Monday, March 4, 2013

ESPN's Bottomless Pit of Debate

The Chicago Blackhawks streak of 22 straight games with a point to start the 2013 NHL Season is highly impressive. The Miami Heat's current streak of 14 straight wins is very impressive as well. Both have their own unique qualities that make them strong in their own right. Comparing them however, is pointless, since at their cores they are entirely different streaks with different set-ups and payoffs. Leave it to ESPN to have to compare these streaks and debate which one is "better". Leave it to ESPN to also get Stephen A. Smith to chime in when he clearly knows nothing about hockey... Quite frankly Stephen A., there haven't been ties in the NHL since 2004, and there has been a team in Columbus since 2000 (the fact that they suck meaning they aren't visible non-withstanding). But this is not about him knowing nothing about hockey. This is not about ESPN as a whole knowing very little about hockey. So if you will, let us "embrace debate" when talking about ESPN "embracing debate".

Everything in sports needs to be compared to something else now, thanks to ESPN "embracing debate". So, when something in the hockey world crosses over to mainstream attention, such as the Blackhawks domination of the Western Conference, we must compare it to another streak in order to get people to care about it. By comparing, they incite debate on which is better, even when they probably shouldn't. ESPN's hockey coverage has been sliced and diced by the hockey and sports media world on the internet, so there is no need to explain why ESPN's hockey coverage smells of being dragged to church when you're a kid when you'd rather sleep in. But when ESPN has to debate something hockey related, they clearly don't have the wherewithal to do it successfully, unless they have Barry Melrose debate himself. ESPN's own problem of needing to debate and compare everything put them in that mess this morning, not ESPN's hockey ignorance.

If the First Take crew decided to debate Lionel Messi's calendar year of 2012 with Lebron James' 2011-2012 season, we all know who would win that debate. We also know that the soccer blogs on the internet would tear the two talking heads to shreds for not knowing anything about Messi, La Liga, or the world of soccer. If blissful ignorance is the medicine of the day for ESPN when dealing with sports like soccer and hockey, then be consistent with that stance if something becomes big enough in those sports to cross over into the mainstream consciousness. Since ESPN can't do that, for fear of even more flack, they need to either drop the debate pretense, or hire people that can properly do the debate justice, and not just kowtow to popular beliefs.

Many people have written about ESPN's identity crisis in the past year, mainly due to First Take being a festering pile of worthless nonsense that has ruined a companies identity. Debate stems from comparison, and comparison is the only way to get the die-hard, and even casual fans of niche sports to pay attention to a network that doesn't give their game the proper due. It's unfortunate that when ESPN has to cover those sports, they don't have the proper resources to do so, making situations like what happened with Stephen A. Smith and hockey ties inevitable. The worldwide leader either has to educate their waterspouts of debate on sports like hockey and soccer, or just push them off to the side when the comparison between that sport and either basketball or football comes up.

When ESPN's debate and comparison fetish crosses over with sports they don't cover nearly, bad results are, and will be, the norm. Either fans of hockey and soccer will have to shut their mouths when their sports are covered and debated like crap, or hope that ESPN changes their tune on debate or hires people who know the sport better than Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless do. But there's a better chance of Republicans and Democrats passing a national budget than that.

ESPN's debate musical chairs will continue, but when the music stops, what will be in the crossfire next? Remember, it's not the sport, it's the debate that's the problem.

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