It’s been a wild ride for ESPN over the past few years. Disney’s flagship sports and entertainment vehicle has been stumped by disappearing viewers, declining ratings, and massive layoffs in recent times, attributed to viewers’ cord cutting habits and if you believe some, their penchant for letting a few former/current anchors push political discussions alongside sports coverage. The latter is an entirely different mess that has been discussed ad nauseam, and while I personally don’t mind that ESPN used their sports platform to discuss important political topics, I also don’t mind that ESPN’s current President, James Pitaro, has made a conscious effort to tone down this rhetoric. Pitaro discussed ESPN’s change in a recent interview with the LA Times, discussing among many things, satisfying;
“ESPN’s more traditional fans by steering commentators away from political discussions on-air and on social media, which heightened during President Trump’s criticism of NFL player protests against social injustice during the playing of the national anthem.”
This hasn’t sat well with Deadspin’s Laura Wagner however, who went to town on Pitaro and ESPN’s decision by calling it ‘keeping the old whites happy‘. In her piece, she says that Pitaro’s line about “confused” anchors was a “cheap shot” at former anchor Jemele Hill and current outcast Michael Smith (both bore the brunt of the political backlash at the height of the Colin Kaepernick saga). While Pitaro may have leveled a cheap shot at Hill, my issue with Wags’ piece is that she fails to see this as anything but a capitulation to the so-called ‘conservative’ viewers of ESPN. She labels ESPN’s traditional fans as “the older, whiter segments of ESPN’s audience”- which frankly, isn’t true.
What is a traditional ESPN fan? People who like sports. Sports fans. Who may or may not occasionally cross over to the demographics she labels as “older” and “white”. However, like any rash generalization, it is ridiculous to think that all traditional ESPN fans are old or white. Okay, I’m a little old, but I’m not white, and I would classify myself as a traditional ESPN fan. Why? Because I like sports and I like sports coverage. I also like political coverage, and I like that we have multitudes of options to find good political coverage no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. I just don’t need to find it on ESPN necessarily.
The problem with Wagner is that she feels as though ESPN’s decision to cull back on the network’s Jemele-ness is anything but a business decision. She goes as far as calling it “a chilling vision of the future of the network“. Good grief Wags. Her stating that Pitaro has asked his anchors to dumb down “so that morons who set their Nikes on fire will stop getting mad when they turn on ESPN” is as ludicrous as the statement about the future of the network.
ESPN is smart enough to know that they will get in bed with politics when it makes sense for the bottom dollar, and ESPN (and Pitaro), are smart enough to know that when that hurts your ratings (and ultimately that bottom dollar), you best get out of said bed. Perhaps ESPN realized that in business, the silent audiences still hold a lot of sway. It is a lesson Australian politics learned this past weekend when the silent voters of Australia ultimately became a big part of the election results. Maybe ESPN realized that alienating your audience when your business is about making money is a bad thing- and that the silent viewers of ESPN are needed just as much as their vocal ones.
Make Dodgeball Great Again
Dodgeball is not an ‘unethical tool of oppression’ and to label it so is both ludicrous and dangerous. Have we lost our minds?
I remember it as if it was yesterday. The recently completed gym floor was crisp, clean, and squeaked with almost every step of the overpriced sneakers that graced it. Battle lines had been drawn and there I was, locked and loaded in the far right corner of the gym. I had scanned the battlefield ahead, and saw that the opposition numbers were dwindling- falling like the cannon fodder they were. My fellow combatants were more than capable, some in fact, excelled like this game was art, like it was real battle.
Then I saw my target, arms to her side, nervously looking across from her side of diminishing numbers. Her eyes screamed ‘fear’ (or maybe indifference, but in my mind, it was fear) and I knew that there was only one thing to do. I gripped the foam of the ball with a vengeful firmness, loaded my arm with the fury of a Nolan Ryan fastball and let loose. My memory says the sound of the noisy gym was broken, and that all the fellow combatants and fallen brethren fell silent, stopped and followed this one moment as the ball left my hand to its intended destination. It was a glorious moment. Glorious because unlike most times, the ball flew through the air with unmatched grace. Unlike most times I threw the ball, there was no deviation, no broken flight plan. And unlike most times, where I’d luckily hit my target on the leg, or on the arm, it zeroed in with laser-like precision and exploded itself right in Annie’s* face. Bullseye. Like a bird exploding from a Randy Johnson fastball.
Did I revel in the glory of that standstill moment? Was the brazen destruction of a fellow combatant as cinematically award-winning as a Spielberg movie? The truth is, that wasn’t the case. Amongst the fleeting chaos of the game, no one saw. No one stopped and watched my moment, and that in reality, it was a split second that remains animated only in mind. I recoiled in shock, partly because it was not my intention to hit someone in the face, no matter how unintentionally glorious it was. But partly because my gut instinct was to slink away into the back of the pack to hide unseen- like a cowardly saboteur responsible for the wreckage, eager to hide from the blame. I didn’t even look back at what I had done.
I don’t remember who won this particular game (safe to say it wasn’t Annie), but it was all part and parcel to the wonderful school-time game of dodgeball.
One that has come under scrutiny, and under the threat, by the researchers discussed in this National Post article, who have labeled it an “unethical tool of oppression”. With such hyperbole, you’d think they were talking about a population who lived under a military dictatorship, or a segment of that population threatened during mass rioting. Not surprisingly, I lived through both of the latter, and no, dodgeball is nothing like either. They are talking about dodgeball- a mostly harmless game (unless you are Annie) played by children during recess and PE class.
The article goes on to say how dodgeball, along with other forms of games played during PE class are sports of “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation” and that dodgeball in particular, is “not just unhelpful to the development of kind and gentle children who will become decent citizens of a liberal democracy. It is actively harmful to this process.” Sounds like it was written by someone picked last in gym class.
We can argue endlessly about the participation-trophy culture that has permeated the discourse of children’s sports (they couldn’t even settle on a winner at the Spelling Bee). But the truth is, I fear greatly for the future of democracy if we equate the game of dodgeball to actual, real oppression. Sure, Annie probably doesn’t like dodgeball all that much, but I too was hit plenty on the dodgeball court. Like I was on the basketball court. But it’s all part of growing some thick skin in this very real world where people don’t throw soft, red balls at you. The truth is, most kids would probably benefit from getting hit in the face with a dodgeball a few times, it’ll be good for them in the long run. This I’m certain of.
I had a lot of fun playing dodgeball as a kid. It’s an absolute shame that there are “scholars” and “researchers” who equate it to very real life issues this world faces. Teaching kids that life isn’t fair from a young age is a good thing. Participation-trophy culture is not. I don’t need a Ph.D. to know so.
Dodgeball teaches you a great deal in a simple game. And if dodgeball supposedly teaches children lessons of democracy, then I sure as hell would want the future leaders of whatever world we venture towards to be able to dodge a wrench when someone throws one at their heads.
*Annie is not her real name. C’mon, how much of an asshole do you think I am?