ESPN: Worldwide Leader in Dubious Boxing Writing

By Paul Magno on November 2, 2018
ESPN: Worldwide Leader in Dubious Boxing Writing
This veteran scribe seems not the least bit ashamed of playing the game to his benefit.

In a sport where death is a real, possible outcome, the media should be strong, loud, and almost aggressively independent…

First, I am absolutely not raging under a fit of jealousy about not having an ESPN gig. From the very first line of my very first boxing piece—some eleven (very) odd years ago—I knew that I was not destined for the mainstream. I mean, I LITERALLY sat back and said to myself, “well, this is good, but it ain’t winning you any friends or bringing you any money.”

But, I guess what kept me from smoothing out rough edges and playing the game as a useful idiot/malleable stooge (and it’s not really a tough game to play) is the wild idea that in a sport where death is a real, possible outcome, the media should be strong, loud, and almost aggressively independent. What it absolutely SHOULDN’T be is an extension of promoters’ PR departments, dominated by slick, amoral floaters who rise to the top by simply passing along talking points and fighting battles for whoever offers them a paycheck, a pat on the back, or some free swag.

What brings all this to mind is the news that ESPN has brought Steve Kim aboard as a contributor.

Kim, for those of you who don’t know and may not care, has been around for a while and has worked for several major sites over the course of his career. In some circles, he is just as well-known for bias and perceived “for rent” editorial stances than for the weight of his actual writing.

And most vexing to many when it comes to this veteran scribe is the fact that he seems not the least bit ashamed of playing the game to his benefit. Kim, for example, once regaled readers with stories of hobnobbing and sightseeing with Top Rank brass on a Puerto Rican excursion and then, without missing a beat or taking a step back, doggedly defended Top Rank business interests when the promotional firm had trouble with Yuriorkis Gamboa. Over the years, the 40-something So Cal writer has consistently and shamelessly flaunted conflicts of interest and has flourished professionally working under the assumption that the few fans who care about such ethical issues are vastly outnumbered by those who just care about reading fresh content. Kim has used his Twitter account as a battering ram to make personal attacks on other writers, select fighters, boxing companies opposing those he works for, and to just generally cyberbully anyone who dares to rub him (and his prodigious ego) the wrong way. At a 2014 boxing event, Kim even reportedly slapped another writer with whom he had a longstanding online beef.

Although he is not as much a writer as someone who passes along info and paints partisan imagery, Kim IS a hard worker and very adept at peddling his influence and delivering to fans what they want to hear (rather than what they need to hear). It’s not a surprise that he is a “success” in a sport where the media is owned (often literally) by those running the sport. In an atmosphere where career growth is fueled by access to exclusive info and one’s ability to gain access is bartered out for positive press (or negative press to company enemies), the snakes and pigs will naturally float to the top.

One frequent target of Kim’s has been ESPN boxing anchor Dan Rafael, who has also taken heat in some quarters for perceived bias and conflicts of interest. Rafael has prospered in the boxing writing business by being an inoffensive lout who happily does little more than pass along publicity and propaganda from promoters to the public, often reworking press releases ever-so-slightly and publishing it as news content.

It will be interesting to see how Kim and Rafael co-exist after Kim has spent so long beating up his new company’s main boxing voice. But Kim is nothing if not flexible to new ethical standards for new bossmen. He is, after all, the writer who relentlessly bashed Golden Boy-owned Ring Magazine and their website’s advertising of Golden Boy fight cards—before going to work for Ring Magazine and working those same site-advertised fight cards as a color commentator.

But maybe this is to be expected from ESPN, a company which is now in full salesman mode to peddle its new streaming service and the boxing content which will play a big part of that service. At this point, “The Worldwide Leader” is just as much about about selling a product than covering the sport. The fact that Kim has always been a Bob Arum-friendly scribe certainly didn’t hurt his chances of being hired, either, especially considering the seven-year deal Arum’s Top Rank Promotions recently signed with the network. If the objective in hiring Kim was to bring aboard a prolific salesman who understands how the publicity machine works (and has no reservation whatsoever when it comes to playing the game), then they definitely got the right man. Kim’s first ESPN article, as a matter of fact, is a light-hearted piece on Miguel Roman, who will be fighting Miguel Berchelt Saturday night, exclusively on the ESPN+ app. The Kim article is followed on the website by a shameless sales-as-news piece entitled “How to watch Miguel Berchelt vs. Miguel Roman on ESPN+.”

Conflicts of interest in boxing writing are hard to avoid if the goal is to make a living in the profession. Much of the highest paying work comes from those with a proverbial horse in the race. “Real” writing outlets often don’t have the budget to pay a living wage. In my case, for example, I supplement my income by doing freelance fight previews for Premier Boxing Champions, but I work hard to avoid pandering to the company that signs my checks. Aggressively critical pieces of PBC fighters like Adonis Stevenson, Deontay Wilder, Danny Garcia, and Adrien Broner stand as proof positive of my efforts to stay independent. Whether I succeed in my efforts to be painfully neutral is something readers will have to assess for themselves. But I certainly wouldn’t insult readers’ intelligence by boasting of my conflicts and then arrogantly, almost gleefully, flaunting my agendas in a “so-what” manner while insisting I be taken seriously.

