ESPN Stretching on Owens/Witten Rift Coverage

ESPN’s Ed Werder has been the number one man on the scene during the recent Cowboys “controversy” between Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys receivers not named Jason. It’s clear that there is a lot of tension in the Cowboys locker room. What is not clear is who’s really to blame, unless you’re only following ESPN’s reporting.

The story broke on Thursday that three Dallas Cowboys receivers–Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton, and, you guessed it, Terrell Owens–talked with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett regarding the fact that Tony Romo is locking in on Jason Witten and not throwing downfield, even when players are wide open.

If you watched the Steelers-Cowboys matchup last week, especially the play in the fourth quarter where Romo stared at nobody but Witten before throwing a sailing interception that was returned for the winning score, it’s pretty obvious Romo hasn’t been reading plays as well as he usually does. (Witten ran the wrong route on that play, to be fair to Romo, but even if he ran the right one, it would’ve been a tough throw into coverage)

ESPN latched onto the story and has been in overdrive across all platforms, seemingly reporting that Owens solely is causing a rift in the team. If you watched the evening shows last night, there was nothing but talk about Owens. Ed Werder then reported yesterday that an “anonymous source” within the locker room said that there was a significant rift between Owens and Witten and Tony, leaving out the other two receivers who also complained to Garrett.

The story has developed over the weekend, with defensive players saying they side with Owens (and the other receivers) about Romo’s play of late. There is similar discord throughout the team, and Pro Football Talk is reporting (via anonymous league sources, so consider that) that center Andre Gurode and Roy Williams, and not Owens, called out Witten in a team meeting about the situation, accusing him of going to the media anonymously. A fact I doubt you’ll see on ESPN any time soon.

If you watched ESPN at all last night, it was a veritable merry-go-round of the usual pundits, all focusing solely on Owens and his role in the controversy. Most had the obvious opinion that it’s just  T.O. being T.O. again, despite the fact the other Cowboys receivers were involved, Jerry Jones had said he supports the  fact that  the ball has to be spread around, and more than half the team seems to agree with the sentiments of the Cowboys receivers. Yet if you watched ESPN, it’s unlikely you’ll hear anything but T.O. 24/7.

I’m not alone in thinking ESPN is possibly consciously ignoring facts that complicate their adopted narrative about T.O. being a constant cancer to every team he’s on. The Big Lead calls ESPN out for using anonymous sourcing in this instance, but refusing to acknowledge information based on anonymous sourcing when Jay Glazer was reporting that Brett Favre spilled his heart to former Lions GM Matt Millen.

I’m not saying ESPN is out to get T.O., but they’re sure as anything content with portraying him in a villain’s role and letting the issue fill up airtime when he’s not doing anything half his team, on offense and defense, is also doing. The anonymous sourcing only makes things more suspect, eliminating any transparencies in the story and making it impossible for the reader to consider the source of the information, especially when that anonymous source is giving information about what a third party (Tony Romo) thinks and feels.

Simply focusing on T.O. and not the widespread discontent in the team is bad journalism at best and outright fabrication at worst. It’s Werder’s job to take a complicated situation and simplify it by reporting the facts that he can verify. If he could only verify that Tony is sick of Owens and the “mind  games” through anonymous sourcing, he shouldn’t have reported that. Go to Romo himself, if he gives you nothing, that might just be the end of it. Anonymous sourcing should only be a last resort, and in this instance, I don’t think it’s necessary.

Even in their own reports, they are making contradictory statements. In the story on saying the rift with Witten is bigger than just Owens (which is obvious, it was all three receivers that complained, not just Owens, but they’re referring to the coaches and Jerry Jones), Witten is quoted from a radio interview on ESPN 1050 in New York as saying:

“Tony and I have been friends for a long time, way before either one of us were playing that much,” Witten said. “I don’t think we’re drawing up many plays together to be completely honest, but I don’t think Terrell feels that way.”

So, according to Witten, he and Romo do draw up plays between themselves that don’t involve other receivers, just not “many” of them. Yet, the sidebar links to the interview itself, saying, despite the above quote that in the interview:

“Dallas’ Jason Witten discusses the latest controversy and says he doesn’t think that Terrell Owens is feeling left out and that he and Tony Romo don’t script plays together. Podcast

ESPN has tried to improve its journalistic standards recently, especially when it comes to handling developing stories like this one, but issues like this just prove they may have a long way to go.



  1. I look at this 2 ways:

    1) Whitten, for the most part, gets the job done. He’s supposed to be a clutch receiver but look at what happens deep– when Romo does get the ball to the receiver, it tends to be dropped or missed altogether. I’m talking balls on the numbers that wind up in the turf. Whitten loses a few here and there, but not like the others, especially T.O.

    2) T.O. is a prima donna. He always has been. The stuff he’s airing out should be talked out man-to-man, not man-to-media. And while he doesn’t always do it directly, he manages to get Romo/Whitten trash talk into the news. He’s also instigating the complaints by other receivers, so their involvement has to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Bottom line, I don’t blame Romo for locking on Jason Whitten. I watch the games and it looks like he has little choice most of the time. I even suspect that T.O. is passive-aggressively screwing up routes and completions just to make a point, and that Romo is picking up on that.

    Anyway, it’s time for the highly-paid crybabies involved to grow up and just play, like they did against the Giants. And it’s past time for Jerry Jones and Wade Phillips to quit kissing T.O.’s butt and start taking team dischord seriously.

  2. Agreed on most of your points. Owens is a deep threat and even when he’s not getting the ball, he’s drawing doubles which helps his team; not always to win, but he helps them.

    My main issue is the revisionist history by ESPN’s coverage (and they’re not alone, just about the entire media has played it out this way, taking ESPN’s lead) that it’s been TO and TO alone that has a problem with Romo and Witten and that he’s going behind their backs and causing this huge rift in the team. That’s just not true. Crayton, Williams, Gurode, and others all have stood up and said that the Witten/Romo thing may have gone too far and called Witten out for supposedly going to the media anonymously (as the source for Ed Werder’s reports). Like it or not, Owens never does anything anonymously–which may also be a part of the problem.

  3. Witten is an amazing tight end! He is a big target that you really can’t pass up. If it’s third down, who would you throw to: a person who might very well drop drop the ball, or a person who will catch the ball and probably break a few tackles before getting the first down. I think that T.O. is more a a first or second down receiver, rather than a third down.

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