Knoxville, TN (WJHL) — When ESPN’s “College Game Day” broadcast airs Saturday before the Battle at Bristol, the show won’t include a report on UT Quarterback Josh Dobbs’ friendship with and a boy fighting cancer.
ESPN told News Channel 11 it had no choice but to “switch gears,” something the family of little AJ Cucksey said they understand.
But the decision to pull the report from the show sparked criticism on social media and even got a response from Virginia Tech, the Vols opponent on Saturday.
AJ Cucksey, 6, Knoxville, has inoperable brain tumors. He’s an ambassador for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, and he was recently named the statewide Children’s Miracle Network Champion.
AJ’s favorite team – the UT Vols – will face the Virginia Tech Hokies in a game Saturday night at the Bristol Motor Speedway. UT Quarterback Josh Dobbs is AJ’s favorite player. They met at an event last year with help from East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and have met several times since then, AJ’s mother Shannon told News Channel 11.
“I’ve been amazed to see how Josh inspires AJ and how my son inspires this amazing young man who just happens to be an amazing football player,” she said.
ESPN found out about the friendship and came to Knoxville in July to produce a report. The Cucksey’s told News Channel 11 they were told at that time that the segment would air during the network’s “College Game Day” broadcast before the “Battle at Bristol” football game Saturday.
But early this week, the Cucksey’s learned from ESPN the story would not be airing this week.
“They didn’t really say why, only that the time frame was small and that other stories need to air,” said John Cucksey, AJ’s father. “I’m a firm believer that what’s meant to be is meant to be.”
But others weren’t so forgiving.
Blogger Celina Summers was one of the first to write about the decision for the Orange and White Report.
News quickly spread through social media along with speculation about the motives behind the decision. Many criticized ESPN using the hashtag #CuckseyStrong .
The Cucksey family responded Thursday through the “Prayers for AJ Cucksey” Facebook page.
The Hokies even tweeted support for AJ through the Virginia Tech Football Staff’s official twitter account.
On Thursday, News Channel 11 asked ESPN about the decision to pull the Dobbs/Cucksey story.
“There are often times when we have a feature story pegged for a given week, then news and storylines change and we have to switch gears,” a spokesperson said. “We will find a good home for the Joshua Dobbs story on College GameDay within the coming weeks.”
“ESPN has to do what’s right for their business, and we respect their decision to air the story that they’re going to air,” John Cucksey told News Channel 11 by phone from Knoxville Thursday afternoon.
“We hope the Vol community convinces them to air the story in September which is childhood cancer awareness month,” he said. “I’m pretty confident that the people in Orange have spoken.”
John Cucksey said he welcomed any opportunity to share AJ’s story in hopes of raising money and awareness about the disease that’s impacted his son.
Cucksey said the family would not be able to come to the Battle at Bristol, but they would be rooting on the Vols, especially AJ’s friend Josh Dobbs.
“We can’t get mad about this,” AJ’s father said. “We have to stay positive.”Copyright 2016 WJHL. All rights reserved.