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Whither the worldwide leader

That the announcement of Dan Patrick's departure from the nation's leading sports channel yesterday has drawn as much attention as it has (yes, even from this corner of the blogosphere) speaks volumes about where sports broadcasting in general and ESPN in particular has gone.

Yes, Patrick was a Sports Emmy award winner and a former national Sportscaster of the Year. Patrick and Keith Olbermann, as anchors of "SportsCenter," revolutionized the business in ways that filtered all the way to the local level. Heck, the late, lamented sitcom "SportsNight," a creation of Aaron Sorkin, who wrote "A Few Good Men," and created "The West Wing," was centered on Olbermann and Patrick.

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Along the way, however, ESPN, and Patrick by extension, have badly lost their way. Reporting the scores no longer was good enough for the self-proclaimed "worldwide leader in sports." The channel and its anchors sought to insinuate themselves into the games themselves and the style of anchors and announcers have become more important than their substance. Patrick can hardly get through a segment of his daily radio talk show without letting the listener know about the athletes he schmoozes or his times in the spotlight with Hollywood elite.

It's reached the point now in Bristol where the naturally occurring drama of sporting competitions isn't enough for viewers, in the minds of ESPN executives, who have greenlighted made for television movies and miniseries, like the one on the 1977 New York Yankees that premiered after the Home Run Derby last night.

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In a perfect world, Patrick's departure next month would give everyone at ESPN a moment of pause for introspection on what they've become and what they should be. But then, people there already think they're perfect.

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