OT: ESPN Fiddles While the Sonics Burn

One of the key privileges of being a member of the media is that you have the power to fight an injustice. That’s why there are “investigative reporters”. It’s why there are the 60 Minutes and Dateline NBCs of the world. From Edward R. Murrow to Carl Monday, media members have a desire, perhaps even an obligation, to report what they believe are wrongdoings, no matter how trivial they may seem.

So if you were a member of a sports information network so huge that you proclaim yourself, I don’t know, “The Worldwide Leader in Sports”, you would feel an obligation to fight a sports injustice. Right?

Well, not if you’re ESPN, who continues to gloss over the ever-worsening situation with the Seattle Supersonics.

It is not that ESPN as a whole is failing to cover Clay Bennett’s misguided attempt to hijack a NBA team from its 41-year hometown. They are. It’s not hard to find any number of stories related to the Sonics on ESPN.com. Bill Simmons, the most widely-read columnist on ESPN’s homepage, has done some spectacular work showing the outrage of the Sonics’ fans and relating it to the casual basketball fan. The TV network has provided some coverage of the news headlines relating to the Sonics, such as the approval by league owners of a potential move to Oklahoma City. However, many of those headlines are forced to their “bottom line” or mentioned only briefly during SportsCenter.

ESPN’s failure, plain and simple, is a lack of outrage and coverage on the TV network. Good luck finding anyone outside of Simmons who has used ESPN’s massive national platform to fervently call out David Stern and the Sonics ownership. Where’s the shocking E:60 expose? Why aren’t reporters tracking down and mugging Clay Bennett in the same way they attacked Miguel Tejada? Why is Outside the Lines covering every aspect of Roger Clemens’ fall from grace when they fail to do the same for a city that is losing a team they’ve been proud of for 41 years?

It is truly disgraceful that ESPN cannot give the airtime to the Sonics that they do for other, more trivial matters. I have reached the point where I change the channel every time I hear the word “spygate”, no matter how many ESPN writers are going nuts about it. While lawsuits go back and forth in the Sonics case like ping-pong balls, ESPN is talking about Pac-Man Jones. Or hearing the thoughts of jpizzle39 on the [insert beer name here] “freeze frame” picture of the week. SportsCenter is nearing celebrity gossip instead of real journalism. Puff pieces instead of investigative reporting.

It’s not like the Sonics saga isn’t interesting. We now have a city trying desperately to keep its franchise, all while the old owner sues the new one, the new owner tries to perform damage control, and the expected new city plans to sue if they don’t get their NBA franchise. The same franchise that boasts the 2008 Rookie of the Year and one of the most important players for the league’s future.

The injustice is clear too. The Sonics were sold to David Stern’s best buddy, Clay Bennett, with the idea of moving the team or holding the city of Seattle hostage for a new arena. The owners never intended to keep the team in Seattle – their words, not mine – yet are trying to cover up the potential PR disaster and weasel out of their KeyArena lease so that the team can be moved. The same lease the franchise agreed to, even though David Stern calls it the worst in the league. Now, the fans of the Sonics are forced to pray for a new arena even though their current one was refurbished for $100 million just a decade ago. I’ve been to games there: KeyArena is just fine. Saying it is unusable for the NBA is an absolute joke contrived by Stern and the owners to try and move the team or get a present from the legislature.

I’m outraged, and I’m a trailblazer fan for crying out loud. If there’s anyone who should want the Sonics gone, it’s me. A Sonic-free Northwest gives the Blazers one of the largest TV markets in the nation, and all the cash that comes with it. So if I’m upset about this situation, why isn’t ESPN? Is it East-coast bias? Revenue from their current NBA broadcasts? Low ratings for Sonics stories? What is the motive for the most profitable network in the history of television avoiding a real controversy in the world of sports?

There is no single answer – the real truth probably lies with all of the above. Still, ESPN has an obligation to its viewers to at the very least present both sides of the Sonics argument. With storyline tyranny ranging on everything from Spygate to Kobe to T.O., ESPN can easily afford to give one of the most relevant stories of the year some quality air time. I’m not saying it has to be priority #1 for the network – just one priority of many in its news coverage.

The Sonics’ situation is important. It is an injustice that will only repeat itself unless people learn about it. It’s time for more outrage: saveoursonics.org should be updated more than once every month or so. Fans should be protesting. The NBA should be going through it’s biggest PR nightmare of the new century. But they aren’t. There’s nothing I’d love more than to see Bennett out of his ownership role and the Sonics staying in Seattle. But the odds of that get weaker every day.

ESPN has a real chance to catalyze some positive change for the world of sports. However, if Clay Bennett succeeds in moving the Sonics, ESPN will just be the bystander that simply watches as an old lady gets mugged by an unarmed man. We deserve better.

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One Response to “OT: ESPN Fiddles While the Sonics Burn”

  1. Nuss Says:

    I love the phrase “storyline tyranny.” I don’t watch SportsCenter much anymore because in general I prefer scores to people shouting at each other. But maybe that’s just me.

    Not to go totally media theory on you, but it really begs a chicken-or-egg question: Is ESPN not covering it because nobody outside Seattle cares, or does nobody outside Seattle care because ESPN isn’t covering it? As you pointed out, there are lots of scandalous angles to this — the type of thing ESPN generally drools over — so I’m tempted to think it’s the latter.

    My money’s on the TV contract angle. David Stern wields a big stick, and he’s made it very clear he’s never afraid to use it. If he would threaten the city of Seattle with never giving them an expansion franchise if they pursue making the team fulfill the lease, is it much of a stretch to think he’d threaten ESPN with similar measures? Remember, ESPN is a moneymaking corporation first, journalistic outfit second. Any delusions to the contrary are just that.

    Oh, and I’ll go ahead and overlook the fact that you’re a TrailBlazer fan. In fact, I’m going to choose to forget all about that.


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