ESPN was once a “Sports News” network. Not the debate and debacle format you see today, I swear.
I used to wake up in the morning, put on the picture-box and set it to ESPN. The show would be composed of highlights and had a few semi-funny zingers through the montage of sporting awesomeness by the host.
For an idea of my perspective: It has been 30 years since I escaped my mother’s womb with success. Growing up with an avid sports fan for a father, I learned that sports can be as polarizing as religion or politics.
Back then, the anchors weren’t goofballs. They were aspiring to bring their version of views to the world of sporting events. It wasn’t necessarily about them being the most popular host or being known as the funny guy on Sportscenter. Sure, certain guys stood out, but all found a niche.
Things would change, however.
Much maligned Chris Berman can be looked at as the first major sports media personality to cross the absurdity-line. I don’t know if it was because I was young and naive, but back in the day he used to seem to be fairly entertaining and almost informative. Now it seems he just makes caveman grunting noises and runs the same shtick over and over each week. Berman has been reduced to being a cartoon character.
Berman isn’t totally to blame. His gimmick of covering sports has kept him employed by the world-wide-leader for a few decades. He’s not alone in this behavior either. Other ESPN’ers have followed in his footsteps. Longtime ESPN employee, Stuart Scott, tries extremely hard to be hip, even if it’s at the expense of credibility.
I don’t blame these men. Annoying as they’ve become, they’ve just taken advantage of the cogs in the wheels at ESPN. They have figured out a way to stay relevant in a company that doesn’t need smart anchors anymore, they need personalities.
Thankfully, people now have a multitude of options to get their sporting news.
Early blogs (still some of that now, but not to that perceived extent) were about sensationalizing stories. Put up a glaring headline and watch the hits start to come in.
They were (are) bloggers covering sports from an alternate view — reporting on things mainstream networks wouldn’t at the time (divorces, domestic disputes, etc).
ESPN also saw that the “blog-audience” for “sensationalized news” was worthy of targeting and made a conscious effort to change their programming.
Skip Bayless happened.
Bayless was given a national platform to spit out nonsense. We all know the Bayless stories. From calling Lebron James ”Queen James” to assaulting athletes’ characters with no substantial facts.
First Take became the debate show where Bayless would outlandish his opponent to death. ESPN noticing the ratings assumed it had to continue the trend so it hired another opinionated person to debate Bayless — the once insightful but now exclusively loud, Stephen A. Smith.
At this point, First Take has as much journalistic integrity as Kermit the Frog and everyone is in on the gag.
That show generates a ton of buzz. Why? Because we continue to let them. Between Twitter users retweeting the spew of volatile opinions coming out of Bayless’ mouth and folks not knowing any better, First Take has become a big deal.
Yet, seemingly normal folk are extremely appalled by the direction of ESPN. Despite being the same people who continue to inadvertently promote them.
If we didn’t watch, retweet or talk about anything Bayless-nized, ESPN would change the way they do business. At the end of the day they don’t care how they get their ratings as long as they get them. If the audience proves it wants sports covered like news by only viewing ESPN when it does it as such, their format will change.
It’s 2013. We have so many options as to how we are going to get our sports. Instead of us all complaining about ESPN and regurgitating their nonsense on social media platforms, we need to prop up the people we’d rather have a larger platform — instead of only giving attention to the ones we don’t.
What are you going to do today? Are you going to continue to retweet Skip Bayless to only complain about his tactics or will you start following folks who give you sports news the way you say you want them?
It is the way you want them, right?
Me, Twitter @JosephNardone