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ESPN Is the Diva, Favre Is Just an Old Pro With a Bum Ankle

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Posted on Aug 22, 2010
AP / Disney / Matt Stroshane

A couple of characters: Is Goofy one of the planners of Disney-owned ESPN’s coverage of the Brett Favre saga?

By Mark Heisler

Dog days from hell ...

August is a weird time for Wall Street with all the traders at the beach, for psychiatry (see “What About Bob?”) and for sports too, with baseball, the only show in town, in the fifth month of its long march.

Showing the strain all around, ESPN, the national sports page, led the press in a third annual Brett Favre Watch, which just ended—mercifully—with Brett reporting a year to the day from last summer’s reporting date, when he arrived in Minnesota to take the Vikings to the NFC Finals, two years after coming out of retirement with the Packers to take the Jets nowhere.

That Jet stay is now memorable for more than that, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

If feeding frenzies accompany actual stories, the really funny ones are these, the we-have-nothing-better-to-do kind.

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With the press now a giant paparazzo, athletes, no matter how gracious they may be—and Favre is—become divas.

That leaves correspondents like ESPN’S George Smith and Rachel Nichols stranded for weeks in the middle of summer in the aptly named Kiln, Miss., without a word from Favre, doing stand-ups in front of what must now be the best-known high school field in America.

If paparazzi don’t recognize nuance, this wasn’t 2008, when Favre first retired, learned the Packers could stop him from returning with division rival Minnesota and accepted a Jet offer.

Nor was it 2009 when Favre, coming off a failed comeback, took his time about launching a second with Minnesota.

After last season’s triumph with the Vikings, he said nothing about retiring, looking as if he intended to announce his return as soon as his surgically repaired ankle was OK and he knew he could make it through an NFL season at 41.

Unfortunately, the ankle took its time, during which Favre probably changed his mind 1,000 times, which may be why he didn’t feel like holding daily briefings in Kiln.

In the tradition of Greta Garbo, silence makes stories bigger. Mired in a slow news month, the Big Paparazzo did what it does when it has nothing ... guess at something, blow it up, project from it and comment on it.

On Aug. 3, there was a bombshell report—Favre had sent text messages to teammates saying he was leaning toward retirement.

While all principals denied the story, ESPN’S “SportsCenter” devoted almost the entire show to a Favre retrospective (Brett’s legacy, can Tarvaris Jackson lead the Vikings, ad nauseam).

Then came the report the Vikings were offering Favre a $7 million raise to $20 million, and the inevitable talk-show firestorm told us that Favre, who was “all about seeking attention,” was now “all about the money” too.

Favre finally held still for ESPN’s Ed Werder—or at least didn’t hit the accelerator, sitting at the wheel of his SUV—noting matter-of-factly that he had every intention of returning if his ankle was OK (“If I’m healthy? Sure.”).

Tacitly acknowledging that it had jumped the shark yet again, “SportsCenter’s” Josh Elliott came back with a professorial perspective, although he left out the part about ESPN’S leading-lady responsibility:

As we’ve learned the last few years, no one can feed the 24-hour news cycle like Brett Favre.

Thus the latest Favre-ian saga, from reportedly notifying unidentified teammates of his plans to retire for the third time, to receiving an upgraded offer from the Vikings to return from $13 million to some $20 million, to then backpedaling, bum ankle and all, to a far hazier take on his own future, which was to say, “I’ll probably play if my ankle heals.”

All Favre did was wake up every day, hoping his ankle was better and finding it wasn’t, while media outlets chased their tails and blamed him for keeping them guessing.

Beware the ides of July and August.

LeBron James’ free-agent decision was not only significant, it came in early July, which is when the dog days start.

In the 10 months from September, when the NFL starts, to July, at least two of the four major leagues are playing, along with the NCAA football and basketball seasons being under way. For one glorious week in November, there are five (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NCAA football).

In July and August, we’re on our own.

Realizing the Princess Diana coverage that James’ planned visits to the five teams on his list would get, LeBron invited them to Cleveland instead.

That left the press doing remotes outside his LRMR downtown office, with no word from LeBron, his people or team officials—leaving reporters and their frustrated bosses, who were footing the bill for this ennui, in an ever-nastier mood, grumbling all the while about James’ effrontery.

