Sports Opinion & Analysis

ESPN Has Lost Our Collective Trust

In Media, NBA on June 4, 2012 at 11:50 am

ESPN is the best name in sports news.

Quite frankly, it’s the only name in sports news.

Yeah, there’s Fox Sports, NBC Sports, and Bleacher Report. There’s CBS, Yahoo, and Sports Illustrated. But is SI even relevant anymore? When have you ever regularly looked anywhere beyond ESPN for your Top Ten Highlights? Where do you learn which player to draft for your fantasy football team? The fact of the matter is, when you wake up in the morning, or you’re sitting at your desk and not doing your job at work, you search ESPN’s website, you watch the channel, and if you’re still left unsatisfied, then maybe you search the other outlets. Maybe.

ESPN is the end-all and be-all in sports reporting.

And because of it, they can’t be trusted.

“My mother thinks I’m handsome!”

From their humble beginnings airing spelling bees and sports highlights (over and over and over and over again) in Connecticut, the network has become an approximately $600-million dollar Disney-owned operation, with most of their editorial work now done across the street from Staples Center, in Los Angeles.

I’m not faulting ESPN for being the big guy on campus. I wish I was even on that campus. I wish I was in the same district as that campus. If ESPN called me up and offered me a job, I would quit whatever I was doing and totally sell-out. The issue isn’t how ESPN got to the top, it’s what they’re doing to stay there.

Particularly with the NBA.

The NBA is suffering from a severe conspiracy problem. Whether it’s last week’s draft, the 1985 draft, the lingering consequences of Tim Donaghy, the questionable move of the Seattle Supersonics, ‘Jordan fouls,’ big market bias, or the fact that since 1950, only seventeen teams have ever won the championship (and only nine won it more than once, with the Celtics winning seventeen rings, and the Lakers sixteen. Since 1980, only nine teams have won it all, and if you disregard the ‘fluke’ Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks, who have yet to yield a second title during that period, only seven teams have won the whole shebang in thirty-two years), viewers are questioning whether the game they tune-in to 82 nights a year, hasn’t already been predetermined before tip-off.

And where do viewers tune-in to watch these games they’re questioning? TNT, ABC and ESPN. TNT is owned by Turner Broadcasting System, which is part of Time Warner, while ABC is owned by Disney, which as I mentioned before, also owns ESPN. Two thirds of NBA games are viewed on the same parent company, which purchases the rights to feature NBA games from the league.

Disney spends approximately $400 million dollars a season to broadcast of the NBA. $400 million dollars every year, all so viewers can watch their team play.

$400 million dollars is a huge investment, and like any investment, Disney expects a profitable return in the end. How do they ensure that investment, besides broadcasting more games from teams located in larger, more profitable markets then, say, the Pacers? Protect their investment at all cost. If viewers began giving any merit to the conspiracy theories floating out there, then Disney would lose a lot of money when viewers started changing the channel over to American Idol or whatever else is on, because viewers didn’t sign up to watch something as real as professional wrestling.

I mean, what network wanted to spend anything to pick up the WWE Network, right?

So ESPN, particularly their analysists who not only report on the league, but cover the games as well, do anything they can to discredit any rumor or indication there is any funny business going on, at all or ever.

“That’s right Stephen, if anyone caught wind we’re full of crap, we’d be out of a job, yuk yuk yuk!”

I watched a lot of ESPN last week, in order to see what coverage they would give to the growing murmurings of suspected foul play in the NBA Lottery. Whether it was Sportscenter, Around the Horn, or PTI, every talking-head acted as if “yeah, the draft did seem a little fishy, but we all know there was no way the lottery was fixed, and anyone saying otherwise is a joke, an idiot, and a fanatic, so let’s move on.” On Around the Horn, one guest went so far as to say there was no way the lottery could be fixed, because there were people in the room watching it, so there, next question.

I’ve been to Vegas, where there are a lot more people in a room watching what’s going on, and that still doesn’t mean the house still didn’t have the odds.

And it’s not just the lottery, either. Even after the Tim Donaghy scandal, everyone on the air seemed like they didn’t want to talk about, that it was only an isolated incident, and let’s move on. Every bad call or questionable play was and is met with a dumpy-faced “awww, that’s unfortunate,” from whoever’s on-air at the time, before saying refs are only human, and these things happen.

Meanwhile, the teams that always win continue to do so. So it must happen a lot.

The only real, in-depth questioning to any news-worthy subject comes from the program Outside the Lines, which, while well done, is so boring no one ever watches it. For the sleek and sexy look of every other program on the network, it seems ESPN hasn’t updated OTL since 1996. Why bother, right? People will just start watching it then. When OTL comes on, I can’t think of a single person who doesn’t flip over to ESPN The Ocho to see what Semi-Professional Women’s Thumb Wrestling match is being shown, instead.

The news portion of ESPN needs to separate themselves from the broadcasting portion. There needs to be a clear distinction between those who are supposed to cover the league, both good and bad, and those who comment on the game, during the game and its intermissions. The money that comes from broadcasting the NBA (and MLB and NFL for that matter, which I didn’t even touch in this article, but still echoes of what’s happening with the NBA segment of the network; think Monday Night Football and Teddy Bruschi defending his Patriots every time someone questions whether cheating happens in the NFL) and the journalistic coverage of the sport, needs to be separated. A group without a conflict of interest needs to be responsible for each aspect.

Until then, ESPN isn’t a news outlet for everything, but instead a dog-and-pony commercial for a product they’re pushing.

“Nothing suspicious ever happens in the NFL, because I’m not suspicious!”

  1. TNT is the place for basketball in my opinion!

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