Thursday, November 30, 2006

This Article Is Not About Michael Strahan

Last night (November 29) SportsCenter devoted what must have been a three minute-long segment to Michael Strahan and Plaxico Burress. First, let’s agree that a three minute report is a long one. SportsCenter usually reserves time slots of this length for meaningful playoff games or drug/violence-related activity off the field. Thus it would seem logical that the Strahan-Burress story was compelling enough to merit such attention. The way SC presented it, it sure must have seemed to an otherwise uninformed viewer like something worth discussing extensively.

I, however, had already watched parts of Mike and Mad Dog, a New York sports talk radio show that’s broadcasted daily on YES. I’d heard of Mike and Mad Dog before moving to New York. Now that I’ve given them a few listens/watches I can confirm that their interstate popularity is well-deserved. These guys are two of the most logical and level-headed sports commentators around. I’m consistently impressed with them.

It was from these guys that I first heard about the Strahan-Burress story. What actually happened? Strahan, when asked to comment on Burress’s lack of effort on the first Pacman Jones interception in last Sunday’s game, replied that no one should ever give up on a play. It was a very general comment, hard to characterize as instigative. Yet, SC reporter Kelly Naqi chose to present it in a different light, approaching Plax and asking if he had heard about Strahan’s supposedly invective comments. Then, Naqi went back to a surprised Strahan with Plax’s response. To this Strahan predictably reacted angrily, giving Naqi and SC the tantrum-toned sound bites they wanted.

This last part only became clear when I watched the SC segment, because Mike and Mad Dog judged both parties to be in the wrong, conceding that although Strahan should have been more restrained, Naqi unprofessionally and manipulatively incited acrimony where none had previously existed.

The worst part of the SC piece wasn’t that they devoted so much time to it, but that they spun it. They conveniently excluded Strahan’s original quote and failed to provide its exact context. They went straight to the video of Naqi questioning Plax and Strahan. Their presentation implied a purpose to Strahan’s original comments that simply wasn’t there. But once that purpose was accepted as truth by the viewer, then the clip of Plax’s self-proclamation of character, how that’s not his style, how he wouldn’t do that, that he doesn’t call teammates out, etc. seemed logical and served to elevate the level of contentiousness further.

Some may say that this was a big deal regardless, that it was a legitimate story no matter the exact context of Strahan’s quitter comments. Others, like Michael Wilbon in his PTI intro, only 30 minutes before SC aired, might say, “Today was a slow day. What are we going to do?” It was a slow day. And that is the only reason this story was even concocted and given such extensive coverage. The fact is that Plax quits on plays regularly. He’s more concerned with cocking his visor to a precise angle than he is with playing hard. That’s the real story, not the high-school-cafeteria-he-said-she-said periphery that SC covered.

This kind of story is emblematic of what has become of SC. It has become clear that at some point in the past few years there was an executive-level decision to focus SC more on the E (entertainment) than the S (sports) in ESPN. It seems that it has become the policy of the show to neglect genuinely compelling sports stories in favor of anything that could have a cross-over appeal to non-sports fans. Thus the rationale for the aforementioned story: when the audience to which they’re catering is considered, a story about bickering teammates is much more appealing than one about on-field effort.

It was a slow sports day, and instead of a more in-depth analysis of the few basketball games that were played the night before, or a handful of other directions which they might have chosen a few years ago, SC chose to make something out of nothing and effectively create their own news.

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At 8:02 AM , Anonymous Perl said...

Well played Dr. Ezrohi, well played. except the part about mike and the mad dog, because i dont think theyre the most logical and levelheaded guys around. not sure who is, but they go over the top way too often and are pretty biased a lot of the time.

fuck sc (sports center) (southern cal)

At 2:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

In as much as disdain for ESPN is the subject of this article, see also the comments in the Ombudsman's section on regarding criticism of ESPN/ABC's coverage of the FIFA World Cup. Issues include: use of a baseball announcer as the lead play-by-play, commentators not being at the actual venues, and so forth.


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