Ombudsman letter to readers on Jacobson remarks

Editor's Note: Following is the text of a letter ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber sent to interested users regarding ESPN anchor Dana Jacobson's off-air comments at a roast in Atlantic City for ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike" hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic. As noted, no one at ESPN asked the ombudsman to issue this reply.

Dear (reader),

Thank you for your message. Many people have written me to ask what I know and think about Dana Jacobson's behavior at the roast for ESPN Radio personalities Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic. As of Jan. 29, here is what I know. On Jan. 12, The Press of Atlantic CIty ran a story that included a description of Jacobson's drunken behavior the previous night, saying she had made "an absolute fool of herself" on stage, "mumbling along and cursing like a sailor as Mike & Mike rested their heads in their hands in embarrassment." In the wake of that report, ESPN issued a statement saying, "Her actions were totally inappropriate and we have dealt with it." Dana Jacobson issued a personal apology.

Then, on Jan. 18, Deadspin.com posted a report by an anonymous "tipster" alleging that what the Press of Atlantic CIty had only called mumblings included a string of crude expletives directed at Notre Dame, its famous "Touchdown Jesus" mural and Jesus. Other Internet sites picked up that report and repeated the tipster's account, but as far as I can determine, there has been no corroboration by anyone who attended the roast that she did more than crudely insult ESPN's Mike Golic, a former Notre Dame football player, by crudely insulting Notre Dame's football program and its famous mural. On Jan. 24, Scott Cronick, who attended the roast and wrote the article for Press of Atlantic City, told Thebiglead.com, "I never heard Dana Jacobson say F--- Jesus. That's why I never printed it. I also talked to people who were there who also said that they did not hear her say it either." He reiterated that statement in a Press of Atlantic City story the next day.

ESPN has a video of the roast, which I asked to see. My request was denied, but during an extended conversation with ESPN vice president of communications Mike Soltys, who has reviewed Jacobson's remarks on that tape many times, I was repeatedly assured that her obscenity-laced insults to Golic were directed entirely at Notre Dame's football program, not at Golic's religion and not at Jesus. The decision to suspend her for a week for her behavior at the roast was made before the alleged remarks surfaced on the Internet; the public disclosure of her suspension was made after those allegations triggered widespread outrage.

When her suspension was announced on ESPN.com, on "SportsCenter," "Outside the Lines" and ESPNEWS, the news was accompanied by an expanded apology from Jacobson, who said, "I am very sorry. My remarks about Notre Dame were foolish and insensitive. I respect all religions and did not mean anything derogatory by my poorly chosen words. I also deeply regret the embarrassment I have caused ESPN and Mike and Mike. My actions at the roast were inappropriate and in no way represent who I really am. I have personally apologized to many of the people involved. I won't make excuses for my behavior but do hope that I can be forgiven for such a poor lack of judgment." On Jan. 28, when Jacobson first appeared on air after her suspension, she offered another apology.

Forgiveness was extended early on by Notre Dame, which issued a statement saying, "While we in no way condone Ms. Jacobson's comments, we're aware of the circumstances in which they occurred, and in the interest of forgiveness, trust that she and ESPN will address the matter in an appropriate way."

Catholic League president Bill Donahue, who initially demanded Jacobson be fired, issued a statement saying, "To be sure, Jacobson's remarks were patently offensive; no one involved in this incident, including her, is maintaining otherwise. But it is also true that there is no evidence that what we are dealing with is a bigot -- lots of people who have made bigoted comments are not inveterate bigots. No, what we are dealing with is a person who went off the rails while drunk at a raucous event. The ESPN officials whom I spoke to answered the questions I had to my satisfaction. Therefore, as far as the Catholic League is concerned, this matter is over."

After meeting with ESPN executives on Jan. 25, Christian Defense Coalition leaders continue to demand that ESPN release the roast video to satisfy doubt about Jacobson's exact words. ESPN believes releasing an obscenity-strewn video, audio or a transcript of Jacobson's remarks, which would doubtlessly find a permanent worldwide home on the Internet, would only aggravate and compound the original offense. They deem unsatisfied doubts a lesser offense.

My own thoughts: I share the view that the offense was one of crass language and behavior from a woman under the influence of alcohol, not hate or religious bigotry. I think ESPN personalities would be wise not to speak at roasts, which often become occasions for offensive and crude insults delivered and received under the influence of excessive alcohol. I think we all need to be more cautious about information that comes from a single anonymous source, whether we get the information from ESPN, other outlets of the mainstream media or Internet blogs.

I wish I could offer first-hand confirmation of ESPN's characterization of Jacobson's remarks. However, I respect ESPN's right to withhold the video, of what was a private event not intended for wider broadcast, from me as well as others who have requested seeing it. Based on my past and current conversations with Soltys, I personally trust his assurances to me.

Finally, no one at ESPN asked me to issue this or any reply. Viewers and readers did.