ESPN’s “Journalism Showcase” – April 14, 2017

(L-R) Don Van Natta Jr., Seth Wickersham and host Bob Ley discussed ESPN's investigation into the Raiders' relocation.
(L-R) Don Van Natta Jr., Seth Wickersham and OTL host Bob Ley discussed ESPN’s investigation into the Raiders’ relocation. (MollyMita/ESPN)

ESPN senior writers Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham tell the unlikely story of how Mark Davis secured the Raiders move to Las Vegas in “Sin City or Bust.”

What do you think NFL fans will find most interesting about what you uncovered?

DVN: How the Raiders owner Mark Davis and powerful casino mogul Sheldon Adelson forged an unlikely and odd partnership that was rocky, fraught with distrust and finally broken up, with Adelson feeling betrayed by Davis not once, but twice. Despite all that — and with the vital help of Jerry Jones — Davis was able to pull off a long-shot relocation to Las Vegas with nearly unanimous support of his fellow owners.

What was the most challenging aspect throughout your reporting?

DVN: The NFL’s power moves are an enormous challenge to cover in a deep way; owners and league executives rarely disclose what happens behind closed doors and during their private conversations. And yet in this piece, Seth and I report on the Raiders relocation’s most important moments, including discussions in league meetings, during private phone conversations and what happened at the first meeting between Adelson and Davis. All these moments reveal precisely how and why this historic decision was made.

SW: I think the hardest thing about this story was trying to dig deeper as the story was unfolding. Our goal is to not only provide readers with a memorable story, but a new story. We know that it lurks beneath the surface but getting it is always a challenge.

What kind of impact do you think this will have on future NFL relocation deals?

DVN: This is the third approved franchise relocation in 15 months, unprecedented in the modern NFL era. I won’t be surprised if we see more franchise moves in the next few years. Some owners will find a move to a new stadium irresistible because it turbocharges a team’s valuation, as the Raiders’ planned move has already done. And all 32 NFL owners get paid handsomely every time a team moves.

SW: I don’t know, because I don’t think there will be many future team relocations. London is pretty far off on the horizon, if it ever happens. But I think Vegas will be a template for a new kind of NFL whereas “Jerryworld” and the Rams new stadium will be the last of the idea of a stadium being a beacon of sorts.

What were you most surprised to learn?

DVN: So many things surprised me, but I think I was most surprised by Mark Davis’ stubborn skill in pursuing and landing Vegas for the Raiders. The son of the legendary late Al Davis, Mark Davis, at 61, is easy to underestimate. In December 1998, Mark Davis registered the internet domain name LasVegasRaiders.com and renewed it every year for $8. After finishing third and last in the LA derby, he turned his attention to Vegas, a longtime pipe dream. He relentlessly pursued it, scoring the biggest package of public money for a new stadium in US history, and shrewdly outmaneuvered Sheldon Adelson, the most powerful man in Nevada. Not bad for an owner who few owners respected or took seriously just a few years ago.

SW: I loved learning all kinds of details, but I think the key takeaway is still the most salient: Mark Davis used his lone asset to get a new stadium, and in the process got 31 owners and the league office behind him. His Hall of Fame father never did any of those.

Peter Keating investigates Forest Trail Sports University

Peter Keating interviews members of Forest Trail University’s former baseball team, now renamed the Renegades. (Carolyn Hong/ESPN). (Carolyn Hong/ESPN)
Peter Keating interviews members of Forest Trail University’s former baseball team, now renamed the Renegades.
(Carolyn Hong/ESPN)

On Sunday on Outside the Lines (ESPN, 9 a.m. ET) reporter Peter Keating reveals the story behind Forest Trail Sports University, a school that promised hundreds of student athletes the opportunity to fulfill their dreams of playing in college, before failing and leaving the students with nothing.

How did you hear about Forest Trail Sports University?
Credit my colleague Seth Wickersham, who forwarded me a story about Forest Trail launching last year. He thought I would be interested in a “university” focused exclusively on sports. Nobody knew then how things would turn out.

Why do you think these students agreed to attend a University without knowing much other than what they were told?
A few reasons. Many athletes just wanted a chance to keep playing sports after high school. Some were the first members of their families to attend college, and didn’t have experience researching schools. Gifty Chung, Forest Trail’s founder, and Greg Eidschun, its athletic director, were both charismatic recruiters.

What makes this story/investigation unique?
It’s pretty amazing that after all they went through, the members of Forest Trail’s baseball team stayed together. They’re not affiliated with any college, but are playing a schedule of local teams this spring. On the flip side, I think it’s just a matter of time until somebody tries the “sports university” concept again. For-profit schools in general are expecting to expand their reach under the Trump Administration, and sports scholarships are a powerful lure.

– by Molly Mita

Journalism on Display

  • After the Chicago Cubs’ victory in last fall’s World Series electrified the Windy City, the team held a contest on Twitter to find 20 ring bearers who would participate in the team’s World Series ring ceremony. SC Featured was with six of the winners as they were told they’d been selected. The feature will debut in the 10 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on Sunday, April 16, and will re-air in other editions of the program throughout the day.
  • Senior writer Sam Alipour gives an in-depth look at the life of the projected No. 1 NFL draft pick Myles Garrett. Alipour refers to Garrett as “The Most Interesting Man in The Draft” because of his love for poetry, bowling and Motown. Although they may seem like unlikely passions for a Texas A&M defensive end, Garrett is embracing his uniqueness as a player on the journey to become the best player in the NFL. This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s NFL Draft issue on newsstands today.
  • Tonight on ABC’s “20/20” (ABC, 10 p.m.), reporter Deborah Roberts speaks to the Canadian woman, Shelly Chartier, who almost ruined NBA star Chris “Birdman” Andersen’s career and allegedly released nude photos of a young woman, as a result of her catfishing scheme. Chartier tells Roberts what led her to start this scheme, how she feels towards her victims and what she is doing now after serving 12 months in prison.
  • Panelists on Sunday morning’s The Sports Reporters (ESPN, 9:30 a.m.; ESPN2, 10:30 a.m.) will be Mike Lupica (host), William C. Rhoden, Jeremy Schaap and Gene Wojciechowski.

– by Molly Mita

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