ESPN weighs in on Biff Poggi, St. Frances football controversy

ESPN weighs in on Biff Poggi, St. Frances football controversy

St. Frances Panthers' Biff Poggi as the Panthers hold football camp. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun Staff)

(Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

If you missed ESPN’s “E:60” Sunday magazine piece on St. Frances Academy co-head football coach Biff Poggi and the controversy about other Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference teams declining to play his Panthers this season, you can catch a replay at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The piece, which was the lead story on the channel’s TV magazine, is not yet posted online, a spokesperson for ESPN wrote in an email response to The Sun.


The report is titled “Battle of Baltimore,” but it is more a profile of Poggi than anything else — a generally favorable portrait.

It was set-up in its Sunday morning premiere on “E:60” by co-host Jeremy Schaap comparing the philanthropy of Poggi, which has transformed the St. Frances football program in part by funding scholarships that brought needy student-athletes from outside the city and state to the Baltimore school, to that of basketball star LeBron James, who opened a school for needy students last week in Akron, Ohio.

Schaap characterized the response to James as one of the basketball player being “widely hailed.”

“In Baltimore, another fabulously wealthy sportsman and Baltimore native has spent vast sums to fund scholarships for the underpriviliged,” the co-host continued. “Not everyone is hailing him as a hometown hero. Instead, his philanthropy has sparked controversy and earned him enemies.”

The access ESPN got to the Poggi and the St. Frances student-athletes makes this a piece Baltimore sports fans will want to see. (Viewers are told that all other conference schools except Gilman declined to be interviewed for the piece.)

My chief complaint with the report is how Poggi’s words, facts or version of events are sometimes taken at face value without further checking.

For example, after coaching at Michigan on Jim Harbaugh’s staff for 16 months, Poggi returned to Baltimore to coach at St. Frances last year.

“Jim had asked me to stay,” Poggi says in the piece. “And I think was disappointed when I was leaving. But he understood why.”

I do not know if Harbaugh wanted him to stay or not, but I wish ESPN had told me in the report that it had at least made an effort to reach Harbaugh to try to verify that.

Small matter? Probably. But, as a reporter, I would have made the call and shared what I found with the viewer.

(You can read an online version of the TV report by senior writer Gene Wojciechowski here.)

As reporting in The Sun and elsewhere has explained, this is a story that touches in deep ways on matters of race, social class and education. “E:60” definitely gets that.

I’ll update this post if ESPN makes the video available before it re-airs on TV Thursday. Please check back.