ESPN has suspended its top NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski after he sent a profane email to Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., according to multiple people familiar with the situation. Wojnarowski had been scheduled to travel to Florida soon to cover the NBA’s restart of its season, but will not make the trip as planned.
Wojnarowski is still expected to be part of ESPN’s coverage of the NBA season in Orlando, just at a later date. The suspension is between one and two weeks, according to those same people.
The suspension comes after Hawley tweeted an image of an email from Wojnarowski on Friday in which the reporter responded to a news release from the senator’s office with an expletive.
Hawley’s release had publicized a letter he wrote to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Hawley criticized the league for allowing messages that promote social justice on jerseys this summer, but not allowing messages that support law enforcement or are critical of China’s Communist Party.
In the email sent to Hawley’s press office, Wojnarowski wrote, “F— You,” without censoring the expletive.
Hawley posted an image of the email on Twitter with the message, “Don’t criticize #China or express support for law enforcement to @espn. It makes them real mad.”
Wojnarowski tweeted an apology Friday, writing: “I was disrespectful and I made a regrettable mistake. I’m sorry for the way I handled myself and I am reaching out immediately to Sen. Hawley to apologize directly.”
ESPN released its own statement Friday, reading: “This is completely unacceptable behavior and we do not condone it. It is inexcusable for anyone working for ESPN to respond in the way Adrian did to Sen. Hawley.”
According to someone with knowledge of the exchanges, Wojnarowski made attempts to reach out to Hawley’s office Friday to apologize, but did not hear back. Hawley’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Hawley tweeted Sunday that ESPN shouldn’t have suspended Wojnarowski, and instead should do more reporting on China’s relationship with the NBA.
ESPN declined to comment Sunday. The website Outkick first reported Wojnarowski’s suspension.
As part of the resumption of the NBA season after a months-long hiatus due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the league and its players’ association negotiated messages that players could display on the backs of their jerseys in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests around the country against police brutality and racial injustice. In his letter to Silver, Hawley suggested players also display messages that support police and the military.
Hawley’s letter was also critical of the league’s support of social justice causes versus its reaction to Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, who last fall tweeted his support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong ahead of an exhibition tour through China. The NBA has lucrative television and merchandise business ties to China, and after a backlash from the Chinese government, Morey deleted the tweet and the league called his comments “regrettable.”
Wojnarowski, who is among ESPN’s highest-profile reporters and best-known for routinely breaking NBA news to his 4 million Twitter followers, played a role in that controversy, as well. After he liked Morey’s tweet, he was bombarded with threats on Twitter for a perceived slight toward China and support of Hong Kong.
Some prominent figures in the NBA came to Wojnarowski’s defense over the weekend. Asked Saturday about Hawley, Los Angeles Clippers Coach Doc Rivers told reporters, “I’ll make a challenge: We will do things for the troops as long as (Hawley) acknowledges #BlackLivesMatter. I think that would be really cool for him to do.”
Rivers added: “You know, it’s funny, whenever we talk about justice, people try to change the message. Colin Kaepernick kneels … it had to do with social injustice, and everyone tried to change the narrative. How about staying on what we are talking about and dealing with that instead of trying to trick us or change or trick your constituents? How about being real?”