ESPN Is To Blame For Rob Parker

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Rob Parker is a symptom, not the disease. In spite of ESPN’s decision to suspend him for his absurd comments about Robert Griffin III, Parker’s presence or absence from the network is not going to cure the malady that infects any sports fan who has no choice but to use ESPN because it has such a wide-ranging hand in every sport.

Is Parker to blame for pushing the envelope with comments that were designed to provoke? Isn’t that the ESPN mandate? To get people to pay attention to them not with legitimate sports news and analysis, but by doing the equivalent of screaming “FIRE” in a crowded theater with impunity? So entwined with every aspect of sports, there’s no escaping ESPN. This makes Parker and his inept ilk in their employ all the more galling. They get away with this silliness, so why couldn’t they get away with deciding not to partake in this fire-stoking, and chose to provide quality and substance instead of resorting to antics like a bad Madonna outfit?

Parker maintains the inexplicable combination of knowing nothing about sports and writing in an amateurish, clumsy fashion. Yet he’s employed by ESPN and treated as one of their “signature” voices with a prominent platform. It’s just easier to find a stable of Rob Parkers than it is to find people who will be able to express themselves in a manner befitting such a pulpit.

Of course Parker’s responsible for what he says, but those claiming he should be fired for his offensive and borderline incoherent statements are missing the point of the entire Parker package: Why is he employed by ESPN in the first place? How can it be that the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports” is so incapable of hiring talented, intelligent, knowledgeable people who can draw an audience without having the content secondary to numbers they’re able to accumulate through cheap tactics.

ESPN need only look at the foundation of today’s NFL to understand the narrow difference between “look at me!!!” to accrue a brief burst of activity like staring at a train crash, and attracting a consistent viewer/readership.

The late Hall of Fame NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was a public relations man and knew how to create a business that would provide thrills and watchable sports action without turning it into a circularly ridiculous entity doomed to fail. Tex Schramm was also in publicity (in fact, he hired Rozelle with the Rams) and knew that in order to succeed, he also had to sell. With the Cowboys, that’s what he did: he sold an image. Tom Landry was the football guru; Gil Brandt the personnel “genius”; the Cowboys, with their space-age uniforms, unique style implemented by the religious, stoic Landry and moniker of “America’s Team” wouldn’t have gone anywhere if the product wasn’t high quality. In addition to creating an image and making money, the team won, so Schramm wasn’t tricking anyone with trash. There’s a fine line between sale and scam and ESPN crossed that line long ago. Whether or not they’re aware of it is the important question.

ESPN could learn the separation between entertainment and rubbernecking by examining how the NFL became what it is today in large part because of Schramm and Rozelle.

Rather than emulate the NFL, ESPN has chosen to copy the doomed Vince McMahon project the XFL in which pro wrestling announcers were shoved into a “professional” football broadcast booth and Jesse “The Body” Ventura (then Governor of Minnesota) tried to start a pro wrestling style feud with Rusty Tillman, one of the head coaches who wanted to coach football and not undertake a starring role in McMahon’s carnival. It didn’t work. There has to be something to cling to for the fans to stay and watch. Like McMahon’s main moneymaking venture, the WWE, you know what it is when watching it and if the viewer chooses to suspend disbelief and become invested in the canned nature of professional wrestling, it’s a wink-and-a-nod contract made with the show itself. There’s something dirtier about ESPN when they’re hiring the likes of Parker and encouraging these types of comments, then hanging Parker out to dry when the comments are deemed as “offensive.”

The difference between what Schramm and Rozelle built in the NFL is that if you pull back the curtain behind all the hype, there’s substance for the old-school football fan to still watch the game if they’re not interested in the sideshow. Is that the case with ESPN? Do they have anything substantive—from their intentions to their implementation—left? What is their long-term purpose apart from ratings, webhits, and the higher advertising rates that come along with it?

For every quality person ESPN has working for them, there are ten who shouldn’t be allowed to write a personal blog, let along have a forum on ESPN. Parker is one of those people. The only time people care about what he says is when he says what he said yesterday; they’re certainly not going to him for sports insight because he doesn’t have any, nor does he have the skills to present his non-existent knowledge in an engaging way. If he was able to do that, he’d be due a certain begrudging credit for being able to write. But he can’t, so there’s no reason whatsoever for him to be there.

