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An open letter to ESPN

September 23, 2011

Reports have emerged today claiming that ESPN has offered a job to Steven Cohen, who claimed two years ago that Liverpool fans without tickets were responsible for the Hillsborough disaster. For a reminder of what was said, have a look at EPL Talk’s report from the time.

Here is an email I have written to Chris LaPlaca, ESPN’s head of communications (@espn_chris on Twitter). Feel free to use this as a template, or send your own email entirely. Either way, 2009 showed that bad publicity was bad news for Cohen. Major sponsors of his show withdrew and his contract with Fox was not renewed. Hopefully a similar outcome can materialise this time.

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Dear Mr LaPlaca,

It is with great disappointment that I read reports claiming that ESPN has hired ex-Fox Soccer Channel pundit Steven Cohen.

As you will know, Cohen became embroiled in controversy in 2009 when he claimed that Liverpool fans without tickets were responsible for the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster in which 96 people were killed. These claims ran contrary to the findings of the Taylor Report into the tragedy, which established that neither fans without tickets nor drunken fans were to blame.

Cohen’s comments and the resulting backlash from football fans – not just those who support Liverpool – caused advertisers such as Heinken to withdraw from sponsoring Cohen’s programs. Fox opted not to renew Cohen’s contract.

I am urging you to reconsider your position and withdraw any offer you may have made to Cohen. He has demonstrated a stunning lack of judgement and shown that, for whatever reason, he has let prejudice get in the way of established fact. His appearances on television, backed up by the logo of a major television network, would be offensive to those who take seriously Britain’s worst sporting disaster.

ESPN proudly claims to be “the worldwide leader in sports”. The company is one of the biggest and most respected sports media organizations in the world because of its high-quality approach to sports broadcasting and journalism. It would be a shame is such a reputation were to be sullied by an ill-considered decision to hire a man who has displayed such callous insensitivity.

Cohen may argue that he has a right to freedom of speech and his past airing of controversial opinions should not bar him from future employment. While I would not dispute his right to hold an opinion, let us not subscribe to the fallacy that all opinions are equally valid. The claim that the Hillsborough disaster was caused by fans without tickets forcing their way into the stadium is no less false that the claim that the earth is flat – both have been shown to be untrue. ESPN would be doing itself and its viewers, listeners and readers a huge disservice were they to allow Cohen airtime.

I hope that you will take time to reconsider Cohen’s suitability for your company. I hope that you will take into account the effect that Liverpool supporters were able to have on both Fox Soccer Channel and its advertisers, and realize that hiring Steven Cohen will do nothing positive for ESPN or its customers. I hope that you will appreciate that the families of those killed at Hillsborough are still battling to discover precisely what happened to their loved ones, and that characters such as Cohen undermine the fight for justice.

Yours sincerely,

Liam Milner

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EDIT: James Grant has been in touch on Twitter and reminded me that there is a little more to add re: Cohen’s behaviour in 2009. Not only did he dig his heels in following his initial claims, arguing that even if the number of ticketless fans were to be disputed, the presence of some fans seeking to bunk in was inarguably a cause of the disaster, he was also rude and abusive to many Liverpool supporters who contacted him. It would be inexcusable for ESPN to hire him.

EDIT #2: Last night I received the following email from Chris LaPlaca:

Thank you for your inquiry.

Contrary to earlier reports, Steven Cohen will not be contributing to ESPN.

This, I’m sure you’ll agree, is good news.
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One Comment leave one →
  1. Ian Fletcher permalink
    September 24, 2011 12:24 am

    Polite well written and truthful email good work, bring on the internet terrorists. YNWA JFT96

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