Can’t Hate

by: Chris Meinecke

Chris Meinecke

Chris Meinecke

Programming in televised sports has forever been molded into specialized channels. This may not be much of a realization to some or most of you, but it’s much easier to understand if you rip the blankets off of what some networks are trying to pull. When I say some networks I mean ESPN.

There is nothing new in me voicing that if you take sports at face value there no reason to shuck them aside. That doesn’t mean that you’ll want to or even should watch all of it. My face value of the WNBA is extremely low. I don’t see it (and most others don’t as well) as a highly entertaining product. There is a niche that the league brings, that is all well and good, but for most it just simply isn’t chair gripping action on any level. The NBA however is a different animal. Sure the “Association” has morphed significantly in the last fifteen to twenty years. You can see it if you look back to some of the shorter short wearing days of the mid 90’s. Now every team has four or five uniforms that get more rack space over anything else for merchandising purposes. If you take the NBA as the proverbial doinkball that it is – running travels and low percentage shooting – and realize that some of the soul jarring competitive nature of the game during the Jordan era is long gone, THEN you can take it at face value and enjoy it.

Why is this explanation important or even necessary? Take a look around your digital dial while I explain.

Many specialty channels have sprouted in the modern viewing age of sports. The NFL Network, where together THEY make football, and yes that’s what their egocentric thought is, was established in 2003. NHL Network 2007, MLB Network 2009, NBA TV all the way back to 1999. Even the FOX Soccer Channel which went away officially in 2013 has what is now an ultra premium channel in FOX Soccer Plus (strike while the iron is hot I guess). Channels like FOX Sports 1 & 2, CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network all got into the game over the last several years. Hell, FOX Sports 1 went so far as to compare themselves to ESPN on many levels without actually saying it out loud or in a press release. What’s important is that all of these channels serve enough of an audience that it keeps them on the air, in line with competition, and relevant to the overall media tidal wave that includes radio, online publications, and even us here at the BLFC blog and FCSRadio.

Next on the platter is the mother-ship. Since their inception in 1979 ESPN has evolved over and again. How can you not in 35+ years of broadcasting. What has come of their existence is the constant tug job over sports glistening super-stars like Lebron James and Tiger Woods. I’m not speaking from opinion, it’s a fact, all I ask is that you yourself not be blind to it. The proof is in the programming…

… the website programming.

Right Column on espn.com

That’s right. If you haven’t stumbled across any broadcast of SportsCenter from Bristol to Los Angeles, all you have to do is jump over to espn.go.com. Of the eleven stories that are listed in the right column, seven of them regard something to do with the NBA. 

LebronCenter

Can one fault ESPN for what they’re doing? Not at all. The NBA has a huge market of fans. NBA TV does its damnedest to cover the league. The Hardwood Classics are welcomed for someone nostalgic, but it’s not all-encompassing. TNT plays an important role having the broadcast privilege of double-headers on Thursday nights and digging in a foothold for almost three decades. Even with the TNT product, it’s still sub-par when it comes to the NBA and its coverage. They’re too interested in airing badly scripted shows like Rizzoli & Isles and poorly acted reruns of Bones to be too concerned about improving their NBA product, one that even Charles Barkley says “sucks” on the Tonight Show [Watch here at the 30:21 mark IF you can sit through a couple of commercials you can’t skip and see how whiny Chuck is, kind of like you whining about not being able to skip commercials]. 

Don’t hate on ESPN for being NBA-centric. If star polishing isn’t your thing, I totally get that, it isn’t mine either. In fact ESPN has helped me resent Lebron and Tiger thanks to their over indulged coverage. That’s not fair to them, they didn’t exactly ask for that from that monolith of a company. Don’t hate on ESPN either for the good things they do still do. Their Fantasy Football software is set up and run extremely well in my opinion, Outside the Lines still does great investigative reporting, SportsCenter still has a small romantic space in my heart, and having the ability to  look at a major sports event calendar well into the future is appreciated in case I’d like to look at the NBA, NHL, and NCAA schedules for the month of March all in one place on the Sports Calendar section of the ESPN Playbook page.

Take ESPN at face value. It’s the NBA Network. For as much as they’d love to tell you that they’re well versed in the world of sports and being The Worldwide Leader in Sports, that simply is no longer true. While I can’t earmark a birth date for this like I did earlier in the article, welcome, NBA Network, you’ve been long-awaited at 1301 on my digital dial (even though I still won’t turn you on much).

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The Rolling Trend

Sports era’s are defined not only by their players, coaches, and upper management, they are defined also by popular culture and the ways and beliefs of society during that particular time period.  We needn’t look far from our own homes to see this in action.  However, if one is looking for what is referred to as the golden age of sport, it would be difficult to find this given the way society has changed.

In the early days of professional sports in America, there were no such things as , salary caps, lockouts/strikes over TV money, or performance enhancing drug scandals.  In many ways sports and the figures that made them up reflected society – a simpler way in a simpler time.  Even after two world wars and a conflict in Korea, we as a nation knew we had it good.  Not that I was around for any of this, but the people who were have clear memories of a time gone by, and a world that will never be the same.

Nowadays we could easily argue that even with a recession and being on the brink of a depression economically, we live in a world and era that is second to none as far as our sports are concerned.  With billion dollar stadiums, unprecedented access to players and coaches, and 24 hour cable channels dedicated to specific sports leagues it doesn’t get much better than now to be a fan.  Thankfully we have an outlet like sports to distract us from the post-9/11 era that we live in.  It’s hard to fathom what people of my generation will say twenty to thirty years from now.  Will they admit that it was a simpler time just as their parents had done decades before them?  Maybe sports will be the only thing that can connect certain people of different generations in the future, just the same as they did throughout the years that our ancestors cheered for their teams.

With all of that considered, there remains the age-old question: Are athletes, either amature or professional, role models to children and young adults?

It would be easy to say in a nearly forgotten time, Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame left fielder Ted Williams, possibly the best hitter the game of baseball has ever seen, was a perfect role model.  With the exception of maybe Pat Tillman, we never witness well-known athletes taking a large role in the military.  Soldiers in the military are undoubtedly people we can all look up to, but Williams had another side.  Williams made no secret about how much he despised the media.  He even took exception to the fans and how they cheered.  Williams was particularly brash toward the United States government for being recalled into active naval aviation, even though he had been inactive in flying for over eight years.

Flash forward to today.  Charles Barkley not so long ago made sure he said loudly that he was not a role model, and rightfully so.  Then there is New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin.  A player that has accomplished what he has in such a small amount of time, and done it after basically rising from the ashes of his NBA career is nothing short of amazing.  Is Lin a role model?  I think in many context’s one would have to say yes.  What if he reverts back to not being a consistent NBA player and fades away as fast as he shot to stardom?  Would he still be considered a role model that teaches “you can accomplish anything”, or a figure that was fun for a while, but flashed in pan?

I don’t think you can be wrong either way.  He has been an inspiration to the Asian community not just in the U.S., but the world abroad.  If Jeremy Lin is to be successful as a role model, he is first expected to be accomplished (which he is in many aspects even in this short time).  Whether he is able to maintain his current level of play remains to be seen, but his star shines brightly over Gotham like the Batman signal.  No matter what happens from here on out, Lin’s story will be one for the ages, and that story will give us hope that athlete’s can truly be role models for one and all.