Firing him will placate the masses who are calling for his dismissal as if it would accomplish something, but Parker isn’t the problem. ESPN is. If they fire Parker, they’ll simply replace him with someone else. I’d say whomever it is that replaces Parker couldn’t possibly be worse, but this is ESPN and if any company has the skills and history of discovering the newest-latest in lowest common denominator, it’s them.


Bring The Truth, Bring The Pain

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The Jose Reyes Chronicles needs to be published on a daily basis.

Let’s take a look.

Nice hatchet job. And by “nice” I mean ridiculous.

Harvey Araton wrote this piece in today’s NY Times about Jose Reyes.

It’s a none-too-subtle rip job disguised as journalism.

Are these writers so dense that they haven’t gotten the message that when Alex Rodriguez says something like Reyes is the “greatest player in the world” that it smacks of a lesson he learned during his apprenticeship under Madonna? That he’s keeping his name in the public consciousness by any means necessary?

It’s not a shot at Derek Jeter; it’s something he said to garner a reaction.

He’s getting it and you’re enabling him.

Did Araton read the New Yorker piece? Is he banking on people innocently opening their Times sports section this morning and taking everything he says as gospel and contextually accurate? Or is he twisting the spirit of what was said to convenience his conclusions?

Here’s Araton’s quote from the column:

Six weeks ago, a healthy majority of respondents happened to agree with the owner Wilpon’s assessment, as quoted in a magazine article, that Reyes would not be worth “Carl Crawford money” ($142 million over seven years) because he is too often injured.

Here’s the quote from the New Yorker piece:

“He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money,” Wilpon said, referring to the Red Sox’ signing of the former Tampa Bay player to a seven-year, $142-million contract. “He’s had everything wrong with him,” Wilpon said of Reyes. “He won’t get it.”

Far be it from me to explain the concept of reading comprehension an underlying meaning to a columnist from the New York Times, but that’s not quite an equitable analysis of what Wilpon said.

Is Rafael Soriano worth the $35 million he got?

Is Jayson Werth worth the $126 million he got?

And on the other side of things has Bartolo Colon been worth the $900,000 the Yankees are paying him for the masterful comeback season he’s put together?

It’s not a difficult concept to grasp unless you perhaps have…an agenda!

But why would anyone read that column and think Araton sat at his keyboard with an intention to savage the Mets and lavish love upon the Yankees?

These are the Mets.

All the talk of the Mets “run scoring” machine—achieved with the absence of home runs, assisted by all the walks, the Reyes baserunning/hit show, and unsung heroes—is silly. They had a few big games in the Texas bandbox and against some bad pitching in Detroit.

Because of parity and over-and-above the call of duty performances from the likes of Justin Turner and Dillon Gee, they’ve hung around .500 and looked better than anyone reasonably expected.

The key word is “looked”.

This is not a contender; it’s not a good team; and a vast number of the prominent names currently in the lineup won’t be with the club when the Mets turn the corner back into contention under Sandy Alderson.

These are facts.

Reyes may be there and he may not. And not be for the “Carl Crawford” money that so many have suggested he’s going to want.

The sudden strain.

For everyone who went on and on about Reyes’s historic durability—which is generally factual—there’s always been and will be this issue where his hamstrings are vulnerable. It’s a career-long worry and could preclude him from getting the money that—according to Araton—Wilpon “said” he’s not going to get.

Combine the hamstring problems with an important factor that’s missed by those who say Reyes is heading for that Crawford contract: the Yankees and Red Sox are not going after him and nor are the Phillies.

Where’s he going to get this money?

The Angels and the Nationals can do it. But will they? The Angels wanted Crawford and were blown out of the water by the Red Sox.

The Nationals ownership is loaded and ready to spend and Reyes is a target.

Where else?

Right now, he’s as likely to stay with the Mets as he is to go elsewhere because of the scarcity of teams that can and will pay him and that the old hamstring problem has crept up again.

Few will admit this, but it’s not a bad thing for the Mets that Reyes felt that tightness and needs an MRI; nor is it a bad thing that they’ve come down to earth against a blazing hot Yankees team.

It’s a means to an end that could result in them keeping Reyes for a reasonable sum and not what Wilpon “said” in the inaccurate world of Harvey Araton.