No more pussy-footing around. No more lip service. No more bullshit about “journalistic integrity”. Not after this tabloid trash headline:
Attempting to connect the taunting that has followed Alex Burrows’ bite to Aaron Rome’s late hit on Nathan Horton is a blatant attempt to lead the casual fan’s opinion away from hockey.
Meanwhile, on this week’s cover, there isn’t even a secondary mention of the Stanley Cup Finals. The NBA Finals have the cover, as they have every bloody spring since 2001, with blurbs about baseball and Stanford QB Andrew Luck. College football isn’t even in season! The one thing you fetishize even more than the swimsuit issue is that blessed Cover of Sports Illustrated, and you don’t consider the championship of the highest level of hockey in the world worth so much as two square inches of text.
Don’t piss on my shoes and tell me it’s raining, Sports Illustrated. You hate hockey, and you have zero respect for hockey fans.
Yinz went and pissed me off.
This excellent example of the NHL giving a clinic on keeping its fans happy comes via Mr Top Shelf himself…
Cousins of Ron Mexico, thebiglead.com
Meanwhile, the NHL can’t even get nationally-televised playoff games done in HD. No wonder no one takes them seriously. After all, MLS gets more consistent national television coverage in the HD format. Pathetic.
Bruce Ciskie, AOL Fanhouse
Just another example of this “wonderful” partnership Gary Bettman always brags about the NHL having with Versus. This sad stuff doesn’t happen if the NHL is with ESPN.
Seth Rorabaugh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Versus/Golf Channel HD fucks up and decides to show a tape-delayed golf tournament, apparently without telling the NHL, and it’s the NHL’s fault?
ESPN treats the sport of hockey and its fans like shit 10 months of the year, starts acting like they care again for the playoffs, then goes back to its bad old ways, and it’s the NHL’s fault?
Sports Illustrated hasn’t had a hockey related cover since the 2002 preview issue (no, the cast of Slap Shot doesn’t count), hasn’t had the Stanley Cup champion on the cover since the 2001 Avalanche, and generally acts like the NHL doesn’t exist, and it’s the NHL’s fault?
When do we start holding the American sports press accountable for the way they treat our game? At what point do they respect us as implicitly as they respect football, baseball, and basketball fans, not just when it’s convenient for them or made inconvenient by us?
The NHL can stay on Versus, but only if Comcast lives up to its end of the bargain. No more tape-delayed Golf Channel content during a hockey game for the rest of this year. Next year, get your own HD channel; no more sharing with Golf Channel, period. Bull-riding, mixed martial arts, and the Mountain West conference aren’t cutting it. If you don’t have one of the other Big Four pro sports by 2010, just shut down, because you’ll never be serious competition.
For those of you who want the NHL back on the “world-wide leader”: Stop groveling. Do you want the NHL to come crawling back to Bristol, begging for scraps from ESPN’s table, or do you want ESPN to invite hockey back into the fold? Because if ESPN doesn’t want the NHL, we’re just going to trade one set of indignities for another, and nothing will get better.
At a high level, yes, Gary Bettman’s stewardship of the game has been questionable at best, incompetent at worst. That’s a big part of what’s gotten us into this mess in the first place. But blaming him for a specific screw-up at Comcast, and letting “Versus HD/Golf Channel HD” off the hook, does far more harm than good.
The next time the media bullies us around, and they will, we can do one of three things:
- Turtle like Claude Lemieux.
- Turn our backs on our abusers, point at Gary Bettman, and say, “This is all your fault!” whether it is or not, then turtle when we get beat up again.
- Fight back.
Be polite. Be fair. Just don’t be silent anymore.
I don’t know about you, but I felt a little underwhelmed by last night’s proceedings. It was three parts obviousness, one part tantalizing springboard, one part bullies being bullies, and once all those ingredients were gathered, nobody put anything together.
Each segment was split into a pre-recorded introduction and a live panel moderated by Bob Costas.
Here we go, out of order…
1: Searching For Diamonds in the Sports Radio Compost Pile
Panel: Mike Chris Russo (Mike and The Mad Dog), Michael Strahan (New York Giants), and Mitch Albom (Detroit Free Press)
This segment didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know. Yes, radio guys have to have polar opinions to bolster ratings. Yes, there are some hosts who have gone to the “morning zoo” well too often. And yes, Mark Madden is an embarrassment to his profession, to the city of Pittsburgh, and to Hawai’ian shirts. What I took from this segment wasn’t about talk radio, though. When Michael Strahan retires from football, he’s going to have every sports network banging on his door. He’s a natural on television. They could have spent another ten minutes on this, but there wasn’t much ground to cover in the first place.
4: Pitchers Have Blogs, Utility Infielders Have Entourages
Panel: Selena Roberts (SI), John McEnroe (tennis legend and analyst), Tiki Barber (ex-NY Giant, NBC)
This panel had some interesting moments. Roberts gave the impression that money changed the relationship between jocks and journalists. She made her point by describing the hoops she had to jump through to get ten minutes with LeBron James. Meanwhile, Barber and McEnroe talked about the increasing fear athletes have of excessive scrutiny, out-of-context sound bites, and the occasional surprise hatchet job. They probably could have used another 15 minutes or so to get a little deeper.
