While we're on the subject of the crap ESPN is throwing out there, here's yet another example of what a joke this network has become.
I'll start with my bias. I love professional cycling, and I love the Tour de France.
No contest on Earth is as grueling and majestic and relentless and picturesque and unforgiving and incredible as the annual 3 week stage race across the whole of France. Riding distances averaging about 120 miles a day, every day for 3 weeks, dragging themselves over steep mountain passes and plunging down twisty narrow roads at 60+ mph, and sprinting along windswept coasts and plains is epic to me. And often lost on casual observers is the absolutely critical contribution of team and tactics. It is a beautiful sport. It is a torturous sport. And it can be a deadly sport.
Bike racing only captured mainstream America's attention in 1999 when Lance Armstrong returned from cancer to win the first of his record 7 Tours. Despite this, Cycling still remains an overwhelmingly European passion, with mostly a niche following here in the U.S. Which apparently gives BSPN the justification to ignore it, at best, or mock it, at worst.
Following on the heels of tWWL's ridiculous and hypocritical suspension of Bruce Feldman, one of their best and most respected reporters (which is saying at ton at that network), you might expect the clowns in Bristol to maintain a low profile for a bit. Which is why I was shocked and furious to read the comments of ESPN "reporter" Michael Smith.
You may have seen this highlight. If not, it's pretty spectacular.
Crazy. Shocking. Scary. Incredible. A lot of things...except for funny.
Unless you are Michael Smith. We all recognize Mr Smith. He reports on the NFL, and does SportsCenter, and that dumb Around The Horn, and other segment shows on tWWL. He's one of the cool characters (ahh, but never a competitor) at the network. He saw fit to tweet his joy at this crash (note, these tweets have since been removed from his account):
"For real, am I wrong for laughing at that Tour de France crash? Can't get over the driver speeding off as if he didn't know he hit someone!"
Yes, Michael. You are wrong. For real.
But when called on it, he tweeted,
"I'm sorry that crash is hilarious. Every. Time."
His tweets mocking the incident, and mocking those who railed against him continued, until he (or more likely his bosses) realized they better do some quick PR CYA, and he finally tweeted (and left this one up for all to see) one of those lame BS apologies that people make when they realize that they better try to save their own ass, but which you know has no shred of sincerity in it at all. You see, Michael, it's not about the potential seriousness of the crash. It's about the seriousness of the athletes in the first place.
The first rider hit, Juan Antonio Flecha, got up and raced another 22 miles to finish the stage. The rider who somersaulted into the barbed wire fence and broke the post with his back was Johnny Hoogerland. He got up and finished the stage, too. Then he went to the hospital for 33 stitches in his calf, thigh, and groin. And then they both got back on their bikes and started the next stage, and they are both still in the race as of today. That is freaking heroic. That is an athletic performance for the ages. That is something worth tweeting about, or possibly even...reporting!.
But you don't hear BSPN repping that effort, did you?
These athletes put their lives, literally, on the line every day. As a pretty decent rec cyclist here in Colorado, I can attest to the insecurity of a high speed descent, or the suffering while pushing up steep grades, and that's only at half the speed these pros do. And that's not to mention the utter danger of the lurking 2,500 pound steel automobiles. These cyclists, and all athletes in sports other than the NFL and NBA, deserve respect for their sporting and competitive efforts, not derision from someone who thinks that taking cheap shots at a sport with a small fanbase in the U.S. is a green light for laughs.
I flew to Italy last May, in part to see some of the Giro d'Italia, the second most important stage race in the world. The day we arrived was the day that a promising young Belgian rider named Wouter Weylandt was killed in a high speed downhill crash in Stage 3. Perhaps Michael thought the TV coverage of personnel doing CPR on his shattered body was hilarious. Or maybe the video of American star Chris Horner repeatedly asking helpers if he finished his ride and where he was, following a crash in Stage 7 of The Tour that knocked him unconscious for a time, still has him giggling like a schoolgirl. Or maybe, Smith is just the latest example of the absolute opposite of professionalism headlining the biggest sports network in America.
ESPN was once a beacon for sports coverage and news. Now, like Metallica, it has become a mockery of its original intent. ESPN no longer highlights sport. It highlights itself. Witness the ESPY's. The on-air personalities are entirely too full of themselves. Their shtick and taglines are more important to them than the sports they purport to cover. The "Ultimate Highlight" segment has taken the most important aspect of sport - team play - and turned it into a series of "Look At Me" clips. We all remember the bang up job that SChilly Smith did when covering the rumors of Norm Chow going to *$c. We read the regular propaganda from people like Ted Miller, who rather than report news, slant it to push their own agendae. We heard only silence in Bristol regarding people like Tressel and Newton and Carroll and other blatant cheaters in the NCAA, while lower profile outfits like Yahoo Sports and Dan Wetzel ran circles around them. We understand why a N.Y. Times writer cites Bruins Nation as the place to get news on U.C.L.A. sports, and not the "reporters" at ESPN (and not you either, LA Times).
ESPN "Reporters"? Bob Ley, for sure. But Craig James, SChilly Smith, Michael Smith? Give me a freakin' break. They ruin the reputation and credibility of the few great reporters left at ESPN, like Bonnie Ford. Right, never heard of her, have you?