Opinion: ESPN has been looking the other way on Dan Dakich’s bullying for years

If you could put the Dan Dakich who calls college basketball games on ESPN a couple times a week into a box and lock the rest of his personality away, you’d likely come to the conclusion that he is a very good analyst and a reasonable human being and never really think about him again. 

Perhaps that’s why, until last week, ESPN executives had found it convenient enough to cover their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears and do their level best to ignore how he behaves on Twitter and his Indianapolis-based radio show, both of which for years have made a mockery of the network that gave him a national platform. 

Despite years of bullying and borderline comments on other platforms that should have drawn notice from his bosses at ESPN, Dakich’s nonsense has been largely consequence-free. What’s ironic about ESPN finally looking into his conduct after yet another embarrassing incident last week is that it was pretty much par for the course. 

ESPN college basketball analyst Dan Dakich (Photo: Tommy Gilligan, USA TODAY Sports)

An ESPN spokesperson acknowledged Sunday that the network was “taking this matter very seriously” after a radio segment last week in which Dakich went after two college professors who had engaged him on Twitter, one of which accused him of misogynistic and sexualized comments and another who said Dakich had doxxed him by spelling out his name and repeating his office hours on air. ESPN said Tuesday there was no update on the investigation.

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Since then, Dakich has shut down his Twitter account, which is where many of his problems have started. He claimed on his show Monday that it was the result of a religious epiphany, but the professional epiphany should have come long ago. 

It should have come when he started tweeting obsessively — more than 20 times over the years — about how college athletes afford tattoos if they’re being exploited. That isn’t even coded language — it’s blatantly racist.

It should have come when he tweeted in 2013 that Dwyane Wade “would be seeing a neurologist and a gynecologist” if he had taken an elbow in an NBA playoff game. 

It should have come when he said a small Indiana town was “full of meth and AIDS and needles” and called a high school kid a “methhead” because he was mad that the high school basketball coach got fired. 

It should have come in 2017 when he got in multiple Twitter interactions with Michigan State fans, calling them whiners and suggesting they weren’t smart enough to get into Michigan — an incident he backed down from and apologized for. 

It should have come when he said definitively that Purdue coach Jeff Brohm was going to Louisville, that P.J. Fleck was going to Cincinnati and that Indiana was hiring Steve Alford — all false stories that would have failed ESPN’s sourcing standards and gotten their reporters in trouble. 

It should have come last summer when he turned a picayune criticism of him on Twitter into a major argument, only to be informed by a father that the account belonged to his 10-year old son. Instead of backing away, Dakich turned it into a 20-minute radio segment, repeated the name of the family on air and blasted the father’s parenting: “The kid got what he deserved. … Tell your 10-year old kid to quit being a little pain in the ass.”

There are plenty of other examples, with athletes who are well-known and random people who got under his skin, suddenly finding themselves being talked about on-air, their e-mail boxes filled with hate.

Will any of that be part of ESPN’s investigation? 

Because at this point, this is as much an ESPN issue as it is a Dakich issue. Being a massive jerk to people on Twitter who tiptoes right up to the line is no crime; in talk radio, it has probably contributed greatly to his ratings and his financial success.

But why has ESPN never cared enough before now to deal with it? Is there anyone else at the entire company with a public presence so toxic who has been allowed to continue representing them? Plenty of high-profile talent over the years has been disciplined for going over the line on Twitter. In some cases, like when Jemele Hill called President Trump a "white supremacist" or when Dan Le Batard got too political for the network's liking, it led to a separation. 

Maybe those of us who have been aware of it for years have become desensitized to Dakich’s propensity to bully and demean. Nothing stands out as a scandal when everything’s a scandal. But this latest incident with the professors has struck a chord with people. And you know it’s serious because on his radio shows Monday and Tuesday, Dakich wouldn’t actually address the growing controversy head on. Instead, he insisted that he wasn’t a bully — “I've always stood up to bullies,” he said — explaining that he values toughness because it kept him alive. 

Trying to thread that needle, of course, is utter nonsense. Public figures getting into Twitter fights and then elevating those battles into radio content is either a media strategy or the byproduct a massive persecution complex.

Regardless of which one it is, ESPN has enabled it for a long time. We’ll see how much longer they want to continue. 

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