3: The 900 lb. Gorilla Between New York and Hartford
Panel: Mike Tirico (ESPN), Dan Patrick (Sports Illustrated, syndicated radio), and Joe Buck (Fox)
This was the most useless part of the program. ESPN got real big, real fast. It’s all about the money. Fox has a tendency to go all A.D.D. with the crowd shots in baseball games. Celebrities in the Monday Night Football booth are there for the non-fans, because the diehards will watch no matter what. The panel spent a great deal of time nodding their heads in agreement, but there was no depth to the segment at all.
They started the pre-recorded portion with the original introduction to ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Ironically, most of the sports depicted in that intro aren’t seen on television anymore, unless it’s an Olympic year or that sport’s NCAA championship event. Nobody picked up on that, though.
The sports television world is converging on what I call the ESPN Triumvirate: Football, Baseball, and Basketball. Everything else gets pushed aside, allowed to bubble to the top when ratings warrant, then tossed back to make room for the next big fad. And it’s not just ESPN. The national broadcast networks, Sports Illustrated, and The Sporting News are all falling in line with Bristol, or more accurately, the principles underlying Bristol’s decisions.
They easily could have spun this segment off into another 90 minute show. They barely scratched the surface last night.
5: The Whitest Profession U Know
Panel: Michael Wilbon (Washington Post, ESPN), Cris Carter (ex-Minnesota Viking, ESPN), Jason Whitlock (Kansas City Star, foxsports.com)
Costas announced that this would be given a 90 minute show all to itself, and if this panel is involved, I’ll make damn sure to watch. All three panelists used what little time they had to make pointed, insightful comments on how the absence of color in the press box and the editor’s desk tilts how sports are covered.
2: Old Media Matter Meets New Media Antimatter
Panel: Will Leitch (deadspin.com), Buzz Bissinger (author, Friday Night Lights), Braylon Edwards (Cleveland Browns)
(Full disclosure: I’m a Deadspin commenter, and I’ve met Will in person.)
This should have been the last segment of the night, because it would have punctuated the whole show perfectly. This panel proved that Traditional Media Still Doesn’t Get It. Perhaps traditional media doesn’t want to get it.
Bissinger, frankly, made a complete ass of himself. The split second he got a turn to speak, he pulled out a folder containing a hard copy of one of Big Daddy Drew’s “Balls Deep” columns from Deadspin, and proceeded to use it as a sledgehammer. He used his time, and most of Will’s, spewing obscenity-laden generalizations about bloggers that could all be boiled down to this fallacy:
I am a Journalist, with a capital ‘J’. Therefore, the opinions I get paid for and have published are the only ones that are relevant. If you are a blogger, it doesn’t matter if your opinion is right, because you’re not a Journalist.
Bissinger managed to be even more condescending than that, saying that Deadspin was contributing to the dumbing down of society. I guess he’s fallen victim to it himself, since he never saw the irony of cussing like a sailor to decry BDD’s profane humor.
Edwards held his own under tough circumstances. His observation about the consequences of cameraphones and MySpace cut to the heart of the matter better than any of Buzz’s tirades. Mostly, though, he was just trying to stay out of Bissinger’s way.
Put simply, this was an ambush. Costas, as an employee of Time Warner and NBC, in a forum provided by HBO (a unit of Time Warner), stopped being a moderator and became a fourth panelist, mostly serving up hanging curves for Bissinger. He even trotted out the tired, old “writer/commenter” fallacy, and tried to turn it on Will, as if to suggest that he should censor his readers.
The Point That Zoomed Over Everybody’s Head (I’ll Resist the “Costas is Short” Joke)
The common thread that tied the entire evening together was really the relationship between sports media and the regular folk who read/watch/listen to it. Sports radio is in a vicious cycle of hostility that will eventually spin out of control. They still have the ability to screen their callers, though, just as newspaper editors can select the letters they publish.
Everywhere else you look, however, you see players, fans, even entire leagues making end runs around Old Media. Curt Schilling launched 38pitches.com. The NHL was the first sports league to partner with YouTube, and is using the web to reach fans without leaving the fate of the game to A.C. Nielsen. Fans of under-the-American-radar sports like cricket, lacrosse, and rugby can get their fix without a national TV contract or a season preview in SI.
Most importantly, if a fan wants their voice to be heard, they don’t have to rely on the whims of the gatekeepers who guard the radio and the newspaper. If we have something to say, we will say it. We have our own publishing platforms now. If we don’t want to start blogs of our own, we can become regular commenters on somebody else’s blog.
Do you think Bob Costas was thinking about that as Will Leitch tried to reason with a Pulitzer Prize-winning loon? I don’t know. I expected Costas to make some sort of comment about how bloggers would react. The fact that he didn’t speaks volumes about who Gets It, and who doesn’t.