I stopped doing regular sports blogging in 2007, though I occasionally still write about sports for Huffington Post, which has been my primary non-academic writing home since 2009 (here are a couple of recent examples). In that time, the sports media landscape has changed considerably. The twitter revolution has been one notable change. Another has been the ongoing expansion and diversification of ESPN, now a $40 billion property that continues to be the dominant media entity for defining and covering the relevant sports world for a sports-crazed nation.
And so, without much further ado, I am going to start blogging, as regularly as I can, about the World Wide Leader and the quality of its coverage. There are two things I am most interested in, though I imagine the mission statement here will evolve over time. One, is that I am a sports geek and will spend plenty of time writing about how well ESPN covers the games on the field. There are lots of super smart people at ESPN, including some who have been at the forefront of the analytical revolution in evaluating player performance (and Nate Silver, a pioneer in the field, is famously on his way to the network).
But there are still lots of folks in Bristol who actually think Carmelo Anthony is a great basketball player (as a lifelong Knicks’ fan, this is a pet peeve of mine), or take pride in their ignorance of sabermetrics. I am going to spend a lot of time complaining about that sort of “analysis” and about the innumeracy that remains a big problem at the network, in spite of some of those super smart people working there.
Two, I have long found sports media to provide a particularly interesting window through which to view larger issues in American life, including political and social ones (the Riley Cooper episode, for instance). This is especially true since the mainstream media outlets – particularly on television – whose job is to provide such coverage are typically too stilted or partisan (or both) to allow for interesting conversations and debates. Of course, much sports media discussion is itself is driven by laziness, cliche and general mindlessness. But in all sorts of ways, there is room in sports media for the kinds of interesting, open-ended discussions about American society sorely lacking in mainstream political media. Because it is the dominant sports media empire, ESPN is often a hub of such conversations, for better and worse. So, I’ll spend a good bit of time addressing those conversations, when they come up.
Since there aren’t 297 hours in a day and since I have a full time job, I won’t be able to address every utterance on every platform that the mother ship has on offer. There are other folks patrolling this beat to some degree, including Dave Zirin and the folks at Deadspin and the Big Lead. But here’s hoping that you find interesting and worthwhile some of what I have to say about when ESPN is helping to make us smarter and when it’s doing the opposite.