If ESPN says “Who’s Now” is meaningful, it’s meaningful, dammit.

Excuse me for a moment, as I slip into my Media Critic gear. (It's a Hartford Whalers Pat Verbeek jersey, if you must know.) I saw this on rangerland.net, and it lit the fuse.

Have you checked the Who's Now results lately? Looks like things are holding to form, aren't they. Not an upset in the bunch. And, as you would expect, the lone NHL representative in the bracket lost in the first round.

Interesting.

Wouldn't you think there would be a lower seed winning somewhere along the way? Just one?

As the voting system works, 70% of the total vote is from espn.com readers. The remaining 30% comes from a three man panel: NFL analyst Keyshawn Johnson, college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, and Pardon The Interruption co-star Michael Wilbon. (Yes, there's going to be some math.)

To demonstrate a) how ESPN can't be honest about their hockey coverage, and b) how badly ESPN is manipulating the Who's Now results, I'm going to pick apart the transcript of the panel discussion, moderated by SportsCenter anchor Stuart Scott, of the Derek Jeter vs. Sidney Crosby matchup, Daring Fireball Jackass Of The Week style.

Stuart Scott (SS): Alright, the 2-7 matchup. One name: Jeter. Against… pretty cool nickname, Sid the Kid. Keyshawn Johnson, Kirk Herbstreit, Mike Wilbon. Does Sid the Kid have a chance here?

I think we all know the answer to that going in.

Keyshawn Johnson (KJ): I think it’s gonna be tough, and the reason, one of the reasons why, you’re talking about a guy, who’s probably one of the top three shortstops of all time…

Don't get me wrong, now. I'm not taking anything away from Jeter.

SS: Wait a sec…

KJ: …four championships…

SS: He’s not—He might not be the best shortstop on his own team.

KJ: Well, we may not find that out…

[laughter]

KJ: …but if you think about it. Best shortstop. Four championships. Ton of money, and y’all know what else…

SS: What else? What else?

KJ: A ton of the nice figures [makes hourglass figure gesture] the whole thing.

SS: Oh, he has been linked, he has been linked, lemme just, lemme just run some names. He has been linked to Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel…

Michael Wilbon (MW): You can stop right there.

Yeah, Stu. You're rubbing it in.

SS: …Mariah Carey…

Kirk Herbstreit (KH): He’s already the winner.

SS: …Jordana Brewster. This guy—Vanessa Minillo— Miss Universe—

Calm down, Stu. Calm down. This is for national TV, now.

[laughter]

SS: Derek Jeter could hit .150 for the rest of his career and still win this whole thing.

MW: It is sealed. It is sealed for Derek Jeter.

That's right. Screw on-the-field achievements. He's getting every piece of starlet ass that passes through Manhattan. That's what puts him ahead the best player in the NHL.

KH: It is sealed. And this whole thing about Sid the Kid being up against Derek Jeter, I mean—think about—forget Derek Jeter for a second, just Sid the Kid. Playing in the NHL in this country right now, it’s hard to get any exposure. Even with the year that he had, he would literally have to win 3 Cups, and win an MVP within all of those Cup runs to—and then come back…

BINGO! The moment where ESPN pretends that it doesn't have a news department! ESPN is that exposure that the NHL can't get. Remember? That whole "Worldwide Leader In Sports" thing? Highlights? Analysis? Complete coverage? Those things that we only get on Thursdays, when Norby (NORBY!) lets Barry Melrose out of the shack he sleeps in on the outskirts of Bristol.

KJ: His time will come…

KH: …and then come back and (garbled)

MW: If we were in Canada…

We'd be watching TSN.

KJ: …it’s just not now.

MW: …it’s not now. He is…

KH: In Canada…

MW: He is in the future. Sid the Kid is the future if you’re in Canada. In, in the United States, it’s tough to be seen, it really is tough to see the games. I’ve talked to NHL players who call the hotels on the road first, to find out if they can get Versus, so they can find out—so they can see Sid the Kid. That’s not a good situation.

It is a situation of ESPN's own making. Lest anybody forget, after the lockout…

ESPN REJECTED THE NHL, not the other way around.

MW: Derek Jeter is the captain of the New York Yankees.

