Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The New ESPN Tell-All Book Is the Most Interesting Thing Ever

There's an office complex in Bristol, Connecticut. Some of the people in the office don't like each other. Some of them like each other a lot. In fact, they've even had intercourse of all varieties. Some of them drink too much during their off hours, or do drugs, or use profanity. Many of them are jerks.

But enough about CIGNA Insurance. You have no doubt heard about the soon-to-be-released ESPN oral history. At 700 pages, you will no doubt learn more about Charlie Steiner and Bob Ley than you ever cared to learn, along with other more ratings-friendly characters. Some of this is interesting if only because you've heard of some of these people, and gossip is always a little bit fun (that's why the E! Network exists, after all). Who doesn't enjoy learning who is screwing whom, especially if the screwer and screwee are both recognizable and not supposed to be engaged in said screwing.

But is it interesting enough to sustain a 700-page oral history? I imagine there are two target audiences. First are other sports journalists, who have actually met most of the people mentioned in the book (even the back-office, no-name desk workers that will no doubt play the lead characters in most of the really salacious stories). Targeting a book to journalists is good business; at the very least, they'll provide free advertising since they're pride will be pricked. Most of them are human just like us, and if someone wrote a 700-page history of me or people I know, I'd sure as hell talk about how fascinating the whole thing is. That doesn't mean other people should believe me though.

The second target audience are the self-anointed watchers of the watchdog, such as A.J. "What Is Sourcing?" Daulerio. The essence of Deadspin has evolved over the years, from wackiness-tinged-with-common-man-honesty to Crusader for the Fans. Part of that crusade--maybe the holy grail of the crusade--is to point out the many foibles of the sports media, with an occasionally expansive definition of what counts as "media." The charitable reading is that doing this draws readers; the uncharitable reading is that Daulerio is a genuinely objectionable human being who knows his organization will never really be powerful or interesting enough to draw the same type of attention upon him and his coworkers. You can take your pick.

ESPN is a necessary evil in my world; a massive media conglomerate that nonetheless provides just about every sport imaginable, from cricket to Aussie Football. They employ personalities that range from painfully annoying to genuinely insightful, with every spot on the spectrum in between. They are neither friend nor enemy. If ESPN did not broadcast sports events, sometimes other networks would, and sometimes they wouldn't. When they are not showing actual events, they fill their time with the sort of inane chatter that is ubiquitous on both AM radio and on the internet. If ESPN didn't exist, someone else would invent it, and it would still probably suck because 90% of everything does. If the hosts want to give one another chlamydia during their free hours, I don't see where that's any more worthy of Caro-sized tomes than your neighbors doing the same. And the endless fascination by Deadspin-types says infinitely more about them than it does about anyone who works for ESPN.