As Cool As

I was most of the way through a blog entry about the college football playoffs when Stuart Scott died. So I’m shelving it until next week, when the championship will still be relevant. For those of you not interested in sports, sorry about the forthcoming back-to-back sports entries, and I’ll see you around MLK Day.

For about a decade starting in the mid-nineties,  the Entertainment and Sports  Programming Network was pretty much a constant on my television.  There was always something worth watching on ESPN, even if it ended up being the same overnight SportsCenter on continuous repeat. If live sports were on, so much the better, but that was hardly necessary.

Today, I refer to that channel as the Four-Letter Network, and it’s hard for me to remember the last time I purposely tuned in, except to watch live sports. If I turn on the TV and it’s still on that channel from the night before, I can hardly change away from the drivel quick enough. My sports gambling has probably worsened, but we all have to make sacrifices.

But back in the day, I couldn’t get enough. And, although I don’t know if I ever really put my finger on it before yesterday, looking back now, Start Scott was a main reason for that. Judging from the outpouring of sympathies on my Facebook feed, I might not be alone in that regard.

I was surprised at the cross-section of the people mentioning him. People who I assume have never voluntarily watched a sporting event in their life, people who have no idea what that guy in between second and third base is called, seemed to know who he was and have legitimate recollections of him. Part of this is certainly the “me-too” factor of social networks, but Joe Cocker only died a few weeks ago and didn’t make my news feed half as much as Stuart Scott.

He epitomized everything I liked about ESPN at the time, and everything that is now lacking at the Four-Letter. I know he wasn’t the first. Certainly Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick and yada, yada, Craig Kilborn. But whatever. Olbermann was always too smug and Patrick was too overshadowed by Olbermann. Sure, when I was seventeen, I loved Chris Berman and his funny names shtick, but eventually I matured. Now I cringe whenever I hear the phrase, “back, back, back.”

All of those guys were instrumental in ESPN’s rise. But the time I’m referring to was when it was established as the king of the mountain. It didn’t have to be kitschy or in-your-face like in the 1980s. And it hadn’t yet become the bloated self-referential monstrosity it is today. SportsCenter was confident in its own success and almost business-like in its efficiency.  Stuart Scott was not only the face of that franchise, but its personality as well. No nonsense, focused, and smooth.

I remember the first time I distinguished him from the slew of other sports anchors. It didn’t take long to go from “How does a guy with a glass eye get to be a sports anchor?” to “”Oh, cool, the glass eye guy is anchoring today.”

Nowadays, the Four-Letter is much more concerned with being the story than reporting the story. They only report on the sports that they are carrying and they try to drum up “controversies” that don’t exist. They create self-perpetuating cults-of-personality. They run an hour-long special devoted to where one basketball player will play the following year and they camp out at a Mississippi airport to see if a quarterback is going to un-retire. They got upset at Bill Belichick for not playing along with the “Tim Tebow might replace Tom Brady” storyline.

Yes, I realize those stories are five years old now. That just shows how little I’ve paid attention to the network. I got tired of the cycle of only reporting on a small number of players or teams, then saying the ratings proved that people were more interested in those players/teams. Yeah, nimrods, if ninety percent of your Baseball Tonight focuses on A-Rod and Jeter, then those are going to be the only players most people have heard of.

Then again, ESPN’s been trying to get rid of the albatross that is baseball for years, anyway. They keep hoping that if they stop talking about it, it’ll go the way of the NHL. But dammit, people keep following baseball.

On the opposite extreme is soccer. Soccer was reviled and primarily only brought up as the butt of jokes. Then the network got the rights to broadcast soccer games and all of a sudden they’re reporting on the “sudden emergence” of the “soccer subculture” and showing highlights whenever possible.

And don’t get me started on the “human interest” stories. They’re fine, but dammit, you’re a sports highlight show. Show some damned sports highlights!

I regret to say I didn’t even know Stuart Scott was sick until I got the alert on my phone Sunday (which I’m happy to say I got from Yahoo Sports, not ESPN). I only knew that when I saw SportsCenter on in the background at a restaurant, he was never on anymore. I assumed he had just retired or graduated to a specialty show or something. Now I have even one less reason to watch.

Nowadays when I see it, the anchors are prancing around, hamming for the camera. They seem much more concerned with getting their good side facing the camera than on telling me how many games out of first the New Orleans Hornets are.

What? They’re not the Hornets anymore? Then maybe I shouldn’t have put money on them in Reno.

Meanwhile, Chris Berman is seeing all the praises being hurled at Stuart Scott and wondering if he can fake his own death. Sorry, Chritiano Bergerman, you stopped being relevant thirty years ago. Time to go “back, back, back” to the drawing board on that one.

Stuart Scott was cool. He was professional. And now, sadly, he and the integrity of his network are now gone.

Rest in peace, brother. You were as cool as the other side of the pillow.

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