KJ: As weak as baseball is…

Baseball? Weak? Yeah, maybe Bud Selig rivals Gary Bettman in gross incompetence, but at least ESPN respects the game of baseball. ESPN shits on hockey.

MW: That alone…

KJ: As weak as baseball is in our country, a lot of us still know who Derek Jeter is.

MW: Everybody.

KH: Oh, absolutely.

MW: Everybody.

KH: (garbled) four rings.

KJ: Our kids don’t grow up saying “We gonna play hockey. We’re gonna play hockey.” None of our kids say that.

Right. None of the ten American first-round picks in this year's draft said that. They must have gotten lost on the way to Pony League Texas Hold 'Em practice, and their parents made them stick it out in hockey.

KJ: They say, “Well, maybe we’ll play baseball. We’ll run track. We’ll play football, basketball.” Derek Jeter, I’ll probably say, in a landslide.

Foreshadowing.

KH: Plus, the way Derek Jeter carries himself.

SS: Okay, but…

MW: He’s done nothing…

SS: …all class, all class…

KH: He is class…

MW: There’s no baggage for Derek Jeter. Everything he has done has been great.

SS: But… Sid the Kid: All class. No baggage with him, either. And, Sidney Crosby, the youngest scoring champion, at nineteen years old, of any major pro sport in the history of North America.

KH: That’s great.

SS: I’m just givin’ him a little bit of love.

KH: We appreciate those facts.

You're welcome. Right back at you for the condescension. That's only worth a 7-seed?

SS: Now for your votes.

KJ: He has a great resume, but not now.

SS: [gestures to Keyshawn] So I’m taking it your vote is…

KJ: Derek Jeter, and all twenty of the… [makes “long list” gesture] …yeah.

SS: [gestures to Kirk] I’m taking it you’re vote is…

KH: Derek Jeter, in a landslide. This will be the biggest blowout, I think, of the first round.

More foreshadowing. This needs a pipe organ sting, for emphasis. (They recorded these en masse before any voting began, so they didn't anticipate the 90%-10% smackdown Tiger Woods put on Matt Leinart.)

MW: Unfair to Sid the Kid. Maybe in the future, not now. Derek Jeter is now, and maybe forever, Stuart.

KJ: I wanna read the rest of the list.

[laughter]

SS: Alright, he’s played two years, one year as, like, The Man, for the National Hockey League. That’s what they think. What do you think? To vote, text “WN” for “Who’s Now” to 4ESPN. That’s 43776, or log on to espn.com. Who do you think is the ultimate sports star? Derek Jeter, or Sid the Kid Crosby? Our polls are always open.

Well, the polls have closed. The results:

Derek Jeter: 63.8%

Sidney Crosby: 36.2%

Not quite the predicted landslide, but close. Or is it? Don't forget, Keyshawn, Kirk, and Wilbon accounted for 30% of the results, so if we subtract 30% from the total, then divide by 70%, ( ($final_percent – ($panel_votes * 10)) / 0.7 ) we can get the actual internet vote:

Sidney Crosby: ((36.2% – 0) / 0.7) = 51.7%

Derek Jeter: ((63.8% – 30) / 0.7) = 48.3%

Oh, my.

Oh, my goodness.

Did the general public, who ESPN insists doesn't have any hockey fans, just prefer Sidney Crosby to the captain of the New York Yankees?

Yes they did. Guess what?

They also voted for mixed martial arts fighter Chuck Liddell (#5) over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (#4), 54.7% to 45.3%.

They also voted for Barcelona midfielder Ronaldinho (#6) over Laker Kobe Bryant (#3), 56% to 44%.

They also voted for Barry Bonds (#5) over Jeff Gordon (#4), 54% to 46%.

Maybe this is why ESPN is only showing the grand totals, not the internet vote. Because a full analysis of the numbers would show that ESPN is forcing readers to select an underdog by a 2/3 majority to overcome a unanimous decision by the panel.

Unanimous decisions so far: 9 out of 13, counting tonight's open poll, Bridget Monahan's baby daddy vs. Big Papi.

So it looks like the "Who's Now" competition, which was designed to reinforce ESPN's preferred sports celebrities in the first place, is also designed to prevent the general public from deviating from those preferences, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Don't let ESPN tell you that your vote counts. It doesn't.

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