Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Trends of the Last Century Present: ESPN

If you're like me, between the years of being in middle school and up until now, ESPN's been apart of your morning. You might leave it on in the background as you go through your morning routine of getting coffee and getting dressed. Also if you're like me, you've probably noticed how different ESPN's become over the years.

ESPN sucks now.

Sadly it's true, from the top down, the "World-Wide Leader in Sports" has a heavy crown to bear, and I believe the weight is slowly breaking the network's own neck.

Gone are the days of Rich Eisen (The NFL Network) and Keith Oberman (MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Oberman) manning the helm of SportsCenter, cutting through highlights with one liners that you'd take to school or to the office with you and use all day. What we're left with is the one leftover from those days, Stewart Scott - an analyst as lazy as his own left eye.

It's true, the analysis of ESPN's desk people is shallow and uninspired at best. I routinely watch "Baseball Tonight" with Chris Burman and his panelists, and listen to the scraped-together facts provided by some statitician in the bowels of the ESPN Complex in Bristol, CT. For instance, "Baseball Tonight" panelist, and former first baseman John Kruk grunted and pushed out this gem a few nights ago:

"The Red Sox have such strong hitting in the middle of their line up with Ortiz, Ramierez and Lowell. You can't pitch around Ortiz without having to face the power of Manny or Mike Lowell's ability to bring in runs."

What the hell is that? I'm not getting anything that I couldn't readily figure out for myself by browsing the stat section of my local sports page.

I don't necessarily blame ESPN though, I think the problem mostly lies in the fact that ESPN has gotten too big. Literally, the network is a monster, and it has to be, because they claim to be the "World-Wide Leader of Sports" and that means something. That means, if there's a cricket match in Bombay, ESPN's there. If there's F1 Racing in Germany, ESPN's there. If there's women's basketball playoffs, ESPN2's there. They even cover competitive eating, I shit you not.

So with all this coverage, of course analysis has to be shallow. The longest SportsCenter of the week comes on for two hours on Sunday. After all the highlights, score updates and recaps, the obligatory interview with some sports writer from some local town where something's happening, and a soft feature piece with some retiring college coach/NFL star giving back to his crack-addeled community/recently outed gay high diver, there's little room left over for in-depth sports analysis.

Of course if you're a fan of a huge, well known team say as the Red Sox or Yankees, The Patriots or Eagles, Tony Stewart or Tiger Woods, sure there's going to be just enough coverage of your team to sustain you. But what if you're a Padre's fan? Or a Bangels fan? Or a proud follower of the Montreal Canadiannes? You're just shit out of luck.

Also, the rest of the line up at ESPN are these adversarial topic shows, such as "Pardon The Interuption" or PTI as it's referred to, where two assholes scream over each other to the tick of a clock counting down before they have to move on to the next subject. It's literally like taking two drunks from a bar, giving them a list of talking points, and running an egg timer. I should also mention that they have two or three other shows that use this same format, one of which lovingly comes with a mute button (Around The Horn), thank god.

Again, if I want to watch a pack of dickheads yell at each other, over each other, about today's sports topics, I'll grab a stool down at Mulligan's, where someone will eventually get punched in the side of the head, and no one's wearing a pretentious-looking suit.

I really wish ESPN would back it down a bit. Not everything in the sports world needs 24/7 coverage. If you miss a Busch Series race or a college football game here and there, so what? Don't bear the burden on yourselves, hand off some to the local area sports networks like NESN or New England Sports Network (that is, if you're reading this and live in New England). I'm sure other regions have similar networks in place.

Go back, ESPN, to your roots of just doing highlights with witty commentary. Get rid of the college interns/boss's sons who sit behind their desk on set and read from the paper, sounding as if they're actually reading from a paper. Put a little heart into the shows you're putting on the air. And for the love of Christ, no one cares about those soft little feature pieces on the handicapped karate instructor or the Iraq War Vetrans Vollyball League.

Turn back before it's too late.

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