Syracuse Orange: Brent Axe was fired for objectivity, not negativity

Syracuse Orange (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)
Syracuse Orange (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images) /

This week we saw the end of an era in the Syracuse Orange sports community. A fixture in the SU sports community was suddenly and according to many, unceremoniously shown the door in a move that will fundamentally change the way we see and hear things Orange moving forward.

Brent Axe was fired from ESPN Syracuse. And anyone who cares about sports, and more specifically, anyone who cares about the ability to hear good, fair, and objective coverage of Syracuse sports, or sports as a whole, should be very concerned about the reasons why.

Now, before we get any further, let me make one thing clear. The owner of a private radio station has the right to do whatever he wants with his station. I understand that. However. I’d argue that when decisions are made in opposition to the traditional standards of journalistic integrity, it’s at the very least worth discussing.

And the rationale for the firing Ed Levine himself offered to Chris Carlson in a recent article is so blunt yet ethically-questionable, it cannot be ignored.

"“I had a problem with the content of the show.”“I’m an SU fan. I’m sorry, but I bleed Orange. I’m not going to apologize for that, and I think a fair reading of the Orange is appropriate.”“I understand (Galaxy has) a business relationship (with Syracuse), that Coach (Jim) Boeheim and I are personal friends and he’s an investor in my company.”"

The firing of Brent Axe is concerning for the Syracuse Orange sports community.

First of all, he intimates that those who desperately want Syracuse University’s revenue programs to once again ascend to higher realms of success do not “bleed Orange”. I’ve said it before and will again.

Those who are the most passionate are often the ones most eager to comment when they see the program going in the wrong direction. Fans who watch games (and yes, some of those even attend games) yet still are critical are not the problem. Those who stopped caring are the problem.

Yes, as I’ve said many times, you can be a fan of the Syracuse Orange & still recognize the deficiencies of the program and even, shockingly, the staff, at the same time. It’s absolutely a “fair reading” to make an objective assessment of the programs, and of those who are leading them.

Regarding his other comments, I just find them strange. In providing this context to his relationships, Levine establishes a narrative that could lend an outside observer to wonder whether he has an agenda that has nothing to do with actually telling the story of Syracuse Orange sports as it is — while at the same time, claiming the same of and its writers.

It all feels so wrong. I find it chilling and deeply unsettling that the primary subject of an independent sports media station would appear to have such an influence, whether real or perceived, on media coverage when all that this coverage consists of is objective, unvarnished perspectives of the situation as it is.

Brent Axe has been an institution in the Syracuse Orange sports landscape for two decades. He is one of the most plugged-in and insightful media personalities both in his role with and his now former role with ESPN Syracuse.

An unabashed Red Sox fan in New York baseball country, he has never been afraid to adopt an unpopular opinion and stick with it. But more than anything, he has always been fair. He has called it like he has seen it, even when it’s made him less than an audience favorite when it comes to one sports stance or another. But I’ve also seen him, for years, push back on some of the more outlandish and, frankly, ridiculous critics of Syracuse Orange sports when it was called for. He was not a blind cynic.

We are now coming off the 2nd season in a row that Syracuse has not made a postseason tournament in men’s basketball. The drumbeat was growing loud that the time for change had come, eventually peaking with that strange press conference following the season-ending loss to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament.

I know that I myself had come to the realization a couple of weeks prior that the end of the Boeheim era may have finally arrived. And I was not alone. Caller after caller phoned into ESPN Syracuse saying the same thing. And Brent’s opinion evolved over time until, following the worst two-year stretch for Syracuse Orange basketball in decades, he was also saying what pretty much everyone who watched the games was thinking.

And as it stands, common-sense observations got him fired.

The media landscape has its problems these days, and I truly hope the young minds of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School among others can work to make things right in the not-too-distant future.

But lest there be any confusion – It is a problem when we quash those opinions in the media that we don’t agree with just because we can. It is a problem when we allow financial interests to interfere with journalistic interests. It is a problem when we attempt to create a sanitized on-brand message machine when a dynamic platform of free debate and open discourse is what the time calls for.

And make no mistake. If it can happen in Syracuse, it can happen anywhere.

I truly hope that Brent Axe finds another great platform soon.

I know that wherever he lands, I will be listening.

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