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Careless editorial decisions forced ESPN to make changes in order to placate a sponsor

Wendy's Reports Slide In Earnings

DALY CITY, CA - AUGUST 10: A sign is posted in front of a Wendy’s restaurant on August 10, 2016 in Daly City, California. Wendy’s reported a 22% decline in second quarter earnings with revenue of $382.7 million compared to $489.5 million one year ago. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Wendy’s definitely knows where the beef is, and how to properly squeeze it.

Patrick Redford of Deadspin.com outlines the manner in which Wendy’s threatened to pull advertising dollars from ESPN after publication of a story in which Bills linebacker Preston Brown attributed his improved performance in 2017 to an improved diet. The diet improved when he stopped eating at Wendy’s.

“It wasn’t [healthy]. It’s not good,” Brown said told Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. "[Now] I’m eating salads and greens, all the fruit and vegetable stuff I should have been eating instead of stopping by a drive-thru.”

While the story itself, along with the reference to Wendy’s, still lives on the ESPN.com servers, the headline was changed from “How avoiding Wendy’s helped Preston Brown become NFL’s leading tackler” to “How a diet helped turn Preston Brown into NFL’s leading tackler.”

As noted by Redford, ESPN also deleted social-media posts promoting the article with this message: “The key to becoming the NFL’s leading tackler? Don’t eat Wendy’s.”

The changes came, per Redford, in response to pressure from Wendy’s. ESPN officially attributed the revisions to “simple editing,” explaining “Brown cites multiple reasons he lost weight in the article, and after it posted, an editor read it and thought singling out a single reason didn’t accurately represent the reporting.”

It would have been useful if the editor (or the writer) had come to the conclusion before publishing the story, eliminating the need for Wendy’s to complain and for ESPN.com to clumsily put the ketchup back in that thing that squirts it into those small white paper cups. Indeed, Brown mentioned Wendy’s only because Wendy’s was the fast-food restaurant close to the team’s practice facility that he happened to frequent. It could have been any of them -- McDonald’s, Arby’s, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and crap now I’m hungry.

Fast food is what it is. Everyone knows it. It doesn’t stop millions of people from enjoying it, even when they know they shouldn’t. Everyone also knows that elite athletes have far greater incentive to avoid fast-food restaurants, casual-dining establishments, convenience-store burritos, and any of the many other things that non-elite athletes routinely consume, either because it’s easy, it’s cheap, it tastes good, or any combination of the three.

So, basically, this is less about Wendy’s and more about the folks at ESPN.com not having the sense to realize that: (1) Brown wasn’t making an anti-Wendy’s observation; and (2) setting it up as an anti-Wendy’s observation (at the exclusion of every other place that sells food pro athletes shouldn’t eat) probably wasn’t a great idea, given the company’s business relationship with Wendy’s.