A television news commentary about Patrick Ewing aired on Saturday night apparently helped lead to Georgetown Coach John Thompson's revelation on Sunday that the freshman center had been the object of a telephoned death threat March 8, according to Georgetown sources.
The Entertainment Sports Programming Network (ESPN) aired a segment at 11 p.m. Saturday, saying Ewing should never have been admitted to Georgetown, and that the school prostituted itself in doing so. Georgetown Athletic Director Frank Rienzo today called the commentary on the cable sports network "extremely derogatory to Patrick."
Thompson watched the commentary that night. And after several Georgetown officials, including Rienzo, expressed outrage over it, ESPN President Chet Simmons issued an apology, which aired at 7 and 11 p.m. on Sunday.
"The comments made, of course, were those of Bill Currie (a free-lance commentator)," Simmons said in the apology. "I personally and ESPN do not subscribe to his viewpoint of Georgetown and Patrick Ewing. ESPN and I have the utmost respect for Georgetown University, its athletic department, Athletic Director Frank Rienzo, John Thompson and Patrick Ewing, who has demonstrated his outstanding ability and who has dealt extremely well with the tremendous demands placed on a highly publicized, exceptional student athlete."
Simmons also wrote a personal letter of apology to Ewing that was flown from Bristol, Conn., and hand-delivered to Rienzo at 2 a.m. today.
Currie, who does occasional editorials for ESPN's "SportsCenter" newscast, could not be reached for comment today.
Thompson and his team had just returned to their hotel after Saturday's semifinal victory over Louisville when Currie's comments were aired.
"I turned on ESPN," Thompson said today, "and there's this guy just ripping us (the school)."
Georgetown officials asked Thompson not to discuss the broadcast publicly until they had met with ESPN officials and considered several options, including the possibility of a lawsuit.
University sources said Thompson still was seething over the commentary when he met with reporters at a formal press conference Sunday afternoon. "There's something else I'd really like to talk about but I'm muzzled," Thompson said at the press conference. Still bent on illustrating the enormous pressures placed on the 19-year-old Ewing, Thompson instead chose to reveal that the Georgetown University switchboard had received on March 8 a call threatening Ewing's life.
At that time, Thompson told his players only that a threat had been made against the entire team. Eight of the team's 12 players, including Ewing, spent the night at the Marriott Key Bridge hotel the night of the threat. Thompson did not tell Ewing until Sunday afternoon, after the press conference, that his life had been threatened.
Asked this morning to describe Ewing's reaction when told of the threat, Thompson said, "Patrick just smiled; he didn't seem concerned."
However, Thompson was not satisfied with ESPN's apology. "It's too late for that," Thompson said. "The damage was done. Thousands of people saw that."
ESPN, a 24-hour sports channel, has a potential audience of 15 million viewers nationwide.
Georgetown President Timothy Healy, who wasn't notified of the threat to Ewing until several days later, said today the apology is appropriate.
"If we dragged it out and made a legal case out of it, it would just keep it alive, and I want it to go away," Healy said of the broadcast. "We (the Georgetown administrators) are litigious as all get out. I'm sure it occurred to somebody (the possibility of a lawsuit), but not to me."