(With James about to make his announcement, my boss at the Los Angeles Times asked me if I wasn’t sick of this story. I said I’d better not be, after having written about this day for three years. My boss also told me that we’d have half the staff writing that night.)

Unfortunately, James didn’t realize giving his announcement exclusively to ESPN was even worse than a royal tour, and became the former golden child now known as “Queen James.”

At least Favre made the popular decision, deciding to return, so he got the big treatment, instead of being stoned.


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By Justin Weleski, August 23, 2010 at 4:39 pm Link to this comment

I agree completely, Gary.  Most political commentators seem genuinely more
interested in how a certain event, statistic, war, quote, etc. will affect a
politician’s political standing than how it will affect America, American citizens,
and the world.  For example,

“Obama escalates in Afghanistan.  How will that affect the mid-term elections? 
How about 2012?  Will Republicans use this as a weapon against Obama’s
political base?  What about Harry Reid’s tight race in Afghanistan?  If he
supports the escalation, it would greatly boost his chances against a brazenly
pro-war conservative.  And what will it do to DNC fundraising?  Will the liberal
grassroots movement punish Democrats for this risky move?  So many
questions!”

In reality, very few ever address the actual policy.

Then again, politics has become just another form of entertainment in America. 
Like reality television, only better (because real people get killed).  Click over to
CNN and check up on the war.  Watch a few explosions and raids.  See
commercials for Viagra, toothpaste, a Chevy pickup truck, and Victoria’s Secret. 
Watch some more explosions.  Boring.  Then watch some sharks on the
Discovery Channel.  Boring.  16 year-old birthday parties on MTV.  Jackpot!  See
a few more Viagra commercials.  Paxil.  Ambien CR.  Head-On, apply directly to
the forehead.  Weather Channel.  Back to CNN to see a surfing chimpanzee. 
Another explosion.  It’s 8 o’clock already?  Time for American Idol!

War, death, destruction, torture, rendition, and assassination are all simply one
frame in the mosaic.  Elections are another.  My Sweet 16 is another.  Twilight is
another.  Monday Night Football is another.  Crest White Strips is another.  Etc.,
ad infinitum.

It’s no wonder our politics have devolved to the most base and mindless level. 
We’re in search of amusement, not truth.  Instant gratification, not deep
intellectual thought.

And practically every frame in the mosaic reinforces this mindset.  “Look hot! 
Eat here!  Buy this TV!  Be a kid!  Buy this car!”

And people wonder why the American education system is so hopelessly and
woefully dysfunctional!  :-p

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By garyrose66, August 23, 2010 at 11:44 am Link to this comment

Funny, I had the same response.  Main stream media treat politics and especially coverage of the President exactly like sports stories, with manufactured polls pretending to be news, keeping score who is up and who is down and circle jerk quotes from the most extreme sound bite specialists.  Breathless reporting:  He said THIS…what do you say about THAT?  Its no wonder most people hate politicians, they actually hate the news coverage and don’t realize theiy are being manipulated into thinking they hate the politicians, or sports performers, et al.

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By Justin Weleski, August 23, 2010 at 9:57 am Link to this comment

I would say this article relates to politics by
noting the parallels between political coverage and
sports coverage.  Both require constant “news” to
draw eyeballs and appease their sponsors.  As a
result, the media manufactures news.  It’s very easy
to do, after all, since a certain topic/issue/event
becomes news by simply appearing on the news.

Thus, a grey-haired quarterback’s decision about
retirement is turned into no less a media spectacle
than the boy in the bubble, the Salahi folks sneaking
into a party, Anna Nicole Smith’s death, a fight
between a black kid and a white kid on a school bus,
or any other mundane occurrence.

It’s also an argument for the effectiveness of
propaganda.  Why does America care about Brett
Favre’s retirement or non-retirement?  If we didn’t
tune into ESPN, most of us wouldn’t give a damn. 
It’s a non-issue.  But if a major media apparatus
harps on this single “event” long enough, the general
public almost inevitably joins the uproar (hence, the
“Ground Zero mosque”).

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By ardee, August 23, 2010 at 4:35 am Link to this comment

Sorry to sound narrow minded but, what has this article to do with politics? I read my local paper for sports news. I come here for something meatier.

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