Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email



By Gabriel Wardell | Posted 7/13/2005

ESPN, the “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” earned its self-proclaimed moniker by producing the best sports (and sports-related) programming on television. An expanding empire including ancillary channels ESPN2 (“the deuce”), ESPNews, ESPN U, and ESPN Deportes, the Bristol, Conn.-based company generates an ever resounding echo chamber of programs like Sports Center and Baseball Tonight that set the standard for daily clips and commentary sports reportage. Pardon the Interruption features sharp discourse on the current state of sports, and the Nightline-esque Outside the Lines provides sports reportage second only to HBO’s Real Sports. ESPN’s foray into original programming—with dramatic series like Playmakers and Tilt and reality programs like Dream Job—are good watches. ESPN has even made entertaining buzz-worthy programming out of off-kilter, nonathletic events one could only call “things a Vegas sports-book will set odds on”—competitions like the Nathan’s Famous hot-dog-eating contest, the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and the World Series of Poker.

Given all of this, it is perplexing that ESPN wastes airtime (and advertising) on the embarrassing annual spectacle of the ESPYs, a self-produced, self-congratulatory awards show, broadcast this year on July 17. No self-respecting sports fan would ever watch the program—or bother voting online. The project hardly warrants comment except that ESPN claims that more than 10 million people voted online last year. If this is so, why invent a Bruins/Celtics/Sox/Pats-gear-clad überfan fan called “The Rick” (Yes Dear’s Mike O’Malley) to create the illusion that people who watch sports waste time voting for worthless awards for a useless ceremony? The only available evidence that anyone at all cares about the ESPYs can be found on booster web pages like the Baylor University site that implored supporters to “help the Baylor women’s basketball team and Jeremy Wariner take the ESPYs in their respective categories.”

ESPY categories vary from bar-worthy arguments like Best Play, Best Comeback, and Best Sports Movie to de facto MVP awards like Best MLB Player, Best NFL Player, Best Female Tennis Player, and Best Bowler (the smart money is on four-time ESPY winner Walter Ray Williams).

The worst categories pit apples and oranges competitors side by side—like Best Male Athlete . Skier Bode Miller—the “First American to win World Cup overall championship in 22 years. Second man in history to win races in Slalom, Giant slalom, Super G, and Downhill in the same season”—must compete with Baltimore Olympian Michael Phelps, who “won a record-tying eight medals at the Summer Olympics, including six gold,” as well as household names Lance Armstrong, Peyton Manning, and Vijay Singh. Attempting to weigh the respective accomplishments of any of these nominees is an exercise in utter folly. In the world of sports, the issue of who reigns supreme is actually resolved on the field. Isn’t that the point of playing the games in the first place?

Yet the ESPYs, now in their 12th year (!), rally on. Like the Oscars, they are held at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. This year’s ESPYs will be hosted by Friend-in-need Matthew Perry, whose impressive sports pedigree amounts to shooting pool with Michael Jordan in a series of underwear commercials. Apparently, former ESPY host Jamie Foxx can’t be bothered now that he’s won a real Oscar, and the difference between the two ceremonies couldn’t be clearer. Whereas the Oscars are the Super Bowl of the movie calendar, the sporting calendar already has a Super Bowl—as well as a World Series, a spate of Grand Slam tournaments, March Madness, the Daytona 500, the NBA Finals, and the World Cup. As for awards, there are MVPs, Gold Gloves, Cy Youngs, Hall of Fame inductions, sports banquets, and countless other accolades for athletes and teams.

So what is the point of the ESPYs? Is there even one athlete who covets the ESPY? Is there one example on record of anyone ever talking about the ESPYs at a water cooler or otherwise? Can you name an ESPY winner? Does Tiger Woods, recipient of a record 15 ESPYs, use his trophies as targets at the driving range so he can earn real awards like tailored green jackets and oversized platters? Would Woods melt his entire ESPY cache down if it meant winning a single major? What does an ESPY even look like? Having never seen the ceremony—and not planning on breaking my Ripkenesque 12-year streak now—I can only surmise that the award can be melted down. Wouldn’t two time ESPY-winner Peyton Manning—on pace to score at least one more on Sunday—rather cross his Super Bowl ring-clad fingers than endure the “honor” of having to sit through this? Anyone who watches, without first receiving a pimped out gift bag, should be ashamed.

Related stories

Benchwarmer archives

More from Gabriel Wardell

Parting Shots (9/14/2005)
The easiest way to tell when Tim McCarver is going to be wrong about something is to note when he is speaking.

Macro and Micro (9/7/2005)
The "Oriole Way" has become synonymous with "half-assed."

Choker’s Wild (8/31/2005)
Wild Card Races Are Bullshit.

Comments powered by Disqus
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter