Shortly after introducing myself to ESPN's audience in my first column Thursday, I checked the ombudsman's mailbag. It was jammed with dozens of messages of outraged complaint against ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd, who had called on his listeners that afternoon to shut down an Internet site by flooding it with visitors beyond the capacity of its bandwidth.
The "random site" he chose to attack was thebiglead.com, a sports blog that is sometimes unmercifully critical of ESPN. "We shut it down in 90 seconds," Cowherd boasted on air. "We don't even know thebiglead." After a bit more gloating, he said "We apologize -- but just don't screw with us." Then he asked his listeners to "knock it out again, just for fun." The attack launched over the airwaves by Cowherd kept thebiglead.com shut down for more than 48 hours.
Some of the politer terms my correspondents used to describe Cowherd's behavior were immature, irresponsible, arrogant, malicious, destructive and dumb. I agree.
The official response from ESPN's communication department was: "Our airwaves should not be used for this purpose. We apologize." It is the kind of bland public statement that does little to assuage the anger and distrust of ESPN's audience over an episode like this. I could not tell from that statement how seriously ESPN regarded the offense, so I contacted Traug Keller, senior vice president, ESPN Radio, to get a clearer idea of ESPN's reaction.
Keller responded immediately to my request for an on-the-record statement. "We talked to Colin Cowherd, and we talked to all our radio talent, making it clear that you cannot do this," Keller said Friday. "Our airwaves are a trust, and not to be used to hurt anyone's business. Such attacks are off limits. Zero tolerance. I can't say it any stronger."
Keller said that he had not formulated a policy about such attacks on Internet sites until now because he had never imagined the possibility of them.
I appreciated Keller's quick, forthright response.
Now that ESPN Radio has such a policy, I presume such attacks will be treated as an offense that warrants suspension. In determining penalties for his airwave players, perhaps Keller should exchange notes with NBA commissioner David Stern and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
This is not the planned second posting I mentioned at the end of Thursday's introductory column. That will come later this week.