With an audience of millions of people, we expect journalists to research topics and use caution while speaking extemporaneously. When reporters fail to follow these elementary rules in broadcasting, there are far-reaching consequences. Journalists have a moral obligation since their audience often takes their word as gospel, assuming their claims are rooted in fact. Just ask the irreverent and irrepressible Charlie Sheen impersonator Robert Blake. All that was missing from recent arguments made by ESPN analysts were the facts and at least one of them has now admitted it.
On ESPN’s First Take last week, commentators Skip Bayless, Hugh Douglas, and Stephen A. Smith discussed Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, an active NFL player, who recently announced his decision to become a vegan. Here is a sampling of the irresponsible comments made on the show:
Skip Bayless: “I don’t get this. You can not retain your muscle mass without animal protein. You can’t do the synthetic protein.”
Bayless erred in his assumption that the only choices of protein originate from animals or synthetic sources. Synthetic proteins copy actual proteins; there is nothing synthetic about the proteins most vegans eat. Naturally occurring proteins are not made in labs or factories. Myths about vegan food abound.
Meanwhile, Bayless grudgingly admitted that eating vegan food is a healthier way to eat and that friends have encouraged him to stop eating animals. He has repeatedly bragged about his health yet often states that he only drinks Mountain Dew, hardly an endorsement of his knowledge of nutrition. Vegan MMA fighter Aaron Simpson defended Foster’s decision.
Stephen A. Smith: “So you become a vegan…you’re not as strong as you used to be.” The only thing missing from Smith’s argument is any factual basis for it.
Hugh Douglas: “Your body has to have time to adjust to not eating meat especially when it has been so used to eating meat. It’s going to be hot. To deprive your body of that protein that it has been used to getting; that’s going to be a tough spot to be in.” To quote Stephen A. Smith, those comments are “egregious, unconstitutional, and asinine, asiten, and asieleven!” Douglas is right though. When you stop ingesting bovine growth hormone, contaminants, antibiotics, saturated fat, cholesterol, and E. coli, it is a shock to your body. It’s not used to feeling so alive taking in so many natural and safe foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and other forms of cruelty-free protein.
Douglas’s claims were so wantonly false and outrageous, it sent the Twitterverse into a frenzy, causing Douglas to tweet “Apologies to all the vegans out there. I was misinformed. But to be honest I can [sic] care less about what you eat.” Apology accepted. The damage has already been done though. Millions of people will not see the retraction causing them to opt out of plant-based eating in fear of losing muscle. Hopefully vegan gold medalist Carl Lewis and vegan Wimbledon champion Venus Williams will publicly address Douglas’s fumble.
Equally alarming, the analysts didn’t ask if Foster’s transition to vegan eating resulted from an illness such as Crohn’s Disease or diabetes that he wants to reverse nor did they inquire if he wanted to reduce his carbon footprint or show mercy for animals. They simply criticized him — a sad albeit common illustration of their myopic view of the world.
Perhaps most revealing about the value Douglas places on his eating habits or his knowledge of healthful food, he also tweeted: “Has anybody out there tried the bacon sundae at Burger King?”Douglas should consider how that bacon sundae is made. If you want ice cream, I recommend eating ice cream that tastes even better but doesn’t involve confining, torturing, and killing animals. Or you can try some of my favorite vegan recipes that also contain plenty of protein, more than Douglas’s sundae — and that’s a fact.