April 24, 2020
ESPN draft prep: “Alright just gonna need your height, weight, hometown, a fun fact, and then the most horrific tragedy that’s ever happened to you or an immediate family member”
— Tommy Smokes (@TomScibelli) April 25, 2020
A live look at ESPN’s draft graphic PSD pic.twitter.com/dQsiKbgaN1
— Zach Osborne (@zjcreation) April 25, 2020