Rinker’s Rants: ESPN’s Selection of the Day’s Top Sports Stories
ESPN proudly touts its reputation as “The Worldwide Leader in Sports”, and since its inception in 1979 has cultivated a fan base that has made it one of the most successful sports networks ever constructed. Considering the vast amount of money and power at its disposal, it is a network that has the ability to shape what they want to show the public, what they want to turn into a big story, and what topics they’d prefer get swept under the carpet.
ESPN has been known to go to obscene lengths to cover and beat to death stories such as the Tiger Woods scandal, anything related to LeBron James or the Miami Heat, and the fall of Joe Paterno, yet subtly disregard stories in which they might be culpable of acting or reporting information in an egregious or biased manner. It is of course ESPN’s right to cover and report on what they want, for at the end of the day the “leader in sports” is primarily interested in devoting coverage time to stories that bring the most eyes to TV sets, even if it means bypassing games and sporting contests that are actually taking place.
It is in this context that brings me to this past Wednesday’s 6 PM episode of SportsCenter. On a day when 8 NFL teams were preparing for this weekend’s divisional round games, and with numerous NBA and NCCA basketball games on the docket, ESPN’s flagship show made the decision to dedicate the first 15 minutes of the show to reporting on the turmoil surrounding the New York Jets and quarterback Mark Sanchez. It didn’t come as that big of a surprise that this was the lead story on SC, as all day the ESPN radio talking heads, one after another, had been dissecting the derogatory comments made by unnamed sources about Sanchez story into oblivion.
Factor in discussions surrounding the state of the Jets locker room with an ESPN analyst who wasn’t a member of the team this year (former Jet/Pats linemen Damien Woody) and the possibility of Peyton Manning becoming a member of the Jets next season (a rumor which could prove true over time, but at this point has no validity to it), and the network seemed to be doing its best to ensure every possible ridiculous angle was covered. Was this a juicy enough topic that it warranted such coverage? Perhaps. But then again, with the Jets New York back-page headline stealing and ratings prowess since Rex Ryan became head coach it’s not a stretch to think that ESPN knew they would get people to tune in if they splashed this story all over TV and espn.com.
I guess on the plus side we all got a break from the network’s nonstop coverage of Tim Tebow’s quarterbacking ability, but it is hard to ignore the fact that over time ESPN’s selection of what they deem to be the day’s top story focuses more on what is controversial as opposed to the present or upcoming athletic contests themselves. They are in the business of making money, and evidently certain topics (LeBron, Tiger, Favre) move the meter and take precedent over others (Packers march towards a repeat, Syracuse’s undefeated start, the NHL as a league). This is a pattern that is getting increasingly worse over time, and one can only hope that other sports networks and programs continue to crop up to provide fans with a suitable alternative.
Note: “Rinker’s Rants” is an occasional column named in honor of a longtime friend and supporter of PAC’s Sports, Mr. Bryan Rinker. Bryan is known in many circles for flying off the handle/running a little hot, and his mostly off base, occasionally relevant, always entertaining rants have been humoring and annoying his friends for many years. The opinions expressed in this column don't necessarily reflect those of the actual Bryan Rinker.