In light of recent articles revisiting allegations of sexual misconduct involving Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, ESPN has decided to delay its on-the-air premiere of Down In The Valley, a 30 for 30 ESPN Film that focuses on the fight to keep the Sacramento Kings from relocating to another city. The 77-minute documentary, which was scheduled to air Oct. 20 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN, does not have a new release date at the moment. Johnson, who has been Mayor of Sacramento since 2008, is a key figure in the film.
“We are re-evaluating the content presentation of it and delaying the premiere,” said John Dahl, the vice president and executive producer of ESPN Films and Original Content. “When [director] Jason Hehir and we collectively agree that the film is ready and we are comfortable with it, then we will pick that air date. I think the most important thing here is to make sure it’s clear that we are not tone deaf and we’re aware of a renewed focus on certain issues."
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What Dahl is referring to is a series of stories on Johnson by Deadspin’s Dave McKenna including one that featured Mandi Koba, a mother of three and an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. Koba told McKenna that nearly 20 years ago, Johnson paid her a six-figure settlement to remain quiet about a 1996 Phoenix police investigation into allegations that Johnson, who was 29 at the time, touched her inappropriately. Koba detailed that alleged encounter with Johnson in a Deadspin piece that ran on Sept. 25. The allegations are not new. The Sacramento Bee first reported in 2008 that she and Johnson had signed a draft confidential settlement agreement in 1997 worth $230,000. Johnson has repeatedly denied the allegations and no criminal charges were filed. Koba told Deadspin that she stayed quiet and took Johnson’s money in exchange for a pledge to never mention Johnson again except to “a priest, a therapist, or a lawyer.
“We are aware of the renewed focus out there on events and issues and allegations in Mayor Johnson’s past,” Dahl said. “We know what is out there and we acknowledge that it is out there and we want to make sure that it is clear to everyone that we are responsible how we handle the story.”
The film itself has long been completed and had a splashy debut (guests included former commissioner David Stern) at Tribeca last April. It also was shown at the LaCosta Film Festival last month in Carlisbad, Ca.. Johnson appears prominently in the advertising for the film, though Dahl wanted to make it clear that the film is not a Kevin Johnson biopic.
“It was never a biography and it still won't be,” Dahl said. “It was always about exploring the people of Sacramento banding together against overwhelming odds in this crusade to save their team. That’s what drew us to this story … No question Kevin Johnson as mayor since 2008 has been a big part of that story. But this is a specific story that touches on larger themes.”
As of now no additional interviews for the film have been conducted but there is the possibility of adding voices to an updated version of the current film. Asked if there was any thought about permanently removing the film from ESPN’s schedule, Dahl said that ESPN aims to be responsible with its film releases.
“We put a lot of thought into our decisions,” Dahl said. “We take the reputation of not only ESPN but people involved in the film and the situations involved in the film very seriously. We put a lot of thought into this and it’s most important to us to be responsible.”
The city of Sacramento has a screening of the film planned for tonight and Dahl said that ESPN would not stand in the way of the city holding events for the current cut of the film that exists.