Most of my life, ESPN’s “SportCenter” was so reliable, it was almost a good friend. Great highlights, fresh and funny hosts and enough stats to keep a geek like me happy. I can’t say when it changed, but it has. “SportCenter” has become as depressing as the evening news, and sports have become as disgusting as “real” life.
ESPN can still produce great television and their “30 for 30” series is some of the best television, regardless of genre. The “E:60” series is almost always interesting and well done, and it’s gotten to the point that I’d rather see and read about those kinds of stories, more than I want to watch a game or see any highlights.
As salaries soared out of this world, fans found it easier to be more cynical about sports. I’m not longer sure if the majority of fans would rather find something to cheer for than they’d like to find something to get pissed about. I’m guilty too, but in my defense, I’m just pretty cynical in general. So there’s that.
I hate to pile on, and this isn’t just about the Penn State scandal, as heart breaking and stomach churning as that is. But what are the major sport stories of the last, say 16 years?
Why 16? Because of OJ Simpson, that’s why, that story that forever changed us. Perhaps, even more than 9/11. Wait, don’t stop reading. I am serious. We can all agree that it changed how the media covered major events. With that case, entertainment news found its way on to the front page on almost every paper, every day. CNN and the 24/7 news networks hired so many of the major players. This statement is worth some more thought and a separate post at another time.
So lets get back to that white Bronco, and look at the major stories in sports since then. The baseball strike that cost us a World Series, sucked the life out of baseball for years. What is credited with bringing the fans back to the game? Well a historic home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. We’ve now seen both of those men sit in front of Congress and answer, or not really, questions about steroids.
Almost all of the athletes or teams, that captured my imagination over the last 15 or 16 years, are remembered as much, or more, for scandals.
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Kobe Bryant, Lance Armstrong, Ohio State football, Kentucky basketball, Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, New England Patriots, USC football and Reggie Bush, Joe Paterno and Penn State. I’m sure I’m missing more than a few, but these are some pretty big names. A lot was accomplished by these athletes and teams, but you can’t read any of these names without thinking of some pretty horrible stuff too.
Right now, the biggest stories on ESPN.com are: Joe Paterno announced that he’ll retire at the end of this season, the NBA lockout and a story about NBA player’s getting “plantation” treatment. We ask a lot of sports. We want to be inspired, we want to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves, we want to escape our lives and we just want to be entertained.
I’m sure most of these activities aren’t new, we just have so much more access today. I know this as well as anyone, I don’t need help to remember that I grew up cheering for Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Lawrence Taylor, Mike Tyson and Magic Johnson. Those were, without a doubt, my five favorite athletes while I was growing up. But their stories were big news and it was rare that off the field/court actions would make headlines.
I’m exhausted. I’m cynical and angry. Mostly, I’m just sad. It’s no wonder that the world can get caught up in a train wreck like Kim Kardashian, it’s easier to watch her and mock than it is to let ourselves get attached to a team or athlete, when another big disappointment will be leading off on “SportsCenter” tomorrow, and it might just be about your team.