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Worldwide loser in sports

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, February 1, 2008

Where have you gone, ESPN?

Sure, the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” is thriving, but it’s not the same channel it was even a few years ago.

I can remember a kinder, gentler era of sports programming when the big forum for open debates was the “Sports Reporters” – a calm Sunday morning show with some of the best sports journalists in the country. People like Bob Ryan, Mike Lupica and the venerable Dick Schaap would discuss the week’s issues calmly and rationally. They respected each other’s opinions and worked to find some kind of answer to major issues in the sports world.

And then “Around the Horn” happened.

ESPN decided to repackage the “Sports Reporters” every day at 5:30 p.m. So they replaced the best journalists who were intelligent and respectful for, quite simply, stupid ones.

Woody Paige and Jay Mariotti – two common guests on the show – say and do silly things to garner arbitrarily given points from host Tony Reali for more face time. The more you say things that Reali likes, the more chances you get to say things he might like later in the show.

Nowadays ESPN has found a way to bring this sensationalized style of news to the masses with the morning show ESPN “First Take.”

As the show has evolved over the years, it has two basic parts. The bulk of the show is interviews with journalists and athletes from around the country. The rest?

Skip Bayless vs. black people.

It’s not always an African-American, but since Bayless is a 57-year old white man, ESPN figured it would be best to pair him with some of its younger, black analysts often like Shaun King, Jalen Rose and Jemele Hill and wait for the controversy (and ratings) to start.

In the segment “1st and 10,” Bayless answers questions with absurd, superlative-laced statements that make him sound like a fool. This is until the person on the other end of the table contradicts whatever Bayless says with his or her own ridiculous, off-the-wall statement. And then the yelling starts. The two “analysts” yell rebuttals at each other without regard to any sense of order until host Jay Crawford makes a snide remark about one of the two views and moves on.

I do not understand why ESPN feels the need to show this on the air. It has had a history of such great coverage and journalism, but now they have devolved into this. Its sources are not always real interviews or newspapers. Instead it thrives on rumors and the bastion of journalism – TMZ.com.

I do not know where the ESPN of old has gone. I just want it to come back.