The feeling that boxing fans are dumb and just want to be fed content en route to a purchase is not unique to ESPN or Steve Kim. This is a universal vibe among many in the businesses of both boxing and boxing writing.

It’s just disappointing that the one media outlet with the power to not only sell boxing to the public, but the muscle to demand hard-hitting, independent journalism to revolutionize its coverage, doesn’t care enough to double-check who it puts atop the most powerful bully pulpit in the industry.

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  1. John 07:25am, 11/05/2018

    Didnt you write for the PBC website? This article is the Pinnacle of hypocritical writing. You joined your side, lost miserably, and now you’re complaining. You should’ve known you’d lose the battle if you were a presumed boxing expert, sorry to tell you that mate. None of the PBC shills have gone on to do anything great. Haymon only takes care of his “own’. Now maybe you learn.

  2. Kid Blast 01:53pm, 11/03/2018

    Your name. I disagree. Paul has never been afraid of what other writers think of him and many respect him for saying it the way it is—something they would rather not do. If there were more like Paul, we might see some more insightful writing instead of the baby food we are often fed. Boxing is a cynical business and a deadly one. It’s hard to keep a thing bright in a very dark world.

  3. Your Name 01:13pm, 11/03/2018

    Magno’s style has kept him out of the mainstream. He is a cynical crybaby with a chip on his shoulder. This article serves no purpose other than a passive-aggressive shot at being a be level or below writer. When he can OBJECTIVELY report on events instead of being so opinionated he will become a better writer. As for me, 99% of the time he’s snide and taking swipes at someone else.

  4. Kid Blast 12:25pm, 11/03/2018

    Good one Paul

  5. Anonymous 08:45am, 11/03/2018

    Fat Dan vs. momma’s boy Kim. How do you spell p-u-k-e? All Fat Dan has to do his give Kim a squirt of his (Dan’s)  foul body smells and Kim is dead meat. These two guys are what’s wrong with boxing these days. F—k the writers. Without the boxers, there would be no writers.

    Good one Paul. At least someone has the courage to go after these clowns, jock sniffers, hero worshipers, wannabe’s.

  6. Lucas McCain 08:03am, 11/03/2018

    The conflict between writers adds to the conflict between fighters, as long as they don’t act out their aggression or forgot the fighters are the main event. (Did you know Hemingway once punched out Wallace Stevens?)  I still miss Flash Gordon’s outraged humor, but this will do for a windy morning.

  7. Ho Lee Chit 08:02am, 11/03/2018

    Magno certainly has shown bias in his past articles. I would think everyone has some sort of bias to one degree or another, some more than others. Let he that is without bias cast the first stone. hahaha. I don’t think there is a human being alive who isn’t biased to one degree or another.

  8. Ho Lee Chit 07:35am, 11/03/2018

    Better to be rejected and respected than liked and accepted. I love how all the “journalists” out there who profess to keeping it real, or being “fair, balanced, and unafraid,” haha, are no more independent thinking than a trained circus animal. Anyone who thinks for themselves and is willing to go off script is not going to be hired by people like ESPN or any other major media outlet.

  9. Moltres Go 06:42am, 11/03/2018

    Paul magnolia is a sour PUSS!!! You’re just plain JEALOUS!!!! You are not so “unbiased” at all. Just take a look again at the pieces you have written and then tell us that. Stop frothing in the mouth and start writing compelling pieces. Maybe it will get you the gig you think you so rightfully deserve. You’re just the typical self absorbed, entitled,  asshole!

  10. Ho Lee Chit 06:33am, 11/03/2018

    The media should be “aggressively independent.” YES, THEY SHOULD BE, but the media speaks with one voice, whether it is FOX, CNN or ESPN.

  11. Tony 06:20am, 11/03/2018

    This has got Bob Arum’s fingerprints all over it. Another writer carrying his message.

  12. Worldstyle 05:39am, 11/03/2018

    Dan Rafael is worse than Kim. You’re exactly right about his softly rewritten propaganda pieces and ESPN’s site as business first. Good luck finding stories on the WBSS there. I think it was after Usyk’s win they ran a short piece was down below reports on minor ESPN fighters stay-busy fights. Reading Rafael’s old mailbag was like wading through frat-boy one liners. Zero insight or commentary beyond the occasional update on fighters. At least the paid-for reports on The Ring have some mixing of stories and its mailbag has answers that take more then twenty seconds to write.

    I’m glad this article offers up some evidence of objective reporting and has some reports with some depth, but if there’s any smart, full-insight boxing reporting or commentary on current events out there, I haven’t found it.

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