A disclaimer before this column:
Yes, I now live outside of Cleveland, Ohio and have grown to love the city I proudly call my adopted hometown. I have also become a fan of the three major professional sports teams that play in Cleveland.
No, I don’t begrudge LeBron James for utilizing his right as an American citizen to ply his trade wherever he wishes.
Having said that, here is my open letter to all sports fans, especially fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and other Tampa sports teams: Boycott ESPN non-athletic event programming.
The anger directed at LeBron James is misguided. While crass, James’ decision to announce his free agent destination on television was his choice to make. The real anger should be directed at the supposed journalists and reporters associated with ESPN.
The events that transpired on the made-for-ESPN “interview” with LeBron James has convinced me that ESPN as a corporation has total disregard for journalistic ethics, professional integrity and the vast majority of sports fans.
“The Decision,” as the James program was dubbed, was nothing more than a travesty of journalism. The program was a glorified infomercial. The only thing missing was the disembodied voice of the late Billy Mays. ESPN paid for access to James and ceded all production and editorial control to the basketball player and his entourage.
Sadly, paying for an interview has become all too common in the media’s quest for content, but ceding total authority to an interview subject is beneath contempt. One can only imagine if LeBron had asked ESPN executive Norby Williamson for the right of primae noctis with certain network staffers, Williamson may have considered it.
But more disgusting than Williamson’s signing off on this display is the deafening silence from national reporters who at one time had an air of integrity. I am talking of Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser of PTI, the assorted cast of Around the Horn and The Sports Reporters, and other reporters who offer commentaries.
These men and women who owe much of their newfound celebrity to ESPN have not written a single word against the network for its culpability in this sham. I don’t expect Wilbon, Kornheiser or say, Bob Ryan to resign in protest, but c’mon guys, suck it up and tell the truth: ESPN has crossed the line and many of us as fans should be afraid, very afraid.
They’re Going to Leave You if ESPN Doesn’t Think Your Worthy, Sports Fans
In recent years ESPN has set up city-specific bureaus: ESPN-New York, ESPN-Boston, ESPN-Chicago, ESPN-Los Angeles and ESPN-Dallas. I can only imagine it will just be a matter of time now that LeBron has moved to Miami that ESPN-Miami pops up. If not a denizen of these cities, ESPN is not interested in your sports allegiance.
The contempt with which ESPN holds the majority of the sporting cities of the United States and their fans can be viewed in the network’s recent treatment of Cleveland.
During the last few years ESPN personalities, especially Colin Cowherd, have mocked Cleveland for believing they had a legitimate right to produce a championship caliber team.
An ad by Cowherd for his program Sports Nation openly mocked Cleveland by portraying a Cleveland fan as a medieval buffoon. ESPN even produced a documentary blaming the city of Cleveland for the Browns moving to Baltimore, seriously attempting to paint Art Modell as an innocent victim of circumstance.
Now, whether ESPN consciously hates Cleveland is open to debate, but the corporation has certainly backed the use of the city as a punch line. The motive of ESPN may not be clear, but I feel the mindset is. Unless you are a city deemed “big time” by ESPN, your teams, your passions, your interests are of no concern to ESPN.
Herein is my warning to my beloved hometown: Beware of ESPN, Tampa Bay. No matter how well the Bucs, Rays or Lightning do, they will be viewed as filler by ESPN. To the network our hometown teams are nothing more than the Washington Generals to the network’s chosen cities’ Harlem Globetrotters.
Think I’m overreacting? Think I’m crediting ESPN with too much power and motive? Then ask yourself this question? Now that the genie is out of the bottle, do you think ESPN will orchestrate more “interview” shows with potential free agents?
Remember this when Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, Josh Freeman, Vinny Lecavalier and other Tampa sports stars come up for renewal. Do you think their agents won’t have ESPN on speed dial willing to see what the network will offer for unlimited access?
Heck, ESPN may develop yet another cable channel. Anyone in the mood to watch ESPNFA (ESPN Free Agency)? It happened to Cleveland. It most likely will happen to Tampa Bay and other “unworthy” communities as well. But we can fight back if we choose.
The time has come for fans to be pro-active and to send a powerful message to ESPN. If the network truly believes that wide swaths of the country don’t matter, than I suggest we take them up on it. I call on all of you that live in areas of the country deemed inconsequential by ESPN (you know, the ones that aren’t New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Dallas or Miami), to stop watching ESPN’s programming.
I know better than to ask you to stop watching the games. After all, sports are the reason all of us have gotten to know each other. However, we can certainly live without the hours and hours of unethical, intellectually dishonest discourse on all of ESPN’s pre-game shows, post-game shows, programs and radio network.
We have a choice, Tampa fans. Turn over our hard-earned dollars to an entity that is bent on taking our local teams’ competitiveness away or, let ESPN learn that if they want to rely on just the ratings of New York, Los Angeles and a few other cities with sketchy sports histories, they do so at their own peril.
Denis Crawford, July 2010