That headline grabbed your eye, didn’t it? Now that you’re here, I don’t think I’m going to say anything. I’m taking the ESPN road – the sensationalized headline with nothing to back it up.
Okay, I can’t take it anymore. Being ESPN sucks – I’m retiring and rejoining the Haterade Brigade. No, the Brigade doesn’t really exist. And no, Stuart Scott didn’t come up with the name. I just made it up because I’m clever like that. If you ever read or hear that phrase again, remember, you saw it here first. It’s a Flash Original.
When I was a precocious youngin, I was allowed to watch five channels without parental supervision: CNN, Discovery, Disney, PBS, and ESPN. ESPN was my father’s contribution to the tv-watching experience. My mother didn’t like the idea of it but my pop is a man of sport and there was no way I was going to be raised without a healthy dose of it in my day to day life. I quickly learned that ESPN meant all sports, all the time. A 24/7 feast of athletics.
As often as I could, I’d park myself in front of the TV to eagerly absorb every play, every tidbit, every moment. Sometimes this was trouble for I was an undersized runt with plastic cokebottle glasses. Sitting too close to the tv sometimes caused my eyes to cross.
My ocular troubles notwithstanding, I watched religiously, and when the screen faded to black for the commercial break, I had no concerns. The 30-second spots were just as enjoyable (and sometimes, moreso) as the game/match on which I’d locked my brainwaves.
Yo money, it’s gotta be the shoes!” Michael Jordan and Mars Blackmon, the lovable, high-spirited little man that watched in stunned amazement as Air soared and slammed his way into legend while wearing the Air Jordan III’s. I had seven pairs of the years, and I have that poster. It’s been on my wall since I was 8 years old. And there was Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, one of the greatest individual rivalries of all time, duking it out in pairs of Chuck Taylors.
And “Bo Knows.” You’re damn right, he knew! The poster on my wall said so. So did his bat as he rocked Rick Reuschel with a 448-foot rocket (and he still got robbed!) at his first at-bat during the 1989 All-Star game. So did his feet as he juked that overrated, Sooner fraud known as, “The Boz,” out of his knees on Monday Night Football.
I remember a maniacal Stanley, Dennis Hopper’s defrocked ref who inhaled the pungent aroma of Bruce Smith’s (shame on him for being in a Coors “twins” commercial) shoes with crazed fervor and waxed poetic on Barry Sanders’ moves with the same demented wonderment previously reserved for Colonel Kurtz.
It’s been 8 years but even now I hope the Gatorade song and dance of “Like Mike” will return to the screen… like the kids in the commercial, (cue music) sometimes I dream.. that he is me. You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be. I dream I move. I dream I groove. Like Mike. If I could be like Mike (/music).
And then there was the Sports Center jingle; a tune that still sends me to the TV faster than Pavlov’s dog could salivate. 6:00 pm. Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann. It wasn’t about the headline, the hype, or the sick amount of played-out, hip-hop catchphrases that a glass-eyed bastard could use to describe the awesomeness that is a Vince Carter slamdunk. It was just sporting news – raw, fun, informative.
It was before Stuart Scott and his “phattest, illest plays of the week.” What was that Stu? Don’t hate the playa, hate the game? No playa, I hate you. Here’s a tip – “all that and a bag of chips” sucked when the Fresh Prince said it in ’91 and it sucks now. Remember when we could get through an hour of highlights without hearing the low-rent, sad sack impressions of Tony Montana saying ‘ello to his lil fren? When Screamin’ A. Smith wasn’t the self-proclaimed beacon of light for we troubled masses that cannot guide ourselves through the dark, infested mire that is the Kobe-Shaq feud?
Those were the days. Sure, there was Chris “rumblin, stumblin, tumblin” Berman but that was in his pre-Swami, “whoop!” days when he and Tom Jackson (one of the few good things about ESPN) were just getting their NFL ball rolling. Dan Patrick was around, too… he hadn’t yet turned into the smug, sloppy, shock-jock that pimps headlines and throws about baseless invective before slinking into the shadows when his obnoxious assertions are proved to lack merit.
ESPN has slowly degenerated into a completely subjective, high on style, low on substance piece of fecal matter. It used to be about sports the way MTV used to be about music. Now it’s all about pushing the envelope with gripping, C-grade drama – Playmakers, The Junction Boys, Season on the Brink, Hustle, and 3; it’s about smacking us around with 5 separate forums for asshat talking heads that can’t walk and chew gum at the same time but can ruthlessly jockey for soundbites every afternoon on thoroughbreds known as Uninformed Smack, Rumors & Conjecture, and Rhetorical Bullshit [Wilbon, Reali, Mariotti, I'm talking to you]; sensationalizing us with the headlines and throwing down the shock, the awe, and the drama with yellow journalistic tactics that make the National Enquirer look like amateurish clowns.
Instead of analysis, we have gameshows/reality tv. Their first attempt was “Dream Job.” The winner, a painfully witless Mike Hall, has narrative style that makes the high-pitched yap of the papillon sound like Seraphims singing from the heavens. There is also the inane “Hear/Say” that has taught me one thing: of all the contestants, the NBA ballers struggle mightily when playing ESPN’s version of the $25,000 Pyramid. Freakish, world-class athletic ability but the talent to form the most basic of word associations… not so much.
How did all of this happen? I never saw it coming. Did you? It’s like you wake up one day and realize that the icon of sports programming decided that mere coverage was no longer sufficient, defining sport was the one true goal. Perhaps I never noticed because for all the bitching and moaning I do about this channel, it remains the #1 source for my sporting news. In fact, I’m watching it right now… one of 14 SportsCenters that will be aired today and when it’s over, I bet I haven’t changed the channel. I would guess that I watch a good 90 minutes of ESPN each day and listen to another 5 hours as background noise. Christ, I’ve inadvertently seen “3,” the Dale Earnhardt biopic starring Barry Pepper, nearly four times.
I hate ESPN and yet, I can’t live without it. I would boycott but where am I gonna go? Fox Sports to watch “Best Damn?” What about Rome? On top of his radio show, I can tune in to Jim Rome Is Burning and absorb his opinions while ignoring the fact that he looks like Don Johnson meets American Gigolo circa 1987. True, he’s a self-aggrandizing Napoleon whose ignorance, delivered in clipped monotone, often borders on the pathological.
And yes, his interviews, which, he informs us, will be great before they even begin, thrive on the provocative “non question” and obvious sports cliche. But when his opinions are actually based on fact, he’s pretty spot on, and when he isn’t bashing Notre Dame, he’s the funniest guy on sports radio. But look at his competition. Mike and Mike? Tony Kornheiser? If you laugh at Tony Kornheiser’s show, then I weep for you.
ESPN is as cool as the other side of the pillow in comparison to everything else that’s out there. It’s sad but true and I don’t think there’s anything to be done. Can I get a witness? Probably not. I guess it’s just an ESPN world and I’m just a squirrel – tryin to get a nut.