ESPN Manages to Embarrass Itself Even More Than Usual

ESPN Manages to Embarrass Itself Even More Than Usual

Greetings from the sports desk located somewhere below decks of the Good Pirate Ship RedState. Sammy the Shark and Karl the Kraken are currently in this fine vessel’s rec room participating in our annual bubble hockey tournament, so I’m doing all the writing.

While we have all encountered people obsessed with a single player, team, or sport to a frightening level in their lives, most sports fans, even the most passionate ones, realize its place in the grand scheme of things. It’s great when your team wins, aggravating when they lose, and things are more fun during the season than the off-season when one’s thirst for the sport is slaked solely by player movements via the draft, trades, or free agency. In baseball, the hot stove league runs from October through March, wherein winter-bound fans gather around to wait until next year. For football, sometimes it seems more activity and discussion is going on during the offseason than in the months games are played. Who’s on the waiver wire? Who’s receiving the franchise tag? Who’s under consideration for the draft? What stupid stuff does someone at ESPN have to say today? The latter is a dependable source providing maximum entertainment, especially when someone’s high dudgeon dives straight into high comedy so separated from reality one cannot help but think they’ve stumbled across the script for a proposed Monty Python revival. Such is the case with one Howard Bryant’s “From tragedy to Taylor Swift: The cost of the NFL’s invincibility.” No, really, that’s the story’s title.

Bryant starts with a homage of sorts to the NFL’s popularity. We already know it’s pretty much the only thing anyone watches on television anymore, which one would think might tell Hollywood et al. they should possibly consider laying off force-feeding ideology and return to making entertainment content providing … you know … entertainment. But that is a discussion for another time; back to Bryant’s railing against the NFL for not bringing America together under one acceptable ideological banner. Funny, I thought that was the media’s job, Bryant being a part of said media. Or at least the press thinks so.

The league’s unquestioned dominance is treated as the result of perfect design, but as we think back on the league’s recently-concluded 104th season, with the Chiefs standing as champions (again), the Super Bowl revealed itself as both the beneficiary of a divided country — and an enthusiastic architect of those divisions. For a sport that captivates the American audience, the NFL does nothing to distance itself from the anger and grievance that has become part of our identity.

And how, pray tell, is the NFL dividing society? Are there too many Jake from State Farm commercials sowing social discord? Bryant is far too busy driving home his point that the NFL is the biggest thing in the satanic side of blaxploitation since the Superfly movies actually to explain why he believes this is the case, but he sort of wanders in that direction by bringing up Damar Hamlin.

It all felt surreal: A man nearly died during a game on national television and, at least according to the common discourse, the NFL looked bigger and better and more unstoppable than ever, having skillfully recast its existential moment into the most heartwarming, inspirational celebration of the year. As an impulse, the sports world appropriately chose humanity over the sobriety of reconciling with why we revel in a death sport.

Let’s see here. Bryant gets his paycheck from ESPN. ESPN spends enormous amounts of cash for the rights to televise NFL games. ESPN runs daily stories on its television and digital print sites dedicated to the NFL. Why? Because, at least theoretically, it’s profitable as advertisers buy airtime or ad space on the company’s website to promote their services and goods. The money taken in from said advertisers is what pays Bryant’s paycheck. Therefore, if the NFL is a death sport, Bryant is culpable via earning his livelihood off of said death sport. If the NFL were as sullied as Bryant insists, he would have nothing to do with its blood money. There’s a word for people who screech against something yet derive their daily bread from selfsame. It’s in the dictionary in between hydroponics and hysteria.

Speaking of hysteria, Bryant next turns his attention to she whose name evokes immediate hysteria in girls spanning the globe, a/k/a Taylor Swift.

Swift’s arrival was the luckiest of public relations strokes. America revels in money and power, in being “self-made,” and it absolutely devours celebrity. Swift-Kelce showed the NFL had struck oil again. The numbers proved it, too, as did the chatter. Swifties — many of them new viewers — were now cheering on the Chiefs and wondering what “ineligible receiver downfield” could possibly mean when every play begins with 22 guys smashing into each other.

And what has the NFL done with this moment? It stood idly by, inaction that added fuel to a culture war that will only intensify during an election year. Conservative politicians unleashed on Swift, presumably for her voter outreach, and against Kelce for his support of the COVID vaccine. Whether the attacks came from the outside or from tangential or formal partners, the NFL did little to disassociate itself from these ugly themes. A new demographic of young fans was now paying attention to football — and then a certain segment of the game didn’t want women around. An easy win was weakened, spoiled by misogyny.

Hear that, conservatives? How DARE you criticize Travis Kelce’s love muffin! Sexists! Misogynists! Fie on thee malcontents! Apparently, someone forgot to tell Bryant that all Swifties are racists, at least a little. Also, someone forgot to tell the NFL that they are so awash in power and might that they can simultaneously calm the waves, part the seas, and smite anyone speaking ill of St. TayTay, all before breakfast.

At his annual Super Bowl news conference, (NFL commissioner Roger) Goodell praised Swift’s entertainment acumen and her ability to put on a mega-show. He acknowledged her influence in bringing new eyeballs to the sport, but he did not address the elephant in the room — the misogyny that has accompanied her arrival. Perhaps Goodell feels there is nothing he can do about the networks, broadcast partners, media and fans who have taken what should be a moment of triumph and reduced it to the Battle of the Sexes (or worse), but he knows better.

Dude. I bring news. There is a God, and His name is not Roger. The only thing Roger Goodell can tell football fans that he has any hope of them doing is when he encourages them to boo him more at the NFL draft. Other than that, his powers are lacking. Perhaps Bryant is throwing all this out there in hopes of snagging an invite in case Kelce and Taylor tie the knot.

Next, Bryant criticizes the NFL for acknowledging the US military still exists despite the Biden administration’s best efforts.

Twenty-two and a half years after 9/11, the other sports have quietly drawn down from nationalistic themes — but not football, where war is forever. Four-year graduating college seniors this spring were not even born when the towers fell, but the NFL traffics in us versus them.

Okay, who volunteers to inform Bryant that the sole reason he can run his mouth is the US military having repeatedly defended this country? Or is the world now at peace, and there are no threats whatsoever to America? Did we all miss the memo? Naturally, following this is the dead horse that is racism being dragged out and flayed. Same ol’, same ol’.

Bryant finishes with this mouthful of indignant mush:

If this be invincibility — not living up to the financial and moral obligations owed to the players who make everyone rich at the expense of their bodies and future livelihood and allowing your sport to be the staging ground for a forever culture war — then perhaps we would all benefit from some vulnerability. With a little bit of courage, the NFL could look to the future, actually lead the popular culture it is so proud of dominating, and realize what should be obvious: Don’t be afraid of a new playbook. The money is going to be there.

Translation: Dammit, Roger, ban everyone who isn’t a progressive from being a football fan! Somehow, one suspects that is as much within Roger Goodell’s power or best interests regarding the league he oversees as it is for him to tell Patrick Mahomes to stop being so good because some people are tired of seeing him win. It also is in Howard Bryant’s best interest for things to remain as they are. When the only inkwell from which you are capable of drawing is the font of eternal outrage, don’t wish for the meal ticket to end.

Originally Posted on:

Written by:

5,537 Posts

View All Posts
Follow Me :