ESPN ignores report about Florida star's heart condition following scary collapse


Sports media juggernaut ESPN was yet to acknowledge a widely cited report about the condition of Florida Gators basketball star Keyontae Johnson, who collapsed on court during a game aired on ESPNU on Dec. 12.

Johnson, 21, was diagnosed with acute myocarditis in the days after the frightening episode, the Gainesville Sun reported on Dec. 22.

The SEC Player of the Year was previously reported to have tested positive for the coronavirus, which is thought to cause the heart condition for some. Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez was among the first athletes stricken by myocarditis after a bout with the virus.

Last summer, medical experts from several of college sports' powerhouse conferences cited the condition, which is defined as inflammation of the heart, as reason for suspending the fall sports season.

On Monday, ESPN picked up an encouraging report from Florida coach Mike White, who told reporters that Johnson has been feeling well and rejoined his team as a "coach" -- but both White and the outlet made little mention of either myocarditis or coronavirus.

According to an Associated Press story picked up by ESPN, White told reporters on Monday that he had "no idea" whether Johnson will play again this season, but he noted he wouldn't be able to comment on it even if he did, because of privacy laws.

Meanwhile on its flagship SportsCenter program, ESPN anchors Jay Harris and Randy Scott served up a brief, upbeat rehash of the coaching story.

The update ended by noting Johnson's family had not provided any specific medical updates on the episode, with no mention of the report by The Sun, which is part of the USA Today network.

ESPN has a long history of selective aggregation, as all outlets do, and dubious ethics on stories dealing with player health -- not to mention a notoriously spotty record on proper attribution for scoops published by competitors.

But the implications of the Johnson story are far bigger, and raise all sorts of ethical questions.

The self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader has cozy ties with the powerhouse SEC -- which counts Florida among its many prominent programs -- a relationship that culminated with the launch of the SEC Network in 2014.

ESPN has long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with college sports in general -- and basketball and football in particular -- since its formative years in the 1980s, seemingly airing dozens of games every weekend in the fall and winter across its ever-swelling portfolio of networks.

But the Johnson story comes at a fraught time for big-time sports, and has reignited the debate over health and liability concerns.

College basketball has seen sharp divisions over whether the season should be held amid a second wave that has pushed the US' virus death toll well past 300,000.

Kentucky coach John Calipari has publicly questioned whether Johnson's collapse was related to coronavirus.

Earlier, Pitt coach Jeff Capel went on record as calling to suspend the season, and later appeared to be joined by Duke's Mike Krzyzewski after some mixed messages, though some rival coaches accused Coach K of changing his tune after the Blue Devils got off to a rough start.

Undergirding it all is the NCAA's ongoing legal struggle with college athletes fighting for recognition and compensation as employees. Thankfully the worst did not come to pass for Johnson, but if it had, there would have been no recompense for his family.

Capel, for one, said the pandemic proved once and for all that college athletes are in fact professionals.

After his own bout with the virus, Capel said the experience was a "bitch," and warned there's still much that is unknown about the virus.

By ignoring credible reporting about Johnson, ESPN appears too compromised to engage in these critical discussions in a substantive way.