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ESPN: Those Guys Want All the Credit

January 18, 2012 Leave a comment

This begins with a confession: I am a long-time sports fan and, hence, absorber of ESPN through multiple media.

In fact, the primary thing with which I’m going to take from having read this book will be just how much the growth and transformation of ESPN as a brand has influenced the sports-fan facet of my personality. The timing of it, as well as the way they targeted sports fans, was perfect.

BUT, does that mean you can publish 745 pages of “oral history” about the place without it becoming a bit of a slog?

Maybe you can, but that was not achieved here.

Only sheer determination to get to the juicy bits with Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Tony Kornheiser, Bill Simmons, etc. got me through the first few hundred pages (yes, the first few hundred pages), in which all these executive types (I tend to call them “rich white dudes”) do battle over who is taking too much credit for what, while also establishing just how large a role each of them had in many important developments early on in the lifespan of the network. Eventually, the scope widens to allow on-air talent to also take part in the credit-grabbing dialog.

Along the way, you get some pretty interesting looks at some of the interpersonal dynamics behind the scenes.

Well, it’s interesting to a degree and likely only if you’re interested in the people and topic. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who doesn’t know who Chris Berman or Stuart Scott is.

I had enjoyed “Live from New York” several years ago, which is an oral history of Saturday Night Live¬†written by these same two authors: James A. Miller and Tom Shales. It was similarly long, but the nature of the cast and writers, in my opinion, made for a lot more-interesting reading. The ESPN book, in my opinion, could have been trimmed by about 300 pages and not lost much. Then again, I do know a lot more about ESPN’s history than I did.

“Did you know?” (to borrow an old Sportscenter segment title)

  • Mike Tirico was pretty creepy in a sexual-harassment sense, acting somewhat like a stalker at times?
  • Almost nobody likes Keith Olbermann, but everyone pretty much regards him as a ‘genius?’
  • Multiple on-air personalities have been suspended for having used Adolf Hitler in comparative analysis of sports figures and events?
  • The network sat on the Ben Roethlisberger rape allegations until it was so widely reported that they just appeared to be either slow or hoping it would blow over?
  • Rush Limbaugh still believes anything and everything he said in regard to Donovan McNabb was fine and/or taken out-of-context and that everyone agrees with him but those conspiring against him and that he truly believes in a color-blind society? (As truly a “HOLY SHIT THIS GUY!” moment as I’ve ever had reading anything ever)

All of those and more are revealed within and, ultimately, made the tome worth lugging around for two weeks while I worked my way through it on bus and water taxi rides to work, as well as holding it above my head before bed time in a bit of derring-do as I would sometimes fall asleep (of being tired, not bored), putting myself in danger of breaking my nose when dropping it on my face.

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