Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Farewell, My Lovely

I did something three weeks ago that I never thought I would ever do.

I deleted ESPN from my browser bookmarks.

I still remember the entirely giddy thrill the first time I saw ESPN. A 24- hour SPORTS NETWORK. Are you kidding me? It was wonderful. It was wonderful for a long time, too.

At some point, though, it started a long, slow decline. ESPN stopped covering sports and started covering itself. It became endlessly self-referential. I saw a Deadspin story a few months ago that said something like "everything at ESPN masturbates everything else at ESPN," and that's a perfect description. ESPN has become the broadcast equivalent of the athlete that constantly glosses himself in the third person.

It's also entirely curious that as ESPN has gained channels, they've actually covered fewer stories. There will be two or three stories, and ESPN will absolutely pounded those stories to death.

Sometimes, it's even worse than that.

I listen to Dan Patrick's show (A+) in the morning on the radio, but when he goes to commercial, I'll switch over to ESPN radio for a few minutes and listen to Colin Cowherd.

I know, Cowherd is a blowhard and a C+ at best, but he's better than listening to commercials.

In the last five weekdays, I've turned over to Cowherd's show nine times. Every time, he's mentioned Jeremy Lin within the first 60 seconds, and usually within the first 15 seconds.

It's not just him, either. Eli likes to watch SportsCenter before school, and it was all about Lin as well. Constantly.

Now don't get me wrong. I love Jeremy Lin, and I think he is an absolutely great story, because the kid can flat-out play basketball. But it's not the only interesting story in the sports world right now.

The other problem with ESPN only covering a few stories is that their coverage in no way makes a meaningful extension to the story. There's no journalism whatsoever. It's just endless repetition with only minor variation.

Deadspin does an amusing analysis of weekly content in the 11 p.m. SportsCenter. Here's an excerpt from their most recent "Bristolmetrics":
It's a Linfestation!: Lin's 350 mentions destroyed the record of 154 mentions set by Tim Tebow in the first edition of Bristolmetrics. That shakes out to 0.93 Jeremy Lin mentions per minute. Jeremy Lin's name was uttered more times than "if" (132) or "but" (241); his last name alone was mentioned 291 times, more than "are" (229), "be" (216), or "what" (207). Lin was discussed so much that Carmelo Anthony moved into the ranks of the most-mentioned athletes despite not playing a game since Feb. 6—all 37 mentions of Anthony came in the context of discussing whether or not his return would ruin the Lin magic.

Let's express this another way: The NHL needed six weeks to log more than 50 minutes total of SportsCenter airtime; in a single week, the Knicks got 58.5 minutes all by themselves. The saddest thing I witnessed this week, amid the joy of Linsanity, was NHL analyst Barry Melrose giving over his meager share of airtime to talk about Jeremy Lin with Linda Cohn. Poor Barry.

The other problem I have with ESPN is that they seem to have only two types of on-air personalities these days: ones that are wholly indistinguishable from each other, and a second type that basically does nothing but yell. They've taken a ton of interesting sportswriters and turned them into nothing more than shouting buffoons. So I will still watch SportsCenter with Eli, but otherwise, I can find better product elsewhere.

If you're wondering if I've missed pulling up the ESPN website half a dozen times a day, the answer is "no." Yahoo Sports is far more informative in terms of actual journalism, and they've stolen some of ESPNs best writers (Pat Forde and Bruce Feldman for college football coverage, in particular). And I read Pro Football Talk, College Football Talk, and Pro Hockey Talk (all NBC-affiliated sites) every day, which are both informative as well is interesting. Filling in any gaps with old favorites like Sports Illustrated, I don't feel like I'm missing anything at all.

There's not really anything left to miss.

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