ESPN’s Sausage Factory

January17/ 2000

… I recall when ESPN began in the late 70s.  Entertainment & Sports Programming Network bringing 24 hours/day of sports to gluttonous fans with unquenchenable appetites. My enduring image is the guy in the raincoat waving the flags at Australian Rules Football games at 3 AM.  That never caught on across the fruited plain.  A slim Chris Berman, the late Tom Mees, Bob Ley, Gayle Gardner (red hair, no ankles).  What has the All You Can Eat Sports Buffet done to how we perceive “sports” in 2005?

    Back in the 70s, Bristol was a sleepy little no-where suburb of “Honey, We’re Lost Aren’t We”, Connecticut.  Now it’s a sleepy little no-where burg with 187 satellite dishes surrounding a concrete bunker on the outskirts of a town with no in-skirts.  Bristol hasn’t changed much, but how we view “sports” sure has.

    “Blaming ESPN” for the rampant cynicism in sports is like blaming Ray Kroc for your kid being obese.  The need to fill the void and feed the media programming monster has always been every viewer’s option, albeit a very attractive option.  Think the irresistible aroma of cinnamon rolls and bacon cooking to get one out of bed. Think Kobe boffing a concierge.  The unmistakable Sportscenter opening music score alerts us that we are going to get all the scores PLUS in-depth behind the scenes info.

    Would America’s relationship with “sports” be better without the “PLUS” provided by ESPN, sports talk radio, and, of course, the Internet with those lovable knuckleheads on the message boards … and awesome websites like SSays?  Would we be less cynical about politics had there been no “deep throat” and no CNN spawning the insatiable “want to know … need to know” gorging that is now in place.

   Is ESPN and its clones showing us what’s in sausage and what pretty girls look like without make-up a good thing?  I am not a better person for knowing such “reality”.  

   I am not suggesting we ask the genie to put the toothpaste back in the lamp.  Imagine a global society without scads of info babes and Stuart Scott wannabees all scurrying about with visions of Woodward & Bernstein dancing in their heads.  Imagine public toilets requiring users to do their own flushing. It’s as ludicrous as imagining how nice it was to truly believe in Santa Claus.  Did learning that “truth” make you a better person.

    Did Babe Ruth cork his bat … did George Mikan father illegitimate kids across Minnesota … was Red Auerbach considering offers from the Fort Wayne Pistons while lighting his victory cigar for the 1,000th time … were our sports luminaries in pre-ESPN America every bit as character flawed and scallywaggenous as they are today?  Did not knowing make it less so.  In the case of sport, yes.

    First … we have to separate sports from politics because (drum roll please!)  … SPORTS DOES NOT MATTER … and politics DOES.  Any guy with his finger on the nuclear trigger is like a bazillion times more in need of mental acuity and a healthy dose of integrity than is the latest matriculating felon from The U of Miami’s Coral Gables Half-way House.

    Speaking of “not mattering” am I the only one who noticed that The Carlyle Cup is always “meaningless” UNLESS Carolina wins it, in which case it reconfirms the divine right of Tar Heel bandwagon fans to assume that their empty lives amount to something.  For the record, it IS meaningful this year.

    We really don’t need Chief Executives diddling with either tape recorders or interns.  Now that “Deep Throat” is outed we can move on to those pesky missing Vince Foster’s files?

    If we did not know how many illegitimate children Sean Kemp fathered (does he even know?) or what Bonds or McGwire rubbed on or injected into their buttocks would it really matter?  By the way, Randy Moss admits to at least four “illegits” … and the late Derrick Thomas claimed six by six different mothers.  Would the immediate castration of every first round draft choice not named Manning help America’s Unwed Mother Surplus?  It might make college undergrads think twice before “coming out” if it was a cross-eyed urologist with a pair of rusty hedgeclippers greeting them on stage instead of a Commissioner with a goofy grin on his face.

    Win The Lottery … Lose your overt sexual aggressiveness … yet another BobLee Incredible Solution To Life’s Really BIG Problems.

    Any discussion of “sports” has to first divide “sports” into spectating or participating.  Soccer is a wonderful participation sports for kids.  NOTHING can match the basic “run-around and kick the ball” components of soccer which is why the squalid slums of Rio de Janeiro produce more superstars than the manicured “soccer parks” in fashionable toney suburbs … and always will.  Watching soccer unless you have a blood relative playing will never “catch on” in America.  It will continue to intrique sports entrepreneurs who have pursued that elusive Holy Grail like adventurers seeking the Lost Dutchman Mine, or guys marrying J-Lo … with the same disappointing results.

    Guess what is the next “sports wildfire” in America … Lacrosse, followed by Girls Softball.  Lacrosse is “the new soccer” and has finally escaped Maryland and New England boarding schools.  Boys and girls are flocking to the game all across the country.  It’s “soccer with sticks”.  Looking for a new wave to catch?  Better jump on Lacrosse before all the ground floor opportunities are snatched up.

     What came first in our society … Nachos, Sports Bars, or the “Is NASCAR a sports?” debate.  

    I’m not sure why Girls Softball is booming.  It likely has something to do with Jennie Finch being “the Mia Hamm of softball”.  No doubt we are in for a rash of “ponytails” invading neighborhood go-kart tracks now too thanks to Danica.  Are there still “neighborhood go-kart tracks”?

    I watch sports for the pure real time enjoyment of what I am seeing before me.  That’s why I can watch NCSU play UVa in “the Carter” without being bothered by either Chuck Amato’s red shoes or his supposed Mafia connections.  The Greeks created “sport” as a way for young men to expel excess testosterone during interludes between wars.  We have turned sport into a socio-cultural soap opera sponsored by beer companies and erectile dysfunction remedies rather than soap. 

    OK, we ARE a better world because of that sexy Levitra chick but the couple in the two bathtubs in the desert are totally unnecessary.

    The entire image of a community can be shaped by its sports team (Boston) and academic institutions are worthless without a BCS trophy to their name and totally at the mercy of their “student-athletes” and/or Satanic coaches. If either of those make any sense to you, what is your message board user-name?

     Sportscenter tells us nightly about so & so bad boy jock reneging on his signed contract and/or assaulting his girl friend.  We shake our heads and mutter some ethnic slur about said bad boy jock.  Prior to removing that pesky “color barrier” in sports, it was incumbent upon Caucasian athletes to create societal miscues and the occasional felony … African Americans athletes can now commit their increasingly fair share.  Are Sean Taylor and Ron Artest Jackie Robinson’s legacy?

    Sports and athletes were never meant to be viewed beyond the playing field.  That’s as plum foolish as giving IQ tests at cheerleader tryouts.  Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese signed off the air when the last out was made.  Howard Cosell felt he had to “tell it like it is” even though no one asked him to.

    … but I do wonder what that Australian Rules Football official was wearing under his raincoat back in 1979. 


Swagger’s Stumper

Who did Shoeless Joe and his teammates NOT ALLOW

to play with them on Ray’s ballfield? 


    Shannon Tweed and Barbie Benton were Playmates who achieved the ultimate for a Grotto Girl.  They were each once Official Hef Girl Friends.  Shannon went on to live with Kiss’ Gene Simmons for a decade.  Barbie parlayed a handful of guest appearances on Hee Haw into total obscurity.

    We are halfway thru Season Three of “24”.  I can now recite the dialogue for the CTU staff before they say it.  I think I need the Twelve Step 24 Withdrawal Program.  Two key bad guys play the exact roles they played in Clear & Present Danger.  “Roger Stanton” the sniveling bureaucrat and “Ramon Salazar” the sinister drug lord.

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