Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser are two of the most important cogs in the vast ESPN machine. If it weren't for the success of Pardon the Interruption—ESPN's signature debate show that has truly been responsible for a shift in the way sports are covered on television—a lot of us wouldn't be doing what we are doing.
I, personally, may not be where I am were it not for the help and direction from Kornheiser and Wilbon. So I say this with all due respect and decorum.
Wilbon needs to get the hell out of here. If he was serious with his ridiculously jingoistic rant about Jurgen Klinsmann on PTI on Thursday, Wilbon needs to get out of here with that nonsense:
I’ve known Kobe Bryant. And you, Mr. Klinsmann, are no damn Kobe Bryant. I mean seriously, Mr. Klinsmann now wants to tell all of American sports how to work. Get the hell out. Get out of America.
You haven’t won anything. You’re so gutless you went out and said "oh, our team can’t win, we can’t win." You’re supposed to be such a great coach, why are they paying you? They’re apparently paying you for something you did not only yesterday, but somewhere else about 4,000 miles away. I repeat: Get the hell out. When did Klinsmann become an expert on American sports?
Now, look, I get that Wilbon's job is to get people talking, and Klinsmann opened the door by comparing Landon Donovan making the World Cup roster to Kobe Bryant getting paid $50 million over two years at the end of his career.
And I understand that the "embrace debate" edict runs through all of ESPN's programming, though in this case Kornheiser did not embrace much, following Wilbon's rant by quipping: "Do you think I'm going to argue with you on this?"
This particular rant; however, is nothing but an attention-grabbing, anti soccer-laden, misguided attempt at big media grandstanding.
There is nobody better at that than Wilbon.
Normally it would be the prudent decision to ignore such nonsense, but since the World Cup starts next week, Wilbon's rant is perfectly timed to make his comments into an international news story.
It would be brilliant, if it weren't so idiotic.
Let's dissect Wilbon's comment a little further. First, while I am firmly in the camp that Donovan should have made the World Cup team, not only for what he's done in the past but because of what he can do in Brazil over several players with less experience, Klinsmann's comments about Kobe Bryant and American teams overpaying athletes past their prime is absolutely true.
Teams routinely overpay players on the downside of their careers, and Wilbon—who has covered the NBA for years—should have been applauding the comparison.
Instead, Wilbon ripped Klinsmann to defend his pal, because in a way, Wilbon is Kobe Bryant, paid now for the award-winning work he did in the past and living off his own greatness.
(That's not a knock on Wilbon, by the way. I can't wait until I have enough clout in this industry to live off my past work. It can't come soon enough, frankly.)
What is a knock on Wilbon is what came next. "Get the hell out," is what Wilbon said to Klinsmann, the coach of U.S. Soccer for the last three years and someone who has roots in America for more a decade after retiring from playing and moving here in 1998.
Klinsmann's family is American. His kid is in the U.S. National Team program. When he went back to coach the German national team and Bayern Munich, he was living in America.
Wilbon questioned what Klinsmann knows about Bryant's contract or American sports without acknowledging—or perhaps realizing—that Klinsmann has lived in the Los Angeles area for much of Bryant's Lakers career.
Who should "get the hell out?"
Does Wilbon think that Klinsmann just landed in the United States this week? Heck, Klinsmann moved to the United States three years before PTI was even on the air.
I know soccer isn't exactly on his radar—despite his network going all-in on coverage of the sport the last six years—but is he that out of touch with the current sports landscape in this country that he thinks Klinsmann isn't "American" enough to make that kind of comparison?
What's even better is that later in the conversation Kornheiser said that Klinsmann sounded more like a general manager, not a coach, to which Wilbon erroneously replied: "but he's not a GM. He's a coach whose success is predicated on having great players who I'm sure he'd like to have a chance to dump so he can take all the credit."
Only, Klinsmann kind of is the GM of U.S. Soccer, having been named Technical Director in December 2013 when he signed the contract extension through 2018 that Kornheiser and Wilbon referenced during the rant.
If Klinsmann sounds like a GM, that's because he is one. If you're going to dedicate time on your nationally televised sports talk program to rip someone for not being good at his job, it might be worth looking at his actual job description first.
Regardless, the reason we're talking about Wilbon today is not because he took a shot at Klinsmann as a coach, and it's not because The New York Times took a quote from Klinsmann in December and pulled it off the shelf in June to get everyone talking about how the coach of U.S. Soccer doesn't think his team can win. (Note: Klinsmann is right about that too, and the honesty was refreshing.)
The reason we are talking about Wilbon today is because Wilbon wants us to talk about him today.
Telling Klinsmann to "get the hell out" of America because he dared to take a shot at Kobe Bryant and the current professional sports system in a country he's lived and worked in for over a decade is the same typical bully-pulpit, uninformed, hey-look-at-me-I'm-talking-on-TV kind of nonsense America is known for around the world.
Wilbon is America today, and that's why we're talking about him.
A week from now, when PTI gets pre-empted on ESPN almost every day for World Cup soccer, Wilbon can "get out" and go wherever the hell he wants for a month. Nobody will even notice.