Compared to Obamacare, the polar vortex and traffic jams ordered vindictively by the staff of no-longer-future-President Christie, the state of America’s sports media doesn’t interest anyone with a life. It’s just that I decided years ago to write and broadcast sports as a profession, so I’m disgusted to see where the industry is heading.
Straight into a clogged toilet, from what I can tell.
It’s disturbing enough that ESPN has prioritized its multi-billion-dollar relationships with nearly every imaginable sports enterprise at the expense of a once-proud trademark — investigative reporting — knowing that it can’t rat out business bedfellows without jeopardizing lucrative deals. It’s also troubling that Fox Sports 1, supposed ESPN challenger, has fewer viewers than certain “To Be Announced” channels, this after reducing a quality web site to unreadable sophomoric mish-mash. Anyone with a newspaper is thinking of future work as a barista, and too many of the resulting web sites are edited and written by nickel-a-story stoners running away from their parents like the kid in the Taco Bell ad.
Sports Illustrated? Once the industry standard, the magazine has been cast aside by Time Warner, which divested formerly prestigious titles to concentrate on its TV networks, film units and production side. Some of sports media’s best work is about to fade away, I fear.
Bill Simmons? A blogging creation who masturbates to his rambling prose and couldn’t break a piece of china, much less a story. When Doc Rivers referred to him as a glorified fan, he nailed it.
Columnists? A dying breed, even though they’ve traditionally attracted the eyeballs and driven the discussion.
Televised commentary? Except for an occasional Bob Costas rant that somehow gets past his bosses, the network landscape is too corporate and controlled for anyone to take major chances with robust, game-changing opinions about delicate topics.
What’s left is a wasteland, too heavy on entertainment and mush and lacking heft. The new way is to take wayward kids out of college, pay them enough for a futon and a Gray’s Papaya dog and maybe a bag of weed, and pressure them to libel people with rampant lies while luring site traffic from the low-common-denominator crowd. And those that do pay well — basically, ESPN, ESPN and ESPN — make regrettable decisions. Recently, the four-letter monster put the prose-challenged, strip-joint-frequenting Jason Whitlock in charge of a site promoting African-American writing — a site, by the way, that I’ve yet to see in operation. This came after building a Miami studio for the considerably more talented Dan Le Batard, who has been known as one of the nation’s best triple threats via TV, radio and columns.
Until this week, that is.
In one sense, I was pleased Le Batard chose to protest the process by which players are elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Frustrated that perceived users of performance-enhancing drugs are being kept out of Cooperstown by voting writers, he didn’t use his vote this year. The system is broken — writers should be reporting news and commenting on news, not making news as the exclusive HOF arbiters — and Le Batard wasn’t afraid to voice his feelings publicly.
But the way he went about it was unprofessional, immature and stupid, handing over his vote to a lowly, rogue web site. “I don’t like how they do business over at the Hall of Fame,” Le Batard said, “where they’re sitting there and they’re being sanctimonious and they’re keeping all the steroid guys out.” Though I don’t agree about admitting the juicers — when their lying and denial have done irreparable damage to the sport, why admit them to a sacred shrine that celebrates what is right about baseball? — he does have every right to voice his contempt. Where he erred was stooping into the gutter of a trashy site, a decision that wasn’t supported by his ESPN and Miami Herald bosses.
So whatever good Le Batard has done in his career was just tossed in the dumpster. In the process of mocking a system, he wound up mocking himself. Why not use his ESPN platforms to deliver his message in a more credible, professional and sensible manner? “I hate all the moralizing we do in sports in general,” he told the trash site, “but I especially hate the hypocrisy in this. I always like a little anarchy inside the cathedral we’ve made of sports.”
Did he say moralizing? What he’s doing clearly qualifies as moralizing. Did he say sanctimonious? He is being sanctimonious, too. Did he say anarchy? He has created anarchy to promote himself and feed his ego.
As a personal decision, he’d have been better off eating maggots.
A day later, the Baseball Writers Association of America gave Le Batard some of its own anarchy. It removed his vote for life and kicked him out of the organization for a year, as well it should have. “The BBWAA regards Hall of Fame voting as the ultimate privilege, and any abuse of that privilege is unacceptable,” the writers said in a statement.
None of us in the media should be voting. When ESPN’s Barry Larkin suggests that Hall of Famers like himself contribute to the electoral process, I agree. Major League Baseball made its mess with the Steroids Era, so Major League Baseball should relieve the writers of this awkward burden and provide a more balanced voting paradigm.
That said, in a week when Dennis Rodman tried to promote “basketball diplomacy” with a North Korean lunatic while Louisville hired scandalized and bimboized Bobby Petrino to pair with scandalized and bimboized Rick Pitino, the biggest brain cramp belonged to a writer who lost his soul and let a bunch of future burger-flippers smudge his career.
“Highly Questionable” is the name of Le Batard’s TV show, which he does with his father.
Highly questionable is how I would describe his judgment. Or just high.