ESPN: Sleeping With The Enemy

In light of the record audiences for World Cup games (previously called "contests" until Germany's dismemberment of Brazil) the folks who run ESPN should be pretty proud of themselves. The somewhat muted broadcasts with chippy announcers were all business, without the deluge of commercial breaks that accompany other tournaments and all regular season games of any kind broadcast in the U.S. But this is the same ESPN that mocked a fan for snoozing in his seat at Yankee Stadium during a game against Boston (perhaps a commentary on the season each team is having).

The fan has filed a $10 million defamation suit against ESPN, the Yankees and MLB, saying the on-air commentators used an “avalanche of disparaging words” about his nationally televised nap. A YouTube video posted by MLB and titled “Fan sleeps in stands during game vs. Red Sox” shows the heavyset fan slumped in his seat with his eyes shut and his head lolling over his shoulder. The ESPN commentators thought it appropriate to poke fun at the fan's weight, with Dan Shulman asking the visibly rotund John Kruk: “Not a cousin? Not a relative?”



While the World Cup broadcasts showed close-ups of fans from time to time, it seems to have become a staple of U. S. sports television to find something "humorous" happening off the field to mock. Sleeping fans have become a cliché at this point. So too have kids eating ice cream, triumphant foul ball catchers, paint-covered frat boys, signs of biblical verses, over-served coeds, members of the band, anxious parents and celebrities who have been given the free VIP treatment just so the host team can point to them on camera.

You would think that Brent Musburger's nearly career-ending inappropriate comments about Alabama quarterback A J McCarron's girlfriend -- a former Miss Alabama USA -- during the 2013 Bowl Championship Series national title game, would have taught ESPN a lesson, but I guess not.

Who among us has not fallen asleep in public? I routinely sleep through part of every theatrical movie (exhausted by the abhorrent "content" forced on ticket buyers before the actual film starts). I also snooze at the Philharmonic, the opera, and especially during sermons. What I don't expect is for my naps to be nationally telecast and used as the basis for ridicule. I don't think that sleeping in a stadium or arena (especially featuring the laconic play of any New York City team) gives anyone the right to broadcast my naps. I suspect that at any given minute out of a crowd of say, 60,000, there are least 500 folks napping -- if only for a nod or two.

ESPN is a powerhouse, using its dual-income streams to outbid nearly everyone else for nearly every sporting event. I would give up 490 other channels in my 500-channel universe before I would forfeit ESPN (and 2 and U and whatever else they have now). But with so many sports broadcast live, the ranks of competent on-air talent are stretched pretty thin. Even those alleged to be longtime pros like Musburger and Bill Raftery are painful to watch or listen to and should be out to pasture rather than junking up otherwise perfectly good games.

And please can we stop scanning the seats for clichés? I appreciate the effort to add "color" to the games -- but barring a 20-person European soccer brawl, let's stick to the action on the field, not in the stands.

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