ESPN’s Rob Parker is “Sincerely Sorry,” and “Completely Understands”

Football, Management, Media, NFL

On Twitter, ESPN’s Rob Parker apologized for his comments about Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin III. He expressed “sincerity” and “understanding” and completely contradicted the defiant tone he took on that same forum in the immediate aftermath of his intentionally controversial implications about Griffin as a person.

Parker has been suspended for 30 days by ESPN and is, for the moment, keeping his job. Much like Parker, ESPN’s reaction came after the fact when the response was so profoundly and universally negative that they had to do something, so they suspended him and made a flamboyant show of “deciding” what to do with him. This suspension presumably includes the time already served, which means that Parker will be suspended for two more weeks and then be back doing whatever it is he does. Maybe. Judging by ESPN’s usual conduct, they’ll wait and see whether the suspension and apology are enough to quell the anger. If it’s not, then they’ll fire him. His place at the network is still not completely secure.

He says he’s sorry, but I don’t know how sorry he is. There are levels of sorry. When you have someone tied to a chair and are towering over the helpless figure, holding their life in your hands, then yes, they’ll be sorry for whatever they think they’re supposed to be sorry for. In Parker’s situation, it was either be sorry or be fired, so of course he’ll say he’s sorry.

Making it worse is the pure lack of conviction behind Parker’s critique of Griffin. If Parker had a foundation for his criticisms, he’d have the ability to make a cogent argument and defend it rather than using it for selfish purposes. Considering Parker’s replies to those who challenged him on the same platform in which he posted his apology—Twitter—he’s not actually sorry. From start to finish, it’s been a farce. It’s staged. And that typifies ESPN’s conundrum.

Parker wasn’t hired to deliver intelligent analysis on sports. He was hired to do exactly what he did with Griffin—draw attention to himself by any methods necessary. Then it blew out of control. At first he stood behind his statements, then backtracked on them when he got into trouble. I find it difficult accept Parker’s reflection over this episode or that he had a sudden epiphany and realized he was wrong; he apologized because it was either apologize or lose his job.

The underpinning for being truly regretful is to have a set of belief systems to begin with and that is not, nor has it ever been the case with Parker. What does he believe? Does he believe that Griffin’s validity in the black community is in question due to what amounted to accusations because Griffin is reportedly a Republican and has a white fiancée? Or was he stirring things up on ESPN because that’s why they hired him?

That’s the key point: why they hired him.

ESPN didn’t hire Parker for his writing skills because he doesn’t have any. They didn’t hire him because of his sports knowledge because he doesn’t have any of that either. They hired him to garner ratings, webhits and attention by doing exactly what he did. Once the negativity exploded, he was suspended. When a disposable underling has a wide range of freedoms to achieve the ends mandated by his bosses, he can say or do what he wants…until it boomerangs on the bosses and they have to deal with it as ESPN did. Then the empty vessel, in this instance Parker, is on his own.

The only circumstance under which Parker should be fired is if ESPN chooses to abandon the rhetoric that Parker was hired to provide. If they decided to take that route and say, “we’re not indulging in this type of lowest common denominator programming anymore,” and wanted to hammer that fact home by using Parker as an example of what would no longer be tolerated, then yes, Parker should have been fired. But they haven’t done that, nor does it appear that they intend to. They’re still putting forth the pretense of a genuine debate between their personalities when the programming they present is anything but. It’s a show. With that in mind, what’s the difference if it’s Parker or Random Guy or Girl X who would replace Parker if they fired him? There is none.

For the sake of public consumption and the perception of taking a stand, ESPN suspended Parker, Parker accepted the suspension as part of the clear terms of clemency from his employer, and he apologized. But just like Parker’s coerced apology rife with contrite terminology, I doubt its legitimacy because, judging from history and the way this tragicomedy played out for both Parker and ESPN, it’s not legitimate at all.

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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.

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