ESPN.com college football writer Bruce Feldman has departed the network just weeks after apparently being disciplined for his role in a book critical of the company.
Feldman has signed a three-year deal with CBS Sports to serve as a writer for CBSSports.com and make appearances on CBS and CBS Sports Network, Sports Illustrated reported Thursday. He was scheduled to make his debut Thursday night on CBS Sports Network’s pregame coverage of a Massachusetts/Holy Cross college football game.
Feldman was previously in the final year of his contract with ESPN. His sixteen-year tenure with the company had become acrimonious in recent weeks, stemming from an alleged suspension earlier this summer.
In July, the website Sports by Brooks reported that Feldman had been suspended by ESPN for co-authoring a book with former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.
Leach was fired in 2009 after an incident involving the son of ESPN college football analyst Craig James. He later filed a libel suit against ESPN. In the aforementioned book, Leach alleges that James and his PR firm influenced ESPN’s coverage of the incident.
Feldman received permission from ESPN to assist Leach with the book.
The day after the Sports by Brooks report, ESPN denied that Feldman was suspended and said he had resumed his activities. The Poynter Institute, currently serving as ESPN ombudsman, later agreed with the company’s statement that there had been no suspension.
On Thursday, Feldman made the media rounds and for the first time told his side of the story. While ESPN executives told him at the time that he was not being suspended, Feldman faced restrictions that he says were keeping him from doing his job (sportsillustrated.cnn.com, 9/1).
Feldman was originally banned from appearing on any ESPN platform, posting to the social networking site Twitter and promoting the Leach book (sportsbybrooks.com, 7/14). In addition, he was barred from attending the ESPY Awards (nytimes.com, 9/1) and an SEC event for which he had already booked his travel arrangements (Dan Patrick Show, 9/1). However, even after ESPN claimed that Feldman would resume his duties with the company, he faced more restrictions.
ESPN the Magazine placed restrictions on Feldman for two weeks (blogs.wsj.com, 9/1), putting the kibosh on one of his articles and forbidding him to contact anyone connected to Leach without permission (nytimes.com, 9/1).
ESPN sent out a ‘do not book’ memo to their own talent producers to keep Feldman off the air (sportsillustrated.cnn.com, 9/1). Feldman was also told not to speak to the Poynter Institute for their account of the incident — an account that he described as inaccurate (sportsillustrated.cnn.com, 9/1).
The situation affected Feldman’s contract status with the network. He said that ESPN originally planned to offer him a new three-year contract and a raise, but that offer was later downgraded to a one-year deal without a raise (nytimes.com, 9/1).
ESPN says it has “significant disagreements with [Feldman's] account,” but otherwise has no comment.
(Sources cited in this article include Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Sports Radio Interviews [Dan Patrick Show transcript] and Sports By Brooks [original July report])