What Thabo Sefolosha, NYPD coverage says about the media’s priorities

The coverage (or lack thereof) of a late-night stabbing incident in New York that included Pacers’ forward Chris Copeland and Hawks players’ Thabo Sefolosha and Pero Antic shows that the media sees little interest in covering and following through on incidents between police and athletes, especially in instances where the police’s account of a violent incident doesn’t match up with video evidence.

The confrontation led to Sefolosha suffering a broken leg, which prohibited him from helping his Hawks team in a playoff situation where the team desperately needed the swingman.

The police at the time charged Sefolosha with obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct. He was facing an additional charge of resisting arrest. 

CNN reported on this story in the print form, but for the most part, cable news networks paid this incident little to no attention (even with Freddie Gray and other alleged police misconduct stories circulating news sites and networks). 

It seems ESPN only reported on this story after a damning column from The Nation’s Dave Zirin. 

ESPN finally looked deper into the incident almost two months after it happened. 

But even their coverage didn’t really uncover any new information. The one thing it did do was show why (even if partly) sports media may have been reluctant in its coverage: Too many sports followers are more concerned about why Sefolosha was out so late as compared to why Sefalosha was met with such force by the police.

Even if someone is out late at night and “nothing good comes from being out that late,” is that really a reason to justify police breaking Sefolosha’s leg (assuming that’s what actually happened)?

From the ESPN interview, it almost seemed as though Sefolosha was more upset with the reputation he gave his family following the incident, moreso than the actual act of having his leg broken — that’s how much of a self-reflective, calm and introspective guy Sefolosha is. 

But how many times do we see stories headlining news networks and sites that involve an athlete being arrested or accused of a crime? If the incident appears on a police blotter, you can be sure every media outlet will report on it for clicks. 

However, if an athlete sues a police department for alleged misconduct, the sports media doesn’t find it quite as important than say a violent domestic disputes between an NFL player and his then-fiancée. What could be the reasons for this? 

Part of this could be sports media and players seeing the response from the St. Louis Police Department after athletes and the media scrutinized their response to Michael Brown and the ensuing Ferguson protests.

In this instance, the police department offered vague threats to the Rams organization and players, insinuating that they could simply not do their jobs if protests continued.

Just recently Baltimore police, frustrated with negative coverage and protests, have slowed down the number of arrests in the city leaving its citizens with the choice between what they view as over-policing and a lack of police protection. 

To show how police departments can deal with increased scrutiny and public relation issues, one Baltimore police officer told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, 

 “It’s a definitely direct result of the indictment of the six officers. When you have officers out there… and those that are doing their jobs are indicted for murder… you couldn’t help but have repercussions where police are afraid to go out there, that they are apprehensive about putting their hands on people…”

Without a doubt, the message has been heard loud and clear. Whether that’s the right message is up for debate.


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