Monday, August 23, 2010

Why ESPN Sucks

From the day that I could walk, and probably before then, sports have been a huge part of who I am. One of the earliest memories of my childhood is walking across the street at dawn every morning during baseball season at my first home in rural New Hampshire to get the Boston Globe each day. I would look to see if the Red Sox had won the night before. On days after the Sox had a West Coast night game that didn't finish before the Globe went to press, I'd sigh and flip the page to the stats page, peering over the batting averages and ERAs of my heroes.

I can remember being four years old, hopelessly shooting at my neighbor's ten-foot basketball hoop alongside my older brother, praying to make my first basketball in front of him, but never coming within feet of the hoop. When I wasn't working on my two-handed heave of a jumper, I would take swings at teed-up tennis balls with my Fisher Price plastic baseball bat, hoping to put one over the "Blue Monster", a tarped wood pile on the outskirts of my family's yard.

For the past ten years, Sportscenter has been as much a part of my morning ritual as eating breakfast or showering. Over the past few years, however, I've found myself straying more and more from that ritual. The tiresome annual Favre storylines, which have unapologetically focused vast amounts of attention on one of football's most shamelessly arrogant figures, force me to change the channel daily throughout football preseason. The LeBron debacle, including ESPN's widely-criticized Decision, repelled me for much of July with its overanalysis and self-importance. Their insufferable NFL analysts such as Chris Mortensen, Ron Jaworski, and Jon Gruden, are no more than meat-headed old boys who spew machismo and cliches ad nauseum from the months of August until December, suffocating coverage of the MLB, NBA, and NHL during those months. While the channel still offers exclusive broadcasting of some of the biggest games of the major sports, the reporting has becoming downright atrocious and its play-by-play announcers are amongst some of the worst on television (with Jon Gruden and Mark Jackson leading the way).

One of the biggest issues with ESPN has been its lack of credibility in the way that it covers the stars of the sports that it covers. Take for instance, the LeBron and Favre stories. Rather than chastise these stars for their selfish, prima-donna tactics, the network plays right into their hands, giving them spotlights to masturbate their egos into, while refusing to acknowledge America's boredom with the story. In a sense, ESPN has a low opinion of the intelligence of its viewers. Besides the youngest of its viewers, anyone watching Sportscenter knows the absurd amount of money that the top players of the major sports are making and the sense of entitlement that comes along with their star power. Viewers don't need are fan-boy anchors and analysts like Stuart Scott and Chris Berman, who act like total lackeys to the stars, refusing to ask tough questions and challenge players to hold themselves accountable for the way that they act.

Beyond its "flagship" program, SportsCenter, ESPN has little credible non-event programming. While the 30 For 30 series has been a huge success and PTI benefits from decent interplay between Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, SportsNation is an abomination. Colin Cowherd might be the most obnoxious sports personality on television, and with Michelle Beadle as his playful minx, the show is an air-filled gimmick chockful of polls and YouTube videos. The Sports Reporters takes itself seriously, but is hardly more credible, with pompous assholes Mike Lupica, Mitch Albom, and Stephen A. Smith sucking the air out of the room and turning to studio into a vacuum of douche. Anything involving Jim Rome or Rick Reilly is, predictably, a flaming bag of shit. 1st and 10 showcases Skip Bayless, who makes Gary Busey's rational prowess seem Aristotelian. Most of the league-specific programs do little more than re-heat the days' top stories; even the excellent Baseball Tonight has started to crumble since the departure of Peter Gammons.

All that I ask is that ESPN make a bid to smarten up its programming and improve its credibility. ESPN clearly is in a power-position in the global sports broadcasting market and has had (and used) the power to withhold stories to maintain its relationship with stars and Disney image (ex. covering up the Harold Reynolds and Steve Phillips sex scandals). If ESPN can challenge itself to improve its reporting, over a more diverse array of stories, and avoid conflicts of interest in siding with the athletes that it reports on, it can make huge strides to improve its journalistic integrity. Until then, I'll be spending most of this fall watching NFL highlights with the TV on mute.

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