CRAWFORD | Why, after years of criticism, I need to give the ESP - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Why, after years of criticism, I need to give the ESPYs a bit more credit

Posted: Updated:
NBA commentator Craig Sager, who is battling cancer, accepts the Jimmy V. Perseverance Award at the 2016 ESPYs. (AP photo) NBA commentator Craig Sager, who is battling cancer, accepts the Jimmy V. Perseverance Award at the 2016 ESPYs. (AP photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The struggle is real, in the Twittersphere, when you get to be my age, to avoid “get off my lawn” moments as much as you can.

You know what I’m talking about — the tendency to dismiss something just because you’ve never liked it, based upon what you’ve always thought. There’s a certain mental inflexibility that sets in with age — and that’s dangerous, especially if you’re a journalist.

So, on Wednesday night, I slipped. I Tweeted this: “I’ve just completed my 24th year of never having watched a minute of the ESPY Awards. Feel pretty good about it.”

Now, that statement is completely true. I haven’t watched a moment of the ESPY’s live. I have watched Jim Valvano’s inspiring speech many times. I saw replays of Robin Roberts. I’ve seen the “SportsCenter” highlights.

And nor is the statement all that controversial on its face. I was far from alone in my city of Louisville Wednesday night in not watching the ESPYs (which have been moved to ABC). They were outdrawn in their first two hours in Louisville by NBC’s America’s Got Talent (10.2 rating, approximately 69,000 households) to a 3.5 for the ESPYs (approximately 24,000 households). In their final, climactic hour, the ESPYs drew a 3.2 rating (22k households), well behind WDRB News’ 7.2 (50k households).

None of those numbers, however, necessarily make me right.

My animosity for the ESPYs was born when the show was born. A sports network, looking for publicity and to fill the deadest day of the sports calendar (the day after the Major League All-Star Game), decided to name an award after itself and hand that award out to athletes.

Never mind that sports is pretty good about handing out awards of its own. Major League Baseball, for instance, gives out MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards. For ESPN to come along and name a Major League Baseball Player of the Year, or National Football League Player of the Year, and expect anyone outside of ESPN’s offices to care about it, seems to me presumptuous. You win the World Series, you get a trophy. Why do I need to care about whoever ESPN makes its Team of the Year? Anyone can name a Team of the Year.

And therein was born my dislike. I felt the ESPYs were a self-aggrandizing event. People would ask me about my opinion on this award or that, and my reaction was always the same: “Why should I care?”

CBS Sports gives out its own awards for many sports. The Sporting News. Pick your sports outlet or publication and they all give out awards. I give out my OWN awards. We all do it.

But only one tries to bill their awards, by virtue of their place in the sports media landscape, as a Major Event.

So I resented the notion that I was supposed to care about the ESPYs, and in fact I haven’t cared about them.

But my friend Bob Valvano made the point in responding to my Tweet that I’m missing some of the good. He mentioned his brother, and Robin Roberts, and Craig Sager, Stuart Scott and others.

And I also listened to Rich Eisen on Thursday. Eisen was once a SportsCenter anchor and was around during the birth of the ESPYs, which he acknowledged, was basically purely a gimmick and a promotion.

Eisen’s criticism of the ESPYs over the year has been much like my own.

But what Eisen said, and I agree with him on this, is that the show, whatever you have thought of it and whatever it has been in the past, “has grown up.”

He referenced four black athletes at the open of Wednesday night’s shows calling both for an end to police violence against African Americans and an end to the retaliation against police. A fairly safe message, but another in an increasing number of moments where the awards show has looked to grow beyond its original boundaries to become more of a cultural presence. (I should note, some resent those efforts -- whether in the ESPYs or other awards shows -- but Eisen's point is that it represents a different direction for this particular show.) 

So I need to give ESPN credit where it deserves credit. I am a harsh critic at times. But ESPN’s 30-for-30 Series has delivered some fantastic work. Its all-night coverage the night of Muhammad Ali’s death should win some kind of award somewhere. And amid all the redundant awards it gives to many athletes, it gives some awards during the ESPYs that deserve the platform ESPN is providing.

In fact, the ESPYs have ceased to be about those lists of best-this or best-that and now are about three awards primarily: The Jimmy V Award for Perseverance, The Arthur Ashe Courage Award, and the Pat Tillman Award for Service. These awards tell important stories, give much-deserved recognition and provide long-remembered inspiration. They elevate the enterprise.

So I need to moderate my take on the ESPYs. Will I start watching them? I can’t necessarily say I will (especially if they air against WDRB News!)

But I also shouldn’t dismiss the show the way I always have. It isn’t the show it was created to be. Because of people like Valvano, Craig Sager, Robin Roberts, Pat Summit and many others, the show has been elevated in a different and inspirational direction.

Copyright 2016 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.

  • Sign Up for the WDRB Sports Newsletter

    * denotes required fields

    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.
  • Sign Up for WDRB's Sports Newsletter

    * denotes required fields

    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.
Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2017 WDRB. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.