Things I Don’t Like About Television, Episode 15: ESPN, Often

ESPN

There are some things I absolutely love about ESPN. First, it has a number of shows across it channels that I enjoy watching (even occasionally), like Sportscenter, Around the Horn, Pardon the Interruption, NFL Live, Mike and Mike in the Morning, 30 for 30, Outside the Lines, and E60. The documentaries affiliated with or are entirely made by ESPN are generally good. ESPN of course features games I want to see. And I appreciate some of the coverage for women’s sports with ESPNW, ESPN360, and ESPNU.

However, it seems like there are more things that piss me off about the network overall.

For one thing, I just do not care for some of the programming. While poker games and spelling bees don’t actually deviate from the premise and purview of the channel — as ESPN stands for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network — I still find that stuff to be incredibly boring, especially the poker. Others enjoy that, though. To each his own.

A few things that immediately irk me about ESPN networks are how the reporters and staff can be reactionary, repetitive (much like the cable news networks’ love of covering one news story for a week or more), and sadistic.


ESPN Can Be Reactionary like Other News Outlets

And in being reactionary, anchors and personalities latch onto the hottest  — as opposed to the most important — storylines.

The NFL Draft

This tendency to be reactionary is primarily shown in NFL draft speculation, particularly around Pro Days. Hired experts like Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay can change their minds about a prospect on a dime based on one staged performance. These experts may also change their minds due to what other experts think.

Racism

More seriously, stated racism will stay in the news for months, when the issue is unavoidable. This is really a cosmetic issue when you think about it.

This is clearly demonstrated in Donald Sterling’s case. He had shown that he was racist for years, and the most damage he ever did perhaps was in committing housing discrimination. This was only briefly mentioned by ESPN and Bomani Jones wrote an article on this in 2006, which didn’t even garner much attention until 2014. But this did not matter.

It seems it is worse to say clearly racist things then to systematically set others back. Riley Cooper was an idiot for saying the N-word at a concert in 2013, but that there was any attention being given to the prospect of him getting his clock cleaned on the field offends me. It didn’t happen. And there was basically no reaction to Michael Vick actually acting like a leader and telling the Eagles to accept Cooper’s apology and move on. But Vick is a dog killer. (What he did was horrible, but I don’t put animals’ lives above that of mankind. I just don’t.)

Additionally, anchors gave attention to the early revelations of the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito case. There were a series of questionable texts and the use of slurs. However, less attention was given to the report that revealed team leadership was involved in the Miami Dolphins’ hazing practices. This story was then quickly forgotten.

More recently, there was talk about racism in the case of Cam Newton. He was criticized for his celebrations in the 2015 NFL season. While some of that — and other criticisms of Newton — are primarily based on race, ESPN anchors were far too quick to bring it up at certain junctures. You want an example? I can name one instance: When Travis Kelce hit the Quan — which was legit — the non-reaction was compared to the reaction to Newton “Dabbin’ on Them Folks” in Tennessee and race was brought up.

I beg to differ, as the anger from Newton’s celebration there was based mostly on butthurt. The Tennesse Titans were getting whooped that day.

In other cases, ESPN will gladly jump on the bandwagon of a person or cause when it has a clear opportunity. For example, you would see them sucking up to the NFL commissioner on most occasions, but in 2014 Roger Goodell clearly took a hit. One of the biggest stories was Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancée. While it has long been known that some NFL players had kept their jobs despite being domestic abusers — and many were preferred over gays or non-Christians — that had long been ignored. But as Goodell and the Ravens organization were rightfully criticized, it took over the headlines. Then it was much easier for ESPN to criticize Goodell.


ESPN Can Be Repetitive

This isn’t about the block where Sportscenter is played again and again. I quite like that, since it gives viewers a chance to see one episode if they missed it. And it still is a smart move to avoid a general staleness in programming in the late-night/early morning hours. Besides that, the network will overplay stories while ignoring others.

Repetition normally takes the form of hype, as ESPN also likes to hype up certain players ad nauseum. Seriously, don’t these guys get sick of talking about the same few players from each sport all year every year? Long ago it was Brett Favre (!) and Peyton Manning (!) who were hyped. At one point, sports reporters were all over Roger Federer. Now, there is still hype for Peyton Manning (!) in addition to Tom Brady (!), Lebron James (!), Andrew Luck (not so much for him in 2015), and Alex Ovechkin (!).

