Remember When ESPN Was About Sports?

September 15, 2014

September should be a great time of year for sports fans.

Baseball pennant races getting dramatic. College football already in top form. NFL finally on every channel every other day of the week. And, of course, Fantasy Football in full swing.

It should be a time when Xs and Os are over analyzed and team passions are on full display.

Instead, this weekend was all about substance abuse, spanking, and domestic abuse. And ESPN is loving it. Because addressing these weighty topics makes them feel so very important.

NFL analyst (and former NFL wide receiver) Cris Carter was nearly in tears giving us a full Dr. Phil moment about his childhood spankings:

"My mom did the best job she could do. Raising seven kids by herself. But there are thousands of things that I have learned since then that my mom was wrong. It's the 21st century. My mom was wrong. She did the best she could, but she was wrong about some of that stuff she taught me. And I promise my kids I won't teach that mess to them."

It's incredibly passionate and compelling and I respect Cris Carter for his opinion and his remarkable delivery. But, here's the thing: I want to watch some football! And I want to talk about football! If I want to see serious discussions about spanking and the psychological damage it causes I'll watch Lifetime Channel or Oprah's OWN.

Listen, I understand that these stories were big and important and they were what everybody was talking about. ESPN had to cover the topics. But did we really have to get the tears and the emotion and the histrionics? Could we just discuss the issues and then the larger ramifications for the teams this weekend and the sport as a whole?

No, because this is the world ESPN has made for itself.

ESPN used to be about sports, but the self-important sports journalists who barely made it through journalism school and always had delusions of grandeur about the profession they chose can't wait to inject controversial political, racial or "lifestyle" issues into their work whenever they have the chance.

The dirty little secret is that most sports journalists are just as left-leaning as their counterparts in the "real" newsroom. They went to the same "J Schools" and they vote for the same party.

There's a reason why two of President Obama's favorite golf buddies are Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, both of ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption," and both former Washington Post journalists.

ESPN loves to throw money at political documentaries that focus on gun violence and race. The network loves tackling "important" issues on its "Between the Lines" program where the topic usually involves the latest politically correct issue in the sports world.

The network went into full "CNN Malaysian Airliner" mode during the LA Clippers/Donald Sterling controversy.

ESPN has also done its fair share of race-baiting through the constant coverage of the complete and total non-story revolving around the Washington Redskins name.

It's become an enormous part of the network's programming. They devote hours of reporting and discussion to the "important issues" in the sports world, and less and less time covering the actual sports of the day.

It's too bad. It didn't used to be this way. ESPN used to be a sports network that covered sports and wasn't a delivery system for the social and political message of the day. But, that's what it's become.

And we're all a little worse off for it.

Sports is an escape. It's a diversion. It's a release from the day-to-day issues we face individually and as a nation. We need that escape.

But covering a "game" and a "diversion" isn't sexy and it doesn't feed the self-important egos of a Journalist (with a capital "J"). It also doesn't make a producer or network executive feel very special when they go to a Manhattan cocktail party with all their colleagues who work in television news.

So we have no escape and no refuge and "important" issues will be on our plate wherever we go. And a football commentator will be crying about his ass-whoopings an hour before kick-off because "it's great television."

And it may be. But it's got nothing to do with sports.

Published under: Football