Review: ESPN and the Nebraska porn wrestlers

Donahoe, top, and Jordan

Donahoe, top, and Jordan

The gay porn angle was the secondary focus on ESPN "Outside The Lines" look at the dismissal of Paul Donahoe and Kenny Jordan from the University of Nebraska wrestling team after they posed naked on Fratmen.tv. (Complete video segment below).

It wasn't as if ESPN was trying to downplay any gay angle, but there really isn't much of one beyond the type of website the two posed for; both say they are straight and neither feels the need to apologize for showing their wares to a paying audience. We'll never know if they would have been treated differently had they done porn for a straight site.

ESPN's focus was on whether Nebraska used a double standard for booting the two wrestlers, when compared to how other athletes at the school have been treated. At one point, Nebraska Athletic Director (and former football coach) Tom Osborne said that had Donahoe and Jordan not had past infractions, their porn appearances might not have led to their dismissal.

I find that hard to believe. This is the same Tom Osborne who kept football stars Lawrence Phillips and Christian Peter on his team when they had done far worse than masturbate on a porn site. Online reporting by ESPN's Paula Lavigne found that 14 of the 44 Nebraska wrestlers the past few years have faced criminal charges. One wrestler even smashed a beer bottle over another's head, causing a serious injury and a lawsuit, yet both stayed on the team. Incidentally, this happened at the wedding reception of head coach Mark Manning.

ESPN also documented poker parties that were held at the home of a Nebraska assistant coach. Donahoe and Jordan both said these were high-stakes games (Jordan says he once lost $700 on one hand), but the assistant said the money involved was small. Last week, in anticipation of the ESPN report, the university said an internal review of the wrestling program, including the poker parties, uncovered no NCAA violations.

ESPN makes clear that this is not a model wrestling program, but neither Donahoe nor Jordan were model athletes. Donahoe had been arrested for hosting a loud party and for carrying alcohol in an open container. His former girlfriend also called 911 following two fights she and Donahoe had. Jordan has been convicted twice for misdemeanor assault.

Donahoe was also briefly suspended from the team for selling an Ipod he got at a tournament, in violation of NCAA rules. Donahoe comes across as either a flake or someone in the early stages of Alzheimer's when on-air he denies accusations about the wrestling program he made to ESPN only weeks before:

"I said that? I must have been on drugs or something. I don't remember that. I must have been doing some kind of drugs."

Both wrestlers are non-apologetic about posing for Fratmen, for which each was paid an estimated $2,000 plus expenses. They used fake names (Donahoe was "Nash," Jordan was "Cal") and were discovered by gay Nebraskans who frequented the site and recognized them (Donahoe sports a huge "N" tattoo on his thigh, visible on the Fratmen shots).

I loved Jordan's comment that far from doing something wrong, what he did "put smiles on peoples' faces," the most indisputable thing I heard on the show. He said in an accompanying online clip (see below) that his friends and his older brother "just laughed about it." Donahoe told about the supportive e-mails he received from the gay community via Facebook and My Space after the story first broke last August. Perhaps surprising was the result of an online ESPN poll (admittedly unscientific) that found 60% of respondents saying it was wrong to have kicked the wrestlers off the team for posing naked.

The double standard at work was even evident in what happened to both wrestlers after their dismissal. Nebraska initially gave Donahoe a list of only three wrestling programs he could transfer to without first having to sit out the 2008-2009 season. They relented, he said, after he threatened to expose shenanigans within the program. Whether it was that or the fact that he had won a 2007 national title for Nebraska and had been Manning's favorite, Donahoe was ultimately allowed to transfer to Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. The school is a wrestling powerhouse and Donahoe finished the regular season unbeaten before losing in the finals of the national tournament at 125 pounds.

Jordan fared worse. Nebraska would not allow him to transfer to a Division I school, without sitting out a year of wrestling. He chose to attend Purdue in the Big Ten, which is Division I, and hopes to make the school's team next season. Jordan was the only person on the show who came across sympathetically. He says he regrets having posed for Fratmen, not because he did anything wrong but because his life was thrown in turmoil because of it.

Neither Nebraska, its wrestling program, Donahoe nor Jordan came across with their reputations intact. The only clear winner was Fratmen. They got tons of publicity any business would kill for, worth far more than the $4,000 they shelled out for the services of Nash and Cal.

I would love to hear what others thought of the segment and the issues it raised.

Related: Our archive on the gay porn wrestlers.

The complete "Outside the Lines" report:

Donahoe and Jordan discuss how they came to do porn:

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