ESPN also likes to take part in hyping the flavor of the month or those who have yet to make any type of impact at the professional levels of their respective sports. Tebowmania was out of hand in 2011 and LinSanity in early 2012 was eye-roll-worthy. Johnny Manziel stories have been abundant since 2013.


ESPN Loves Flubs and Controversy

As a converse to regular hype, players that have received bad press early on will stay in the virtual doghouse. Repetition and sadism meet when ESPN guys revel in mistakes and controversies. They like to run that repeatedly, too. This is much like the politics that go behind regular news organizations.

A few examples:

  • Bob Knight’s blowups got a lot a play — and he was later hired by the network!
  • The meltdown Ryan Leaf had in his rookie season (1998) will still be shown occasionally.
  • Sportscenter will occasionally show footage of a beatdown some teams receive before every commercial break.
  • When Tiger Woods’s sleazy behavior was exposed, that made the rounds for quite a while.
  • On-air personalities can be especially hard on teams with losing records and struggling players —but this is true for other networks as well. The network might be known for injecting humor into most of its broadcasts, but referring to professional teams with terms made up by those teams’ anti-fans (or disappointed fans) is crossing a line.
  • Remember Mark Sanchez’s butt fumble? Okay, you can place more of the blame on social media, as that play was voted over and over again, but it was put up for a vote in the first place and is mentioned by anchors from time to time.

The most egregious examples are ESPN’s reactions to angry athletes. Occasionally, viewers are shown postgame interviews with players who would understandably be hot and full of adrenaline and may be mostly undressed. At the same time, those players are kind of ridiculed and gawked at by reporters for what may fly out of their mouths.

What I mentioned above is made even worse when the network pits its favored athletes against others in order to make unfavorable comparisons. Also add how the press loves to build up certain athletes just to tear them down later.


I Dislike Some ESPN Personalities

Particular personalities on the ESPN networks have earned my ire for any combination of the above. Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless of “First Take” are perhaps the worst two offenders. You know what, Skip Bayless has to be the worst since he is the least objective “analyst” I have ever seen. Watch him talk about Tim Tebow and Aaron Rodgers. It is disgusting how biased he is, at both ends of the spectrum. (Btw, Carrie Champion was the best part of that show when she was there.) I’ll have more on these two in an upcoming post in the series.


The All-Important QB Rating

­­ESPN keeps promoting this garbage, but how in the hell is it formulated? No one knows. It’s more useless then the passer rating, but at least some people know how that works.


Some Sports Go Largely Ignored

There is less attention given to certain sports organizations. The Arena Football League is barely mentioned. Hockey has not been mentioned as much as it has in the past.Overall, Olympic coverage has suffered. Major League Soccer is rarely promoted, as well.

Sometimes, I hate how Tennis is covered on ESPN. There is short notice for tournaments, even some majors (namely the Australian Open). Sometimes women’s tennis has periods where the women are more competitive than the men, but I sense a rush to promote the men more.

Although the overall basketball coverage is decent, there is one sour spot for me. For example, by the time the smoke clears from March Madness, the women are still playing, but NCAA Women’s Hoops are less talked about since Pat Summit retired. The ladies don’t even receive much attention during the Olympics, and I find them to be the most entertaining then. (Forget about news for the WNBA.)

Fishing, boating, and other sporting events are largely ignored, too. There might not be a huge audience for those, but those are sports and if poker is going to be featured, why not give time for more decent programming?


There Are Politics Involved

ESPN and other networks may champion human rights causes, but will keep relatively mum when religious opinions surface, and shut you down when speaking about public policy. Other than that the politics I’m referring to involve the types of stories they promote and which leagues they promote and the behind-the-scenes politics.

Finally, as a lead in to my next post, I would like to mention something else about behind-the-scenes politics. It is not a regular occurrence for networks to challenge the practices of an organization they depend on for heavy business or sponsorship. In a rare case, Outside the Lines uncovered the Nike’s use of sweatshop label despite Nike being one of ESPN’s sponsors. But in 2003, network had an original series called Playmakers and it was about an American professional football team. It was canceled due to pressure from the NFL, which “thought professional football was being negatively portrayed.” The NFL also nixed ESPN’s involvement in a joint series with Frontline to take a look into how concussions are handled by the NFL. You will rarely see the NFL questioned by ESPN mainly because the latter wants to show games from the former, which is wildly popular and thus profitable.

The NFL is so profitable that it often dominates ESPN headlines and started its own network…

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