When the Minnesota Vikings play the New York Jets at New Meadowlands Stadium tonight, all eyes will be on Brett Favre and Randy Moss to see how the star quarterback plays in the wake of his sexting controversy and how well he connects with the team's newly acquired wideout.
But an interesting side story will be playing out in ESPN's broadcast booth, a side story that contains several interesting elements.
ESPN's Monday Night Football crew, Jon Gruden, Ron Jaworski, and Mike Tirico, will have the scrutinizing eye of critics on them during the broadcast to see how much, if at all, they mention the Brett Favre scandal, and what is said when they do mention it.
One can only guess that the guys in the booth, and ESPN as a whole, will take the easy way out on this one, briefly mentioning it as a passing news story and speculating lightly on if it will affect Favre's play.
Why? Because it's what ESPN does.
The network has proved time and time again that they are friends of star athletes and anything other than a legitimate source for sports news. There are countless examples of this, but the most prominent is, of course, LeBron James' decision.
By hiring Jim Gray, who is not even an ESPN employee, to basically lob LeBron softball after softball, feeding the superstar’s ego, they not only let LeBron off the hook, but also cheated their viewers of a show with any semblance of integrity.
To be fair, though, that was lost long before the Gray interview when they allowed LeBron’s people to set the whole thing up, broadcasting it from a Boys and Girls Club in Connecticut and not in ESPN’s Bristol studios. But that is not even the saddest part.
The blatant way in which ESPN disregarded journalistic ethics by paying for news, not reporting it, is the grossest betrayal of their viewers and their medium. Don Ohlmeyer, the network's Ombudsman, said as much and more in a scathing near 5,000-word attack on the network for its role in The Decision.
So why would they treat the Favre scandal with any integrity? After all, Favre, like LeBron, is a cash cow for the network.
First, it must be pointed out that deadspin.com broke this story on August 4th. August 4th! This thing didn't gain momentum until October 7th, over two months later, when the website posted a collection of supposed messages from Favre to Jenn Sterger as well as photos that are allegedly of Favre's penis.
Where was ESPN in that two-month interim? For that matter, where was any legitimate news source that wasn't an Internet blog?
Chances are this story would have developed much quicker if major news networks took this seriously from day one. But it was left to the people at deadspin.com, again, an Internet sports blog that makes a habit of posting pictures of athletes' junk, to be the one' with journalistic integrity, because unlike ESPN and "journalists" like Sports Illustrated's Peter King, they are not friends with the people they are reporting about.
In the lead-up to tonight's broadcast there has nary been mention of Favre's scandal, save for a scroll on ESPN's bottom line saying that Favre apologized to his teammates for being a distraction and promised to play "lights out."
The closest to a rebuke we've seen from the network came on ESPN's First Take, when Jon Ritchie said he'd consider it insulting if Favre came out and played well because he should be distracted by this and more concerned with his wife and family than a football game.
So tonight's broadcast is eagerly anticipated, at least in my opinion. I want to see what Chris Berman and the Countdown crew say. I especially want to see if Mike Tirico has anything to say.
Tirico faced allegations of sexual harassment, brought to light by Michael Freeman's tell-all book about the network's history, so it seems highly unlikely the most well-spoken of the Monday Night Football crew will have anything of merit to say.
Then again, ESPN has a history of frathouse antics among their male employees. From Tirico's indiscretions at a holiday party to Steve Phillips' affair, from Sean Salisbury's Favre-like moment to Harold Reynolds' hug, and all the way down to Jay Mariotti's domestic spat, ESPN has a history of fostering behavior just like Favre's.
Maybe Favre will have a job at ESPN when he retires; his behavior makes him seem like an ideal fit at the network.
But until then he still has a few games left, maybe a suspension, and one intriguing appearance on prime time television in front of a national audience.
If we know anything about Brett Favre, it's that he seems to play well in the face of potential distractions. If he does so again, his supporters will rejoice, and his detractors will snidely say wait until his suspension while praying that it comes before he retires, but it won't really matter.
Brett Favre's legacy, and your opinion of him, has long ago been determined.
What will be of note is what will likely be the continuing travesty of ESPN's continuing descent into the muck of pop culture's mind-numbing, profit-driven insipidity.
ESPN stands for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network. As they continually debase their integrity, it seems the entertainment portion of that acronym takes greater and greater precedent.
Will that be the case tonight on E!SPN?