I’ve been watching ESPN for as long as I can remember. My middle school mornings were spent watching sports highlights and getting acquainted with soon-to-be broadcast stars like Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, Stuart Scott, Kenny Mayne, and Craig Kilborn. As an adult now, I still turn to ESPN to see highlights or get my sports fix for the day; but the more I discover about ESPN, the less there is to like.
Let me get one thing out of the way – I understand the television industry is a business. Sports, itself, is a business. People come, people go, and regardless of which side is at fault, sometimes it’s just business. (Maybe that’s a cop out, but I believe it to be true.) So when ESPN personalities split from the Mothership and these talented men and women go elsewhere, it can be chalked up to “it’s business”. Where I start to question things is when domino after domino after domino seems to fall and the result we, the viewer, are left with is a product that is not only lacking in substance, but seems to be intentionally gearing itself towards an audience that I don’t belong to.
Allow me to clarify a bit.
Like these people or not, enjoy their on-air personalities or not – Keith Olbermann, Bill Simmons, Dan Patrick are very talented guys who left ESPN in one way, shape, or form. If these parting of ways stood alone by themselves – probably no big deal, I don’t bat much of an eyelash. Talented guys will find work and make money and have a following of fans somewhere else. I’m not going to shed any tears – plus ESPN stocked up on other very talented guys (some had already been with the company – Stu Scott, Mike Tirico, Scott Van Pelt, Doug Collins to name a few).
But over time, the Worldwide Leader in Sports starting making decisions to bring in talking heads that appeared more interested in shocking people and borderline offending others. Remember when Stephen A. Smith was simply a courtside reporter for NBA games and occasionally was brought on for a 3-minute mini-segment on Sportscenter that would feature an anchor conversing with Smith an hour or two before tip-off? No? Yeah, I barely do either. Now, he’s arguably the face of the network – First Take, segments on NFL Sunday Countdown, extended in-studio segments on Sportscenter about any and all sports topics. And that’s ok – let the man be famous and make money and do his job. The problem I have is that Stephen A. (see how he’s even known simply by his first name and middle initial?) not only speaks his mind and is controversial, but that he plays to that growing audience of people who are dying to hear the extreme rhetoric. In other words to put it bluntly, America seems more and more ignorant in 2015 – and Stephen A shouts and yells and rants and people love it.
The questionable hires go on and on. Ray Lewis (who has been let go) – one of the NFL’s greatest defenders of all-time. But type in “Ray Lewis best quotes ESPN” into Google and check out what pops up – not exactly the prose of Herman Melville. Lewis would wax poetic and preach from the altar every time he was on camera. Lewis added little to what the average sports fan and viewer wanted to hear and see. And then there’s Curt Schilling. The former MLB pitcher was more interested in political grandstanding than he was in calling baseball games.
All three of those guys have the same thing in common – they stir people up and can be offensive. And ESPN knows this and even uses it to their advantage for ratings. But in the same breath, the network suspends them for insensitive remarks about women or domestic abuse or racially-charged epithets. ESPN wants it both ways – have these loud, obnoxious personalities spouting off on ESPN Radio or regular TV programming but also trying to remain politically correct. It doesn’t work both ways.
While the network loses guys like Mike Tirico, who by all accounts is one of the best play-by-play men and overall stand-up, good people in the business, they continue down this path of hiring on-air personalities for all the wrong reasons. Take this most recent – Annie Apple, mother of her lesser-known son and 1st round pick in last month’s NFL Draft, Eli. The first I heard of Annie Apple was when she tweeted about the women who would now be drawn to her son and all the other newly-minted millionaire 20-year olds chosen in the draft.
Praying for all the thirsty girls sliding in new NFL rookies DMs with heavy booty & cleavage action pics. Only Jesus can quench your thirst
— Annie Apple (@SurvivinAmerica) May 1, 2016
She then followed up with a tweet to Roger Goodell about the underwhelming desserts at the NFL Draft – to which the Commissioner responded by sending Apple a plate of brownies.
And now Annie Apple is going to be a routine contributor to ESPN’s pre-game show on Sundays this Fall?
The woman maybe has the qualifications – God knows she’s tweeted those out too, since her hiring became public earlier this week.
For you truthers, ESPN didn't hire me cuz I'm cute. I have degrees in TV production & English. So not only am I quasi cute, I'm semi smart😳
— Annie Apple (@SurvivinAmerica) May 23, 2016
And maybe she’s sharp and bright and able to entertain. But from the bits and pieces we are getting about Eli Apple’s mom, she seems to fit this mold that ESPN has been striving for over the past decade – shock, shout, offend, suspend.
This is not the ESPN I grew up enjoying.