College football writer Bruce Feldman, whose reported suspension from ESPN last month produced an uprising on Twitter, has joined CBS as a college football analyst. He will write for CBSSports.com and report on college football across multiple CBS platforms.
Last month, a Twitter campaign led by some of Feldman's non-ESPN sportswriting colleagues, including SI.com's Andy Staples and Stewart Mandel, helped the writer rise to No. 4 on Twitter's Trending topic list, a space usually occupied by breaking news or Justin Bieber. (In the interest of full disclosure, Feldman is an acquaintance, and I respect his work.)
Feldman had not given his side of the story about what happened to him at ESPN.
This morning, he spoke with a select number of media outlets including SI.com, The Wall Street Journal and the Dan Patrick Show.
Asked by SI.com if he was suspended by ESPN, Feldman's answer lasted nearly five minutes:
"Let's put it this way, I was told not to blog, not to tweet, not to do any radio interviews," he said. "When I asked on that conference call [with ESPN officials], which was on a Thursday, about being scheduled to cover the SEC media kickoff in Alabama a week from then, I was told, 'No, you can't go.' The day after the conference call, when ESPN was claiming that there was no suspension, Chad Millman, the editor-in-chief of ESPN The Magazine, actually added more restrictions. He was stopping me from being able to do my job.
"What is unfortunate with all this is there was all this talk about whether I was suspended or not -- and ESPN spent so much effort to try to downplay that story -- but what is at the root of this is I was given permission to work with Mike Leach on the book. I told them well in advance. They used my access when it benefited them in terms of they put me on SportsCenter multiple times and identified me as doing a book with Mike Leach when they wanted me to talk about his mindset after he found out he got fired. They asked me to help get a sit-down with him after he was fired, which I did. So they used my access.
"In the spring of 2010, I went to them when I knew Leach was going to sue them, the documented stuff you saw in the book. When I knew that stuff was there, I told ESPN, 'You have a big problem here.' I went to Neil Fine of ESPN [The] Magazine. He passed me up to [former ESPN The Magazine editor-in-chief] Gary Belsky and then it went to [ESPN Publishing editorial director] Gary Hoenig; they were the top guys in the food chain, my bosses. They knew very clearly that ESPN had some dubious methods in reporting on this story and Leach was going to sue them. There was no secret of that. ESPN was fully aware.
"On top of that, six months before the book went to print, I spoke to ESPN's attorneys and talked to them about some concerns I had raised to news editors in Bristol while it was going on, of things that I knew were inaccurate. Those conversations happened. There was no surprise about any of this. But when the book finally came out, [ESPN executive vice president of production] Norby Williamson or [ESPN senior vice president and director of news] Vince Doria or whomever gets all bent out of shape and they need someone to rant at.
"I was literally the first hire on what became ESPN.com when I was in Bristol in my mid-20s. This is the way they treat you. To watch them sit there and try to spin their way out of this and only make it worse. They made such a mess, and then they never cleaned it up.
"I'll tell you this: A few weeks before I was on that conference call, my contract was coming up and Belsky had reached out to me and said, 'Look, we want to give you another three-year contract and it will be with a raise. I said, 'OK.' But when I brought that up on the conference call, Vince Doria started bringing up credibility questions. That was the word he used with me -- credibility. I'm thinking, 'Wait a minute, you are bringing up my credibility and my future with the company and you guys still put Craig James on the air?'"
When he met last month with John Skipper, ESPN's executive vice president for content, Feldman said Skipper told him he would not be getting a raise and would only be offered a one-year deal. "I said, 'John, I have been in the company for 17 years. I have been in the Best American Sportswriting three times, you guys have nominated numerous features I have done for National Magazine Awards, and my Insider subscription numbers have more than doubled in the past year. So what am I going to show in the next year that I have not shown you in 17 years?' If there was not some kind of disciplinary, vindictive action from ESPN, I don't know what the semantics on that are.
"This is the one thing I would say: At that point I had lost all faith in the people I worked for. Going forward, to CBS, I see the commitment and I am glad I am going to a better opportunity."
Feldman said that Skipper asked him not to speak to the Poynter Review Project, which is serving as ESPN's ombudsman. (Here is its column on this incident). Feldman described the Poynter piece as "littered with inaccuracies." (An ESPN spokesperson contacted SI.com on Friday morning to say Skipper never told Feldman not to speak with Poynter.)
ESPN said it never suspended or disciplined Feldman in the days after the publication of Swing Your Sword, a memoir from former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who has filed a defamation suit against ESPN. Leach was dismissed in 2009 from the school amid allegations that he mistreated Adam James, whose father, Craig, is an ESPN analyst. The book is filled with plenty of animus toward ESPN and Craig James; Feldman was an unbylined co-writer on the book. Excerpts appeared on Yahoo! Sports and SI.com.
After the Leach book debuted, Feldman said that ESPN producers were told not to book him on shows after July 13. "There was a 'Do Not Book' sent out to their talent producers," Feldman said. "That's what you come against. It's just a very weird place and it has gotten weirder to work at in the last few years. I can't tell you how many people pulled me into their office when I was up in Bristol and had their own stories. But as long as you work there, you can't say anything."
It should be noted ESPN let Feldman out his contract early, which officially ended in September. ESPN released a statement this morning after news of Feldman being hired by CBS emerged: "We appreciate Bruce's 17 years of contributions to ESPN & to college football fans. We wish him good luck in his decision to leave & pursue other interests."
When contacted by SI.com this afternoon, ESPN spokesperson Mike Soltys offered the following about Feldman's interviews this morning: "We have significant disagreements with his account," Soltys told SI.com. "Beyond that, we are not commenting."
Said Feldman: "If ESPN has issues with this, we can all put our hands on the Bible and sit and go under oath about what was said and what was not. Regardless of what ESPN says, Leach is suing them. Whatever my involvement is here, it will come out. I'll be put on the stand."
Feldman will appear on both CBS and CBS Sports Network, including on the pregame and postgame show before tonight's Massachusetts at Holy Cross game. He signed a three-year deal with CBS and will be based in Los Angeles.
"It's been a crazy six weeks but I am excited," Feldman said. "I'm able to work and not be cryptic anymore. I felt like this was the best opportunity. I like the moves they made in the offseason. They have a strong presence and are determined to increase it. They have a network [CBS College Sports] that they are really ramping up that I'll be a big part of. When I met with them, I was really blown away by the commitment they showed."
In its release announcing the hiring of Feldman, CBS Sports notes that Feldman is a New York Times best-selling author, which one could read as a cheeky tweak at its ESPN rivals. The Leach book, published in July 2011, soared to the No. 5 ranking earlier this month on TheNew York Times Best Seller List within the Advice/How-To/Miscellaneous category.