Game Theory

What we talk about when we talk about sports

We've moved far from Ken Burns-style sonorousness; there's nary a banjo or a tear-inducing mythopoetic tribute to be found in the realm of ESPN. Demythologizing sports and recognizing their predominant blackness serves us better than yet another whitewash, in every sense of that term. Paradoxically, though, back in the playground that is the studio, it's still the white guys who get to play captain. Female reporters like ESPN's Robin Roberts and Linda Cohn and NBC's Hannah Storm are forced to become straight women, while the boys act out (am I the only viewer who detects an unsettling resemblance between Rich Eisen and the young Dan Aykroyd?). And with the exception of Scott and to a lesser degree Jason Jackson, black reporters are generally left dealing in just-the-facts simplicity. (You just know that NBA reporter David Aldridge was dissed for "talking white" when he was a kid.)

 

For all the hypothesizing above, it's hard to determine how the business of providing box scores has evolved into its current state of manufactured hypermeaninglessness. The viewer can hardly determine what the archly ironic anchor Tommy Kim is thinking while narrating any three-second video clip. For now, that density of race and message lends SportsCenter an energizing tension its competitors can't muster. Fox Sports News, heavily promoted as the anti-ESPN, attempts to generate a total blandness. It's as if all the robots too generic for Entertainment Tonight were shipped here; one particular announcing team of two plastic-looking blondes suggests one guy, Xeroxed. CNN/SI gives you the facts with dispatch, but its failure to register on the pop-culture meter except for its "Play of the Day" tells you everything you need to know about the difference it's not making.

We are the champions: ESPN SportsCenter hosts Jack Edwards and Linda Cohn
We are the champions: ESPN SportsCenter hosts Jack Edwards and Linda Cohn

So for the time being, for better and for worse, we've got ESPN: the newscaster as star, description as competitive performance--and everything implicitly male. But are there women's ways of knowing about sports? From everything I've seen and read, yes. So why not let female jocks enjoy equal face time? How about letting Rebecca Lobo cover men's college games as well as women's? Why not include more African-American anchors to back up all the black talk? ESPN, to its credit, has done a lot right. But so much more could be included, so many other viewpoints could be heard, without unduly discomfiting sponsors leery of social controversy. Sports is too important to treat as a game.

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