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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

ESPN Plays Soft-Toss With Winslow and Exposes Two of its Own

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2007 at 1:23 PM

I actually rushed home last night to catch E: 60, the newish sports-magazine show on ESPN, which featured a story about Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. Winslow’s a relatively interesting guy as pro athletes go: the physically freakish son of an NFL great who has a penchant for mouthing off and one insanely moronic injury on his resume, a motorcycle accident that nearly cost him his career. He’s certainly someone I would have enjoyed seeing profiled on 60 Minutes, apparently the model for E:60. But the Winslow story, like most of the show, was pretty damn disappointing. Although the reporter, Michael Smith, asked Winslow the requisite “tough questions” about his bizarre “I’m a fuckin’ soldier” rant and his brief stint as a motorcycle stunt man, they felt like just that – requisite tough questions. From its opening shot, you could feel where Smith was going with the story: Kellen Winslow, Once a Dumb Kid, is Growing Up. Which might be true. But for Browns fans who suffered through Winslow’s Dumb Kid stuff costing them games and causing them headaches, half a season without screwing up doesn’t quite constitute a complete Punk-to-Prize turnaround. And Smith – his questions short and meager, his tone dripping with forgiveness – seemed to be letting Winslow (and the Browns) take total control of his story. The result was a story that was boring and somehow managed to make me like Winslow less, just as I was beginning to tolerate him. Luckily, the episode wasn’t totally unentertaining. Part of E:60’s shtick is that it shows clips from the show’s “pitch meetings,” where reporters and editors throw out ideas for stories. In the series premiere, the meeting scenes (much like Winslow’s interview) felt totally contrived, perhaps even rehearsed, as pointed out by Slate. But after watching last night, I’m convinced these meetings are real. If they were rehearsed, I don’t imagine ESPN’s producers would let Lisa Salters and Rachel Nichols, among its more visible reporters, come off somewhat ignorant. After a story is pitched about Parkour -- an urban performance art that involves, among a slew of other things, jumping to and from rooftops -- the meeting quickly devolves into the silly age-old Is It a Sport? argument. Jeremy Schapp, who looks like a PhD candidate who accidentally signed up for remedial English, looks on in disbelief as Salters and Nichols argue that Parkour is not a sport. (Of course, the answer to this conundrum is: Who cares? “If you can eat it while doing it, it’s not a sport,” says Nichols. “Really,” Schapp fires back. “Have you ever seen baseball?” Nichols wisely stops there, opening the door for Salters to out herself as a truly narrow-minded sports journalist. “That sounds like the silliest non-sport I have ever heard in my entire life,” Salters says. “These people – they don’t have anything better to do in their lives than to just jump off of buildings? Does anybody get this?” Later, when a producer suggests that she report the story, Salters reacts as if she’s been asked to clean out a gutter. “You don’t dislike me that much,” she says. (Note to Salters: In case you forgot, you get paid handsomely to watch sports for a living. Things are going to be OK). You can watch most of the meeting in the video above. But while ESPN told viewers last night that they could watch the entire pitch meeting online, the most interesting – and ignorant – part of Salters’ rant seems to have been excised from the online version. At some point during the meeting, Salters finally reveals why she’s not into Parkour: Because black people would never do it. Black people, she says, would think it was dumb, a waste of time, she says. So she doesn’t want to do the story, nor does she think it should be done at all. Schapp points out that the same could be said of golf and tennis 15 years ago, but Salters won’t budge. “I just don’t find it interesting,” she says. It’s a fascinating display of ignorance. No wonder ESPN made it disappear. – Joe P. Tone
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