While ESPN analyst Chris Broussard's controversial comments
about Jason Collins revealing his homosexuality predate Robert Lipsyte's tenure
as ESPN ombudsman, Lipsyte -- a titan in sports journalism -- is nonetheless
using the episode as an internal "dry run," he says.
"I'm thinking about it a lot," says Lipsyte, who
starts June 1. "I think it's certainly an ombudsman story."
Lipsyte will be the fifth ombudsman in ESPN history -- "offering
independent examination, critique and analysis," in ESPN's words, on the
Worldwide Leader in Sports' on-air, online and print content. He succeeds the
Poynter Institute in the role, which features an 18-month term.
Lipsyte has had a vast and colorful career in sports
journalism. He started as a copy boy at the New
York Times in 1957, became a columnist at the paper, and wrote for
ESPN.com, among many other publications, from 2003-2006. He was also a
consultant for ESPN and, as he puts it, "a gasbag" on its various
sports commentary shows. He's also criticized ESPN in his journalism.
"I've been more or less preparing for this for the last
50 years," he says.
As much as he's accomplished in journalism, Lipsyte is also
a prolific young-adult novelist.
Many in sports media applauded Lipsyte's appointment. Even
snarky Deadspin, which doesn't give compliments easily, sang his praises.
"Lipsyte, a veteran of the Times
and PBS and the author of many, many books, is a pretty exciting choice,"
wrote the site. "He'll kick ESPN's ass when he has to, and he'll do it
While he's reviewing Broussard's comments on Outside the Lines, during which the
veteran basketball reporter called homosexuality a sin, Lipsyte said it
wouldn't be appropriate to render judgment on the episode before his tenure
He says he will produce one "large" column and one
"real-time chat" each month on ESPN.com, along with an array of blog
posts. He won't likely appear much on television. Lipsyte will prepare for his
role by going through ESPN's online mail bag, and reaching out to his
predecessors in the post, who include George Solomon (2005-07), Le Anne
Schreiber (2007-08) and Don Ohlmeyer (2009-10).
Ombudsmen are increasingly rare in U.S. media. The Washington Post did away with the
43-year-old post at the paper in March, in favor of a "reader representative."
Lipsyte will be one of around 21 active U.S. media ombudsmen, estimates Jeffrey
Dvorkin, executive director of the Organization of News Ombudsmen and a former
one for NPR. "The big ones have diminished, no question about that,"
Lipsyte was approached by John Walsh, ESPN executive VP and
executive editor, around six weeks ago about being one of four to five finalists
for the job. "During our interview with Bob, we agreed about a blueprint
for the ESPN ombudsman in the digital age," Walsh said in a statement
April 23. "So we will be looking at a multiplatform focus along with
paying attention to the views of our audiences."
calls the position "a reporting job" and will work from his New York
home, with periodic visits to ESPN headquarters in Bristol. Contrasting the
clichÃ© about not doing windows, Lipsyte will be hands-on at ESPN. "It's my
job to be the interface between viewership and the company," he says.
"There are windows of transparency, and I'll try to keep washing those