At age seven, my folks enrolled me in a new school, about 25 miles away from where we lived, which made me the first student to be picked up on the bus route. We met the schoolbus at 6:30 every morning to make it to homeroom by 8 AM. This would be an absolute nightmare for me now, but at age seven, I could shoot out of bed, excited for the day. (In this regard, I associate with the great Mitski lyric “I was so young/when I behaved 25/Yet now I find I’ve grown into a tall child.”) I’ve covered the extent of my nerddom in previous installments of my Monday While We’re Waiting stories, but not the subject matter. You see, despite the fact that my mind would likely have better served the world focusing on math and science, by the time I even stepped foot on that 6:30 bus, the highlight of my day, the time during which my curiosity was most piqued, was already over. You see, by this time, I had already watched the morning edition of the new episode of SportsCenter.
SportsCenter was the greatest sports television program of all time. It was. In the “dark days” before the internet’s ubiquity, it was the only way to ensure you’d get to see all of the previous night’s highlights. That’s what the show was, a fantastic highlight show. Hosted by entertainers, although they’d call themselves journalists—Stuart Scott, Linda Cohn, Neil Everett, John Anderson, Scott Van Pelt, among many, many others—SportsCenter was an hourlong, pre-written and recorded show. That meant that the entire writing, research, and production staff was entirely focused on producing one episode at a time, an odd thought in contrast to today’s ESPN flagship program.
Turn on ESPN or ESPN News or whatever “takefest” you can find and compare it to this classic episode from 1998, hosted by Stuart Scott and Rich Eisen:
It doesn’t take long to realize the amount of effort that went into this telecast, from the perfectly slipped in pop culture references to the excellent framing of the nights’ events. “Since June 3rd, the Rangers and Angels were separated by no more than 3.5 games to top the AL West,” is a sentence we may still hear uttered on SportsCenter, but instead of framing the gravity of what is happening, it would be used by some pundit to argue some point. The 1998 episode of SportsCenter stands in stark contrast to today’s version because there are no explicit opinions, just strong writing and reporting, and it’s quaint and it’s enthralling. Around the 11 minute mark, they get to the previous night’s Indians game and even 20 years later, it’s an absolute joy to see my team on the national stage. At twenty years of age, this episode of SportsCenter is nonetheless more enjoyable than any episode I’ve watched this year.
Which brings me to the Myles Garrett episode of the Scott Van Pelt edition of SportsCenter. Here’s the video:
First, the obvious and necessary disclaimer: Of course Myles Garrett needed to be severely punished for his actions. There’s no question about it. That said, Scott Van Pelt’s episode of SportsCenter that immediately followed that fateful Thursday Night Football game exhibited the perils of live news television, which is to say, it was highly sensationalized. A group of previously rational human beings each attempting to one-up each other in their descriptions of just how vile Garrett’s actions were. In all my decades of playing NFL football, I’ve NEVER seen anything like this. Mason Rudolph should PRESS CHARGES. It was as if Garrett had committed some pre-meditated hate crime upon an oppressed group of people, not the impassioned, violent mistake he did commit.
As I watched Damien Woody and Keyshawn Johnson and Scott Van Pelt discuss the crime of the century, I couldn’t help but think how Stuart Scott and Rich Eisen would have handled the same incident. There probably would have been a snarky introduction with a floating picture of Garrett juxtaposed next to Scott, then highlights of the game, concluding with the incident, followed by interviews with the appropriate parties, and then, finally, some context in the form of video of other non-football related incidents and the punishments handed out by the NFL for those altercations. Perhaps they even would have brought on an expert to discuss fighting in the NFL, how incidents like this happen, and whether the NFL can or should do anything to try to stop fighting. The point is, it would have been logical, and not emotional. It would have laid out all the facts and let you decide what to think. You’d have come away from the television a smarter sports fan than when you arrived. Those days are long over. As great comedies do from time to time, 30 Rock forecasted the pitfalls of live news television years ago, and sadly I’m not sure we’re all that far away from Tracy Jordan telling fictional New York City to panic about the end of its “Disneyfication.”