Rob Parker, First Take ESPN mess; NFL and Newtown shooting
When you get past your anger over the carnival barking, the race-baiting and a hockey goon named Skip Bayless who makes his living as a low-rent sports contrarian, you simply feel bad for the rank and file at ESPN.
Since the network suspended ESPN2
"The issue is that it becomes ESPN and not
"They have created a culture of this," another ESPN employee said. "The fact that they didn't remove it [Parker's comments about Griffin] from the re-air [the show repeats at 12 p.m. ET] proves their intent wasn't to do anything."
This weekend saw another round of negative press thanks to ESPN's lustful support of the cheap "embrace debate" concept. On Friday, the network said Parker had been "suspended until further notice" and that it was "conducting a full review." One can only hope the review is taken more seriously than the one Captain Louis Renault conducted of Rick's Caf� in
But don't expect a parade to be thrown in this column for ESPN management. Parker did what the ethos of the show requires, perfectly described on Sunday by the
I emailed the company's PR arm on Sunday to ask a number of questions: Where did the review stand? Which staffers were leading it? When could viewers expect findings? Would the executive and coordinating producers for that show be interviewed as part of the review? How did ESPN define "further notice" regarding Parker?
Said an ESPN PR spokesperson: "A thorough review is ongoing and includes all appropriate personnel. When we have more information, we will share it."
Understandably, much of ESPN's focus this weekend was set on its handling of the tragedy in nearby Newtown, Conn., and that is commendable. But management has enabled this circus for years and it leads to rightful skepticism. ESPN happily brought in Parker, a
As far as how
"They brought on Rob for a reason -- he is confrontational," said a former ESPN staffer who worked at the network for years. "That is his style. They want debate and conflict and that can be a good thing, to force people to look at issues and force people to look at things. I know they get hammered a lot for making everything a racial topic, and sometimes it does go too far, but they do a good job of getting debate out there that people are shying away from because it is uncomfortable."
It's also creates the perception for ESPN's on-air staffers that the only way to get noticed by management is if you are skilled at disagreement. Think about that toxic message. Everyone I spoke with mentioned
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the weekend.)
"There are few things unimaginable or unspeakable," Berman said. "The slaughter of innocent school children in their elementary school classrooms is one of them. Football, the holidays, all of it takes a backseat to what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday morning. Twenty first-grade students ages 6 and 7, and six adults, as you know, are no longer with us. They were gunned down as they went about their morning excited about the coming of Christmas. ... It's very close to home for those of us at ESPN because Newtown is about 45 minutes down the road here in Connecticut."
Berman eventually moved viewers to NFL reporter Rachel Nichols, who conducted an excellent interview with Giants coach Tom Coughlin. "It's very difficult to get past the senseless killing of children, especially at that age," Coughlin said. "But there is tremendous evil in our world and it's just a sad, sad part of what we live with today." At the top of the show, which is where it should have been covered, ESPN found the right mix between football and a tragedy close to its corporate home. Well done.
Brown's opening words were accompanied by photos of grieving family members, townspeople and President Obama tearing -- a powerful tableau. The program then showed thoughtful tweets from NFL players such as Drew Brees, Robert Griffin III and J.J. Watt. That was followed by a close-up of the Giants' helmet with Sandy Hook's initials and the sneakers of Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, who honored a 6-year-old victim by writing "Jack Pinto My Hero" on his cleats. Analyst Boomer Esiason choked up in recounting the heroism of first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, who died in the attack. Analysts Bill Cowher and Dan Marino mentioned their own children and wished the best for the families. "It makes you sick to your stomach," Marino said.
After its abject failure covering the Kasandra Perkins-Jovan Belcher story two weeks ago, CBS has reminded viewers that it has the gravitas to cover events that go beyond cover twos and zone blitzes. Well done.
Menefee then mentioned the teams that were honoring Sandy Hook (viewers no doubt appreciated seeing the visual of the helmet decals) and segued to football. "Football almost seems insignificant right now, but hopefully our show and the NFL can provide a little escape for everybody today," Menefee said. The rest of the show was the usual fare, though football fans probably did not expect to see Menefee in a Cardinals jersey and full pads (designed to mock Arizona's quarterback issues) or South Korean singer Psy getting more free promotion on U.S. television.
The writer's on-air essay on
"I'm 51 years old and lucky enough to get this opportunity," said Kruk, who has worked at ESPN since 2004. "I think after doing a couple of games they thought, Well, we might be able to get another manager to do this, but who knows how long they will stay. Maybe they are looking for more continuity in the booth with Orel and myself."
The three-person booth in baseball can be crowded for viewers, but Kruk believes he and Hershiser complement each other philosophically. "Orel is a technical, break-stuff-down type of a guy and deep thinker when he was pitching and I was none of that," Kruk said. "Of course I knew about mechanics because you have to if you hit ... but what I am kind of hoping I bring into the booth is a reaction. And Orel knows me well enough that if he says something that I don't agree with, I will react and vice versa. It will be fun and interesting."
Kruk's strength is his candor and he promises that won't change from the studio to the broadcast booth. "When I announced for the Phillies, I told them that I could not sugarcoat stuff," Kruk said. "If it's a dumb play, I have to say it's a dumb play. If you don't like it, then find someone else to do it.
With five years remaining on his contract, Kruk will be around ESPN even if the Sunday night gig does not work for the long term. "I think everything is a year-to-year deal," Kruk said. "Even if they told me I'd be here for 10 years, I still would approach it like I have to prove myself every year, or you get stagnant."
Merchant will still weigh in on boxing news and big fights in some capacity. I asked
Some broadcasters have pre-planned lines, so I asked Eagle how it came about. "Believe it or not, it was completely spontaneous," said Eagle, also a longtime CBS Sports employee. "Obviously, I knew Jerry Seinfeld was there and a few thoughts swirled around my head when I first saw him early in the game. But I had no idea YES director John Wilson was going to show Jerry's reaction after the Joe Johnson game-winner. You always try to be in the moment when you're on the air and somehow that line popped into my head amidst the late-game drama. I was a big fan of the show and hopefully viewers enjoyed the reference. At the very least, it helped Teri Hatcher's Q-rating for one night."
Thankfully, Beadle herself was willing to break the silence, and we appreciate her courage in offering details that will promote a show for a network that needs viewers. She said
? Mashable's Sam Laird reviewed the biggest sports moments on Twitter, while Buzzfeed provides the 19 funniest sports-related tweets of 2012.
? The terrific Washington, D.C.-based writer Patrick Hruby, in a piece for Sports On Earth, makes a case for ending "sports welfare."
?This SI.com Peter Richmond piece on college hockey in North Dakota was really well done.
? Really enjoyed John Hollinger's farewell column for ESPN.com after the announcement that the Grizzlies had hired the writer to serve as vice president of basketball operations.
Thanks to NFL PR guru Dan Masonson, we have an answer. Said Masonson: "There are 21 TV timeouts in each game with five in three quarters and six in the other quarter. Each television timeout is 1:50 and the two-minute warnings in the second and fourth quarters account for two of those 21 TV timeouts."
Final score on Sunday: Seattle 50, Buffalo 17.