What Happened to ESPN?

I remember the way I used to rush home to after school, turn on the T.V. and watch ESPN all day. It didn't matter what show it was I made sure I watched it; NFL Live, Cold Pizza (before it was 1st and 10, then subsequently First Take), Around the Horn, Pardon the Interruption, and of course the staple show, SportsCenter.  It was annoying to everyone around me because the T.V. never left that channel. In retrospect, I can see what the problem was. These shows were discussing the same topics over and over again all day in just a re-packaged format, and I sat on my bed and watched faithfully.

Fast forward to 2017, and I can barely sit through one episode of First Take. I began to notice how Fox News-like ESPN truly was during the lead up to SuperBowl 48. It was Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos going up against the Seattle Seahawks and their top-ranked defense. Every segment was about what this win would mean for Peyton's legacy. They asked every former NFL player, every analyst on every show, even professional athletes that didn't play football. ESPN hyped that Super Bowl up to be the best game ever and what happened? That game sucked. It was such a one-sided dud that I was able to collect my winnings from a bet at halftime. We all know what happened. Peyton got his boots smoked, and while I was happy, I was annoyed at all the noise that led up to that game.

I guess I didn't realize how uncreative ESPN could be at times when there was no real story other than the obvious. After you explore a story from a few different angles what more can you say? We also see it every year leading up to the NCAA National Football Championship as well. There is a month-long gap in between the last game of the season and the title game and believe me when I say they (the analyst) even go as far as predicting each team's first ten plays that they'll run. I might sound like an old grouch but hear me out, people who have watched ESPN over ten years can attest to the falloff in quality. People have caught on to the trolling some personalities do to get viewership and have begun to ignore the shows altogether. There are now plenty of ways to be caught up on whats happening in the world of sports without even turning on your television. Blecher Report, Deadspin, Ball God, House of Highlights and even the ESPN app itself have all stolen viewers away from their television shows. ESPN ( and Disney who owns the company) have not done a great job in sustaining the mission of what ESPN does for the culture of sports.

Instead, we now see ESPN doing the most to regain their viewers by creating stories where there are none, adding gimmicks, and trying to blend politics in EVERY situation.

First, let me address my latter point. When Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless began to discuss racial topics on their show First Take, I was all for it because they were responding to specific situations where race and politics were a large part, and thus could not be ignored or avoided. In doing so, the show took off, and sports, music, and politics began to mix in a somewhat harmonious fashion. However, soon the two hosts began using the politic route as their go-to, and I began to get bored by it.

Talking about race and politics is an easy way to create a polarizing conversation that will either piss people off or reinforce what they already think, either way, it's a cheap way to get people to watch and share clips on Facebook and Twitter. The best example was the Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem protest. I couldn't turn on ESPN without hearing about it and then listen to an analyst who I once respected say something foul about the players and the protest itself. Most people like sports to be their escape from the world, and don't get me wrong some things are unavoidable, but instead of addressing the realities, ESPN made it up for debate. 

When it comes to creating stories when there are none, I think society as a whole is guilty of this one especially in 2017. People take tweets, and outfit to the game, or a look on the sideline and create an entire saga of a story. During last season's NBA All-Star game when Russell Westbrook threw an ally-oop to his former teammate Kevin Durant, the sports shows on ESPN talked about it for 24 hours straight, "What does it mean?" "Are they friends again?" "How emotional was that moment?" Give me a break. 

Let's just face it, ESPN is trash now. They can barely afford to keep their employees let alone keep the viewers who are leaving in droves to the Fox Sports Network. At one point during its height, when Stuart Scott was at the helm, sports and pop-culture went hand and hand. Now it seems producers are using pop-culture as a way to lure people to watch, and instead people can see right through how desperate the attempt is. Fam, they had battle rappers, K-Shine and DNA, conduct a rap battle about the football teams who were about to play a Monday night game. The whole time while that was going on I couldn't help but think of Hilliary Clinton doing the nae-nae dance during her campaign run. Sad. 


Malcom X. Bowser is a writer, curator, and founder of Urban X.

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