Last night I looked former NFL quarterback Sean Salisbury in the eye and gave him a good talking to. Every sports fan is accustomed to yelling at the television, especially Philadelphia fans. I can remember Mitch Williams, Ron Hextall and Rodney Peete generating a few of my tirades at the TV, but lately I’ve been yelling a different four-letter word at the tube. ESPN.
ESPN has been a staple of all sports information for our generation. The sheer cultural significance of the network can be seen in the timing of the poker craze among America’s youth corresponding with ESPN’s coverage of The World Series of Poker. We rely on SportsCenter for meaningless stats and their primetime lineup for premier national matchups. Sadly, the quality of its programming and coverage are suffering as a result as the network’s attempt to dabble in the entertainment industry.
A prime example of dwindling quality is the sensationalism of aforementioned NFL analyst Sean Salisbury. When it comes down to picking the winner of a game, Salisbury seems to persistently take the underdog, no matter how extreme the situation is.
He constantly and often groundlessly associates today’s athletes with cockiness and greed and even has two articles on ESPN.com titled: “Shut up and play.” It seems he just wants fans to forget about his unsuccessful professional career and remember him for screaming at them. It’s like Ashlee Simpson telling someone they can’t sing.
Meanwhile, true pundits such as Ron Jaworski and Marril Hoge are reduced to the rarely shown NFL Matchup. Jaworski and Hoge meticulously dissect each play with insights that helps the casual fan see the intricacies of the game that might otherwise go unnoticed. On the other hand, Salisbury must enjoy overtime pay as he seems to be on every episode of the oft shown NFL Live. For example, on Jan. 20, NFL Live was shown six times, while NFL Matchup was not shown at all.
The behavior of Salisbury can be attributed to the direction of the network as a whole. In case you didn’t notice, it was ESPN’s 25th anniversary last year. They marked it with “Music and Sports Week,” “Retro Week,” “Behind the Scenes Week” and more top 25 lists than I care to recall. All of a sudden, ESPN tells us the years 1979 to 2004 were “the ESPN era” of sports and worship at the Church of ESPN is now mandatory.
ESPN launched their “Original Entertainment” division two years ago. They’ve released a number of debate shows, including Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn, also known as “Old White People Yelling a Lot.”
ESPN is also fully capable of making stories themselves. Remember the huge fight between the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers and Detroit fans? If you watched ESPN afterwards, you heard commentators say how it will change the game forever, while some said player-fan interaction would never be the same. Here we are, almost three months later and everything seems back to normal. Fans still heckle, beer is still sold, and Larry Brown still looks stressed out.
The transformation from information to infotainment at ESPN is happening at a brisk pace, and is going unnoticed by many viewers. I beg the network to do something other than “Retro Week” to return to their roots. They are taking their viewership for granted and need to cut the excess “entertainment.” If they don’t, they’ll find me yelling obscenities while changing the channel, just like any good Philadelphia sports fan would.
Sean Blanda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.