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Jeremy Lin and the Excesses of the Media

February 19, 2012 1 comment

Look, the kid is amazing.  He’s not perfect; he commits a lot of turnovers.  But he did step up when given the opportunity and he is a tremendous inspiration to many, many people of all backgrounds, but especially to Asian-Americans, for whom he has become a real hero.

It’s the media and its excesses that go way beyond the pale.

This corny obsession with the “Lin” and other puns turned offensive this week.  ESPN had to apologize for a headline on their web site for mobile devices overnight when they actually used the phrase “A Chink in the Armor,” describing his propensity for turnovers.  It got taken down after about 45 minutes but the damage was done.  The very same phrase was used in a televised discussion earlier this week on ESPN and used yet again by the same network in a non-Lin context during the recent summer Olympics in Beijing.

Fox Sports columnist, Jason Whitlock, has apologized for an offensive tweet he sent out last week.  The New York Post got into hot water for an “Amasian” headline they ran the day after he beat Toronto with a last-second three-pointer.

Note to Jeremy Lin- keep doing what you’re doing.  Two good weeks of play does not make you a hall-of-famer but your story does mean a lot to many people who’ve spent their lives getting overlooked and dismissed, sometimes for no other reason than their cultural background or the way they look.

Note to the media- your Lin puns and your occasionally racist undertones are not funny.  They don’t make you hip or amusing.  It’s this lock-step hype that somehow manages to make even an inspirational story like Jeremy Lin, tiresome and annoying.

What’s missing- as usual in this 24/7 media culture of ours- is a sense of good taste, perspective and proportion.

Lebron Bores the Nation


It was the most riveting hour of live national television since Geraldo Rivera breathlessly described the opening of Al Capone’s vault 24 years ago.

Instead of dirt and an empty glass bottle, we got Lebron James talking in the third person about all the talent he brought to Cleveland for 7 years before telling us he was now going to bring all that talent to Miami, where everybody thought he would go in the first place.

It was a stilted and awkward setting at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club of America in Connecticut as he sat down before a silent audience of, uh, boys and girls with Jim Gray (see note below) who tried his best to drag out the painful proceedings by asking literally 18 inane questions before finally getting around to the BIG ONE.

By the end of the show, it was clear Lebron’s ego had left the following in its wake: One very happy American city, five other cities shrugging their shoulders and one really pissed off Cleveland, Ohio where his uniform was burned in effigy and the owner released a statement calling Lebron selfish, heartless, callous and cowardly.

As for the Lebron James brand- I suppose he could have damaged it more by, say, bringing guns into a locker room, but he did not help himself a lot. He had always touted himself as the kind of player that would not thump his chest and taunt opponents after a slam dunk. This was an hour of boring chest-thumping that has won him the enmity of at least six NBA cities where he is sure to be booed and reviled in the coming season.

One thing I think we can breathe easy about is that this strange, uncomfortable, melding of sports, entertainment and news is not likely to be repeated. It was horrendous, anti-climatic television likely to be parodied and mocked for decades to come. I can’t imagine why any major broadcast company would ever want to repeat such a mind-numbingly vapid proceeding.

Note: Labron’s “interviewer” was Jim Gray- not an ESPN employee but a free-lance journalist. CNBC is standing by its story that Gray’s expenses were paid by the entity that was created for last night’s production; in other words by Lebron’s people. ESPN readily admitted Gray was hand-picked by Lebron to conduct the “interview.” They now say they paid for Gray’s expenses. CNBC is not budging from its story. Gray also claims he was the one who came up with the concept of the one-hour special.

Full numbers for the “The Decision” will be out Monday but it appears to have gotten a huge 7.3 overnight rating. Some of the advertisers ESPN allowed the James camp to sign up for the telecast, University of Phoenix, Bing and Vitamanwater, are reportedly turning over $2.5 million from the proceeds of the ads to charity.

Critics are calling this ESPN’s “Deal with the Devil.” The blurring of the lines between an event that was combination news/sports/entertainment makes this made-for-TV saga fodder for an ethical debate that should last years.

More on Jim Gray and who did or did not pay his expenses can be found on MSNBC’s web site.

Labron and ESPN

I seem to be drawn to unseemly spectacles so, yes, I will tune in at 9 pm to watch the Lebron James/ESPN one-hour special on his decision about what city he will choose to go make a zillion dollars with.

Seven years in the NBA and the guy has been to the finals once and never a champion. This looks to me to be the move of a great big ego wrapped in a charity (The Boy’s and Girl’s clubs of America) to escalate the brand of one Lebron James.

And am I being too prissy or traditional or something to be slightly uncomfortable with the relationship here between Lebron and ESPN? I heard this morning on NPR that Lebron has been allowed to choose all but one of the sponsors of the show and also has had a hand in choosing who will interview him following the announcement.

I know this is a sports/entertainment story. But isn’t it also a news story? Aren’t reporters and commentators and hosts at ESPN sort of in the news business?

To be honest, I love ESPN. I love their programming and I like them as a business. They’re cocky and brash and creative and entertaining. If I was in one of their executive suites today as an ESPN employee (and I know more than one of their executives), I’d probably be high-fiving and fist-bumping with the rest of them because it’s a hell of a broadcast coup.

But I don’t work for ESPN and I can see the forest for the trees and the active merging of a media company’s business interests with an athlete’s business interests seems…like uncomfortable new ground.

What happens when an NBA star who has actually won a championship goes on the free agent market- like Kobe Bryant? Will he be able to cut a deal with all the major broadcast networks for a simultaneous announcement not unlike a Presidential news conference? Will ESPN start bidding for the announcement TV rights of other famous free agent athletes?

But even as I watch uncomfortably, I will, nonetheless, still be watching. My guess is that ESPN will welcome my viewership tonight regardless of my ethical sensitivities.

Stephen Strasburg Addenda


Check out this article by free-lance writer Toby Mergler for ESPN.com.

Here’s the highlight:

Strasmas had arrived.

The national hype surrounding this soon-to-be international holiday reached unprecedented levels. If it’s to be believed, Strasburg’s first pitch in 3-D will actually break through the fourth dimension, travel back in time and strike out Babe Ruth. Before long, world peace will be brokered when global leaders agree they are too terrified of Strasburg’s fastball to act in aggression again.

My dear friend, Dar Maxwell, checking out post-game tweets found these three of which #2 is my absolute favorite:

bruce_arthur Stephen Strasburg’s curveball just punched physics in the eye and stole its girlfriend

pourmecoffee Stephen Strasburg has finished his pre-game supper, informing his infield, “One of you will betray me tonight.”

EricStangel BREAKING MLB NEWS: The Washington Nationals just retired Stephen Strasburg’s number

And the most fun of all is the speculation regarding Strasburg’s next appearances. They will be every five days-like clockwork. That’s good, of course, because the kid gets on a regular, predictable schedule. But in the near-term it accomplishes the following. If all goes according to form, Strasburg will pitch June 18th at home against Kansas City. Were he to skip a day and go the 19th, he’d be pitching in Baltimore against the Orioles. And give them their biggest gate of the year. On his current schedule he won’t appear in Baltimore at all this year.

This says the following to repugnant Orioles owner, Peter Angelos, who for years succeeded in keeping baseball from coming to Washington for the benefit of his pathetic team: Screw You.

He can watch on MASN.

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