In the ever evolving grudge match between the Oakland Raiders and ESPN, the good folks holding down the fort at Raider Nation are caught in the middle. Only an avalanche of victories will silence the big yappers and blowhards at Bristol. The bad blood between ESPN and the Raiders was revived at this spring's pro football draft and continues to simmer as we speak. Most NFL fans are aware of the secretive and even paranoid nature of the Raiders and Al Davis; this approach can foster much of the hatred that comes from the media. ESPN on the other hand is an enormous news gathering juggernaut, looking for juicy storylines and fabricating the truth is not out of the question for ESPN reporters.
The new wave of trash talking started with a somewhat dubious draft. ESPN’s Senior NFL analysts Chris Mortensen and former Vikings pass catcher Chris Carter wasted no time in slamming the Raiders for drafting questionable picks like Maryland’s Darius Heyward-Bay and Ohio safety Mike Mitchell. College scout Mel Kiper Jr. also jumped on the bandwagon for these perceived draft gaffs. The double standard is New England. Some have argued that the Patriots made bigger mistakes by drafting safety Patrick Chung and offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer. Regardless, fans bought into ESPN’s spin machine, firing up anti-Davis chatter and calling the Raiders the worst run franchise in pro sports.
Then the ESPN bloggers dropped their bombs. They raised some eyebrows by ranking Oakland 30th in the NFL Power Rankings.
Are the Raiders really going to regress this year? Never mind the team’s upgrades in free agency and the draft. Not to be outdone by their internet cohorts, ESPN The Magazine rated Oakland near the bottom of all sports franchises, ranking the Silver & Bleak (whoops…sorry it’s contagious) 116th out 122 professional teams. For the most part it’s been a one sided onslaught of subtle punches and quick jabs thrown by The World Wide Leader. Although a few years ago, Davis connected with a round house of his own. Saying: “ESPN was nothing more than a third rate network”. Now I’m not here to defend the Raiders but I will declare that ESPN has far too much influence over the sports landscape and it’s a shame, because they don’t deserve it. These guys didn’t even put up the latest congressional investigations of the BCS on ESPN.com. I guess when the company is in bed with the BCS, sports journalism takes a backseat.
To further my point, Bill Williamson covers the AFC West for ESPN.com and based on what he’s seen of the Raiders offseason, he’s declared them the third worst team in the NFL. It may seem like no big deal, but ranking a team that went 5-11, near the bottom of the league is ridiculously wrong. Oakland has much more going for them than Tampa Bay, Cleveland or Kansas City. All of these teams were ranked ahead of the Raiders in the initial poll. In my opinion, Williamson doesn’t have the football smarts or clearance from his bosses to give credit where credit is deserved. At the end of last season, objective sportswriters and fans saw a more mature QB in JaMarcus Russell and a team playing together. No question Bill missed the boat on this front. Otherwise, he would have ranked Oakland higher.
ESPN’s influence trickles down to other media outlets as well. Athlon Sports came out with their preseason predictions. Declaring that 3-13 was a realistic outlook, then promptly clarified; saying if things go right for the Raiders, 8-8 is a possibility (I smell a flip-flopper). It’s also clear that some writers are not interested in doing any research. Last month, Ryan O’Halloran of the Washington Times, posted an abysmal piece, predicting the Raiders to go 2-14. The preview offered nothing new, failed to mention the Greg Ellis signing and smacked of provincial east coast bias. For what it’s worth, O’Halloran got lit up by a number of unbiased fans, not just the stereo typical Raider supporter. No doubt ESPN has cornered the market on propping up franchises and star players—that’s why you’ll never hear a bad word spoken about Tom Brady or Peyton Manning from ESPN. They promote the teams they think sale and poke fun at the one’s that they think America loves to hate, like the Raiders.
New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki writes about how groups are influenced. The Wisdom of Crowds explores how diverse groups, with local knowledge and the right amount of emotion make smarter decisions than the so-called experts. It’s a compelling case study of how we select our leaders, conduct business and think about our lives. It can easily translate into the NFL and the running of a franchise. Surowiecki says that decisions made by a large group of people are always smarter than the individual experts— no matter how brilliant they are…Are you listening ESPN and Mr. Davis?