An image from an ESPN telecast
Credit: wikipedia commons public domain - lusportscenter

The Sports Common Denominator

What is ESPN, is it the basis for all guys’ common knowledge of major American sports or is it incessant background noise? The short answer is that ESPN is both. Guys love to sit around and spout off their sports knowledge. We all tend to know the same things because many of us get our sports commentary straight from ESPN. The prevailing wisdom on a given subject by way of ESPN becomes the standard expression of conventional wisdom or sports intelligence for the masses.

Given that men aren’t going to stand around the water cooler at work and discuss their feelings, having common sports knowledge gives us all something to talk about in semi informed fashion. ESPN tells us what is currently occurring in the sporting universe and spoon feeds us the primary topics of conversation. We don’t so much create the conversation now, we just plug ourselves into the discussion when it’s our turn to pipe in a comment. This is very convenient for us.

Background Noise

Remember how your grandmother or grandfather would have on the news station to act as background noise? ESPN now serves that vital function for most guys. You want to have something playing in the background while doing something mindless, let ESPN drone on for a while. You can even look up from time to time to check out the scroll to see the latest headline of an athlete arrest or coach firing. All that information is readily available.

Sports Center Anchors

I’ve often been fascinated by the Sports Center anchors. Each of them has to be supremely talented to keep the show flowing. Almost all of them are masters of their craft. You can tell how good they are when an athlete is allowed to participate even momentarily as a guest host. No matter how informed or intelligent the athlete is, the show sounds uneven and choppy. The actual hosts make it flow seamlessly. It appears effortless because they make it look that way, sort of like a sweet golf swing. It looks as if anyone could host but nothing is further from the truth.

The only ESPN host that comes to mind for me that actually was permitted to stamp theirChris BermanCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - Martin personality on their duties is Chris Berman. He’s knowledgeable, fun and engaging. Nearly all of the Sports Center anchors are attractive, but not so overpoweringly handsome or pretty to drown out the content or become too difficult to replace. Talented but generic seems to be the rule. It reminds me of Disney World personnel. They want attractive but not someone who can’t be easily replaced.

The Danger of Over Exposure

ESPN can surely help an athlete’s bank account balance by giving him or her wide exposure to the sporting audience. After some lead stories by ESPN, the athlete can go straight to Subway to start hawking subs or Campbell’s to sell soup. On the other hand, a more recent phenomenon is that ESPN can give a guy such mind numbing overexposure so as to limit endorsement opportunities or even hurt their sports career.

Tim TebowCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - Craig ONeal Tebow is probably as good as many NFL backup quarterbacks. He is unquestionably a high character individual with the “first in, last out” work ethic that teams crave. Unfortunately for him, he also comes equipped with a circus. When Tim Tebow went to the New York Jets, ESPN had a booth set up to record anything and everything Tebow during training camp. This was unprecedented attention for what would no doubt be a second string player.[1] Another team might tolerate that for a starter, but not a backup.

Overexposure by ESPN also turns interesting stories into mush. Every year they made a hugeBrett FavreCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - US Navy Chief Mass Communication Specialist Eric Durie, USN event out of Brett Favre’s retirement dithering. Although Brett had some bad press about sending text pictures of his man parts to a young lady, I think the overexposure by ESPN over a course of a few years reduced his post football endorsement potential more than the sexting. By the time he actually quit football, we were just done with him. I hope the same thing doesn’t happen to Manti Teo, although it appears as though the negative attention is dying down and he seems to be more of just another player now.

College Recruiting Commentary

We’ve all grown accustomed to the endless NFL and NBA draft analysis. ESPN can fill up air time during the off season for those sports with draft discussion. I enjoy all of that, even the endless jokes about Mel Kiper’s hair. I bet his hair has its own agent. What I am troubled by is the increased nature of discussion regarding college football signing day. Having “experts” discuss what is going on in the mind of a high school kid as he decides on a college is somewhat weird and creepy to me. First off, we’re talking about kids, which is bad enough. On top of that, grading college recruiting classes’ right out of the box seems to be a worthless endeavor. No one will know how well a coach recruited until a couple or three years pass. The grading is just a wild guess.

Required Accents

I am also intrigued by the required profile to commentate for certain sports. Notwithstanding the nationwide popularity of soccer in America, at least one talking head in a group discussing soccer on the air at ESPN must have a British accent. You can’t talk soccer without at least one Brit. It apparently can’t be done. Likewise, no one can really know anything about NASCAR without a southern accent. You need to have at least one drawl on the panel to have reasoned race commentary and discussion. For some reason that I can’t quite fathom, the same holds true for women’s basketball. Although it’s played all over the country and seemingly no more in the south than anywhere else, any ESPN discussion of women’s hoops absolutely has to include some twang in it.

I’m currently monitoring ESPN’s hockey commentary to see if Barry Melrose’s long hair type is a must have for hockey discussion groups. I’m not sure of that one yet. Part of my indecisionMel KiperCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - Marianne O'Leary springs from the limited nature of hockey commentary and Barry seems to be the only one allowed to pipe in any opinion about the sport. It took years to get another NFL draft expert like Todd McShay to joust with Mr. Kiper about NFL draft matters, so it may be eons before we have another ESPN hockey expert allowed to talk on the same panel as Barry Melrose. Time will tell.

ESPN continues to be the standard bearer for sports coverage in America. Most of my complaints are minor in the big picture of things. After all, without ESPN how could a group of guys actually carry on a coherent conversation? Not sure if we could pull it off without ESPN.

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