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I’ll Leave You To Think About That Whole Line of Reasoning, Steve

May 25, 2010
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While we’re here, I think this is worth addressing.  As I said before, word on the screet is that the Naturals are interested in trading for Roy Oswalt, who apparently reeeeally wants out of a terrible situation in Arizona.  Along that front, former Mets GM and ESPN baseball “analyst” Steve Phillips allegedly “said he’d trade [Stephen] Strasburg for [Roy] Oswalt straight up.”  Normally, I wouldn’t entertain the notion because a) I’ve never thought Steve Phillips knew anything about baseball in the first place (and a plurality of MLB agreed with me at the time) and b) that idea is so absolutely bats**t insane that it’s not even worth discussing (still no ruling from the officials—what officials?—on the SFW-ness of the Observatory).  What is worth mentioning, though, is Rob Neyer’s response—not only his “Fuhgeddaboutit” answer to the “Would you trade Strasburg for Oswalt?” question with regard to the Naturals, but his response to Phillips in particular:

I’m obviously straining the limits of conscientious blogging — which isn’t easy to do — by publishing (in its entirety) a post riffing off-handedly on a second-hand account of something somebody said (or might not have said) on the radio. So I’ll neither criticize nor defend that certain somebody.

Well, why not?  Three guesses: 1) Neyer is a genuinely nice guy who doesn’t want to cast aspersions on somebody for what some guy posted on their Twitter that said somebody said on the radio, 2) He’s prohibited by ESPN rules from admonishing Phillips for whatever reason (including his former employment by the company), or 3) He’s afraid that he’ll break some ESPN rule by doing so.

While I’m inclined to believe option 1, especially since Phillips is no longer with the network, I’ve long felt that ESPN hinders the development of an intelligent sports blogosphere because of the stringent rules that it places on its writers. (Note: I’m not saying there is no intelligent sports discussion on the web, which a glance at any of Neyer’s assorted links posts can quickly debunk.)  And no, I’m not talking about Bill Simmons’s feud with his bosses about whether or not he can write/talk about porn—my beef runs more along the lines of one of their other disputes.

Generally speaking, ESPN promotes itself just like most news organizations promote themselves.  When linking to news items in the course of writing a news item, reporters for The New York Times will obviously try to link to items that appear in The New York Times.  When linking to news items in the course of writing a column, Charles Krauthammer will try to link to items that appear in The Washington Post (or his editors will ensure that he does).  This isn’t a problem (I believe, at least) for the political blogosphere because it’s wide enough and deep enough that any MSM news organization’s news and columnists will probably receive an appropriate amount of criticism from different corners of the web.  Maybe Ezra Klein isn’t allowed to criticize Krauthammer because they write for the same paper (note: I don’t actually know that’s true, but I’ve never seen it happen), but you can be goddanged certain that somebody is doing that job for him elsewhere.

ESPN, however, dominates the sports news/opinion world like Rocky Marciano dominated the heavyweight division in the 50s.  Aside from all the usual complaints about ESPN’s faults, my chief complaint is generally their writers’ unwillingness to criticize other writers, including those employed by ESPN.  While this is definitely a problem in the political world—Google “epistemic closure” if you’re interested—it’s not nearly as pronounced due to the vast array of popular news/opinion outlets that are more than willing to criticize each other.  The sports world, on the other hand, is basically in ESPN’s hip pocket.  ESPN’s writers aren’t going to respond to something written by another sportswriter because a) if it’s written on ESPN’s website, they’re probably not allowed to because of ESPN’s tireless self-promotion or b) if it’s written on another website, not nearly as many people are reading it as are reading the ESPN writer’s work, so what’s the point?  If ESPN is the only outlet shaping the public conversation and opinion, then what’s the purpose of even acknowledging anybody else?

All of which is to say that we’re not getting the breadth of sports discussion and insight that we could be were there more sports outlets that were anywhere close to as popular as ESPN or if ESPN itself were more open to criticism/less interested in constant self-promotion.  It of course makes sense from a business perspective, and I’m really not that bothered by it since, after all, it is just sports.  But it’s still annoying.  Plus, it might help weed out some of the terrible writing that goes on over there.  Seriously, how does Jemele Hill still have a spot over there?  Or this cat?

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