ESPN Changed Sports Media, For Good Or Ill
ESPN: Can't live with it; can't live without it.
From the late 70s until my family finally got cable in '86, finding out about what happened in sports meant either watching an event and hoping something else I was interested in was mentioned, or reading the Herald-Examiner the next day.
Sports news on TV was five minutes after the murder, weather, and cute-dog segments.
Then, duh-nuh-nuh, dun-nuh-nuh, all the sports you could want, and—at first—plenty of them you didn't want, came straight from Bristol, Conn.
More than two decades later, when I think sports news, I think ESPN.
Like anything else, the network has gotten really good at some areas and has brought out or helped along trends we'd be better off without.
Here are some thoughts about ESPN, what I like, and what I don't like.
1. The Best Highlights on Earth (Usually)
SportsCenter and NFL Primetime roast any other programs in terms of volume and quality of highlights. It's like Howard Cosell's old "Halftime Highlights," except there are a lot more of them, and they're from more sports.
I'll be in the minority on this, but Chris Berman's commentary takes the rundown from perfect to...OK, from less-than-perfect to perfect.
2. It's educational
I've been spared from thinking the sports world is nothing but baseball, American football, NBA basketball, and every fourth year, people in shorts running really fast.
Without ESPN, my beloved Boston Bruins would just be a faraway team playing a funny sport, I'd have never known the beauty of lacrosse, and I'd still be calling real football "soccer."
I'll give the network a pass here for showing poker and strongest-man contests. But PTI and any trivia shows are the next-best thing to live games or SportsCenter.
It's kind of related to No. 2, but it's different. Before ESPN, you might have gotten one or two college football games each Saturday. Now, you might get 12.
I know, they're not all on ESPN networks, but they get credit for showing that there is an appetite out there. And then, come the late part of college basketball's season, you might find yourself tossing out your remote.
1. Stuart Scott
I don't know what the guy's shtick is—if he wants to sound "urban" or what—but it gets annoying really fast. He is the only thing that can mess up SportsCenter or Primetime.
Usually, he can find useful information, but then "boo-yah."
2. Hero Worship
It's OK for Little Joey to be a fan of Dominique Wilkins, Sergio Garcia, or Charlie Bell. It's OK for a network to report on what they do, if it's newsworthy.
What's not OK is crossing the line into outright adoration. ESPN is guilty of that, particularly as it relates to certain retired and active NBA players and a golfer.
If he scores 50 points, it's news. If he wins the tourney or shoots a hole-in-one, it's news. If he finishes ninth, it's worth a six-second mention and then get back to talking about the winner.
And let's not get into the corporate name-dropping that's trying to ruin SportsCenter.
3. Beating a story to death
My interest in steroid stories is virtually nil. Who's using it? What's his punishment?
I'm not interested in long-winded commentary about what it means to horseshoe saleswomen in Bangladesh. What I am interested in is, from the horse's mouth, why he started taking the stuff, what effect it had on him, and what he's going to do to regain his good name.
Same with the "player-arrested" stories. All I want to know is: He's arrested. He's sanctioned by the league—if the league says it'll wait until the case goes through the system, that's not news. He's convicted or acquitted. He's released. He goes back to work.
Are we better off as a country for having ESPN? Probably not. But at least we know the score and can poke fun at the guy who missed the gymnast from Turkmenistan dodging the flying hot dog.
Now if only the CFL and handball were put on the air...
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