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Monday, August 11, 2003

ESPN Hypocrisy on the Ills of Sport?

I'm not entirely convinced of my own argument here, but I'll go ahead and throw it out there half-baked anyway because I feel like it's at least partly true.

ESPN is making money by feeding into the big business of sports that is accountable for many of sports' ills, and then ESPN seeks to make further money by exploiting the public's fascination with those ills.

Take for example this morning's Sports Reporters show, in which the panelists discussed during the opening segment Kobe Bryant, Mark Cuban, Jeremy Shockey and Maurice Clarett. William Rhoden of the New York Times called Shockey an "idiot" and suggeted a "gag" for Cuban. But what if these guys never got in trouble and made controversial remarks? A show like the Sports Reporters would no longer have any reason to exist. (The two black athletes discussed, Bryant and Clarett, both of whom may have actually committed crimes, unlike Cuban and Shockey, received much nicer words from a fatherly Rhoden, who happens to be black himself, I noticed).

ESPN and other sports media outlets build up these larger-than-life auras around superstar athletes. Then they relentlessly stick microphones in people's faces, take quotes out of context, and try to crucify Cuban and Shockey before anyone has a chance to examine the full extent of their remarks and the setting in which they were made. And then we get to contemplate, over the airwaves, the fall of the idol that the media had created in the first place.

Another new ESPN project is the show Playmakers, debuting late this month. From the promos I've seen the last few days, it looks like a TV knock-off of films like Any Given Sunday and The Program, chronicling the lives of football players as they fight their own demons. It seemed rather incongruous to me that the promos were on several times during the preseason NFL game ESPN broadcast Thursday night, a constant reminder that the guys out playing the game for my entertainment faced serious problems with injuries, drugs, etc.

If you are promoting football as entertainment, should you also be promoting a show about why football can be so bad for the people involved? If you recognize the ills that exist in a show like Playmakers, doesn't that make showing NFL games immoral on account of the complicity in the misery of many pro football players?

I don't know if the answer is a straightforward "yes" to those questions, but it certainly is a strange mix of programming to have.