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SJ Book Club: The ESPN Book

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by PCLoadLetter, Jun 5, 2011.

  1. PCLoadLetter

    PCLoadLetter Well-Known Member

    I can't be the only person to plow through the new ESPN oral history already, so I figured I'd create a place to discuss it.

    In general, I thought it was... pretty good. I had high expectations that it didn't really meet. I read Freeman's book years ago, it didn't really feel like there was a whole lot of interest in this one that wasn't in that one. I always like the oral history format, though. (For those who haven't read it, I think the SNL book that Shales and Miller did was better than this one.)

    A few thoughts..

    * Way too much focus on business negotiations for me. I'm just not that interested in Getty board meetings and rights fees negotiations. On some level the whole thing reads a business book.

    * Man, does John Saunders have a chip on his shoulder when it comes to race.

    * Kind of jarring to see repeated references to "Jim Nance." (Miller was interviewed on Bill Simmons podcast; Simmons asked him if there's anything he'd like to change about the book and Miller said "Like spell Jim Nantz's freakin' name right?") There's a "Jermaine O'Neill" in there, too.

    * Long after the Erin Andrews incident, Christine Brennan still doesn't understand how stupid her own comments were.

    * The list of notable people who didn't talk to the authors -- or at least who aren't in the book -- is pretty damn short. I don't think Wilbon was in it. Harold Reynolds and Steve Phillips aren't, but Sean Salisbury is.

    So, your thoughts? I suspect I simply knew too much about ESPN going in to really enjoy this as much as I hoped to.
  2. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Plow is a good way to describe it. I'm a little more than a third of the way through it (just after The Big Show) and it's not a captivating read. Am hoping it gets better...
  3. PCLoadLetter

    PCLoadLetter Well-Known Member

    It does. The first third is the toughest.
  4. Small Town Guy

    Small Town Guy Well-Known Member

    Have read through 2000. Just finished this delightful passage. Bobby Knight talking about the Schaap interview:

    It sounds like the authors' interview with Knight went as well as Schaap's did.

    I'm enjoying it but I agree there's a bit too much business for my interests. Then again, it pretty much had to be included since many of the decisions were so crucial to their dominance, especially, say that NFL deal they inked where rates went up 20 percent or whatever each year.

    One of the most amusing parts was about the America's Cup and how the 1987 race was a key to their rise. It sounds absurd now but as a kid I remember being so pumped up for that race and I didn't know the first thing about yachting or even care about it at all. Yet I wanted the Americans to crush the god damn Australians who had taken it from us in 1983! But there's a line from the analyst about how it was the perfect time for the America's Cup, because we were in a recession, not feeling good about ourselves, and this helped boost our spirit. And, Crocodile Dundee was dominating the box office, so that too was evidence that this was the perfect time for an Aussie-American showdown on the high seas. Or something. It was an...odd passage.

    I'm a sucker for narrative histories about newspapers, magazines or networks. I have about a dozen of those books, from The Franchise, about SI, to ones on Esquire, Rolling Stone, The Powers that Be, and a history of the New York Herald Tribune. I think the oral history method has a lot going for it and you probably do learn more information through that method (I think it worked a bit better with the SNL book, maybe because the stories were a bit crazier/more interesting). But I still prefer a narrative type history.

    The party and drug stuff got a lot of the pre-publication hype but I've sort of rolled my eyes at a lot of the passages about the drinking and drugs. It's maybe unfair to compare it to the SNL book, but reading about some unknown ESPN producer's prodigious drinking just isn't quite as interesting as hearing about, say, Belushi's problems. One guy's issues caused him to have a hangover before a first-round NCAA tournament game between Lehigh and Middle Tennessee State, the other guy's issues led to the death of an iconic 20th century performer. Some of the people's interviews read like 40-year-olds remembering their college days, and as a general rule, college drinking stories are boring to everyone but the storyteller.


    One of the sections I really liked was about the This is Sportscenter commercials. Some good insight there and I remember in The Franchise how Reilly lamented how lame SI's commercials used to be ("I'm talking on a sneaker!"). And I loved Gary Miller's rants about the mascots.
  5. jmosley6

    jmosley6 New Member

    I'm about 200 pages in, at the point where they are trying to acquire the rights to MLB. I agree that too much time is being put on the negotiations but I, for one, take their coverage of the major sports and how they come about so it is at least somewhat interesting to see how they bought them all.

    Looking forward to the rest of it. Especially around the mid to late 90's when I first started really watching the product. Also I am excited for the Olbermann bashing. Seriously, that guy is the worst.
  6. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    I'm 550 pages in -- 2005 to 2008. I am enjoying it a lot. I plowed through about half of it during memorial day weekend when I had to be in Ohio. My pace has slowed down a bit b/c I have been a bit busy the last week. I am enjoying it quite a bit, but I love the minutia, more than some others might.

    I love the oral history too, and how they subtly let some people hang themselves. One that got me in particular was Mike Tirico, when others covered his sexual harassment issues and they just put in the short quote they got from Tirico in which every word was measured and he talked around it; something about how most people have enjoyed working with him. Hopefully. And didn't acknowledge it.

    I also love how egotistical and how full of himself Mark Shapiro comes off, too. He may be the least self aware person ever.

    I love the focus on the business negotiations, but I have a particular interest in those aspects of their business. Their dual revenue stream was, and remains, brilliant, and you have to admit they have done a lot of things right -- by design and unwittingly -- even through Mark Shapiro, although I think if he had come along earlier in their rise, it would have been a disaster. I loved the Getty chronology, simply because you can't make up a guy like Stu Evey, and the fact that he was unwittingly the catalyst for what ESPN eventually became is just unbelievable. Saunders may have a chip on his shoulder when it comes to race, but I always give people the benefit of the doubt, especially not having walked even a step in their shoes. I am finding Saunders snippets to be among the most honest, particularly when he said he thought the only reason they called him to fill in on the Sports Reporters when Dick Schaap was in the hospital was because he suspected it was that he was in New York already and they didn't want to have to pay to put anyone up. I'm not up to Erin Andrews yet, but now looking forward to Christine Brennan damning herself again with her own words. That is the brilliance of this oral history.

    In any case, I'll have more when I finish. At this pace, maybe sometime this week. But I am enjoying it a lot.
  7. clutchcargo

    clutchcargo Active Member

    I'm about 130 pages in and am enjoying it. I like the business part of it, i.e. the discussions with the Getty folks and Stu Evey. I have Freeman's book stashed away somewhere and don't even remember if I read it. Regardless, the details of the various negotiations help round out the book. Sounds like the father and son/brother Rasmussens were pretty much dead weight once you get past their initial concept---sort of like those twin brothers in The Social Network. This book certainly brings Don Ohlmeyer down to earth---he doesn't sound quite like the sports good his denizens have made him out to be, but then I'm less than one-fourth into the book.

    I've been hot and cold over the years paying much attention to ESPN. Their self-important ads with sports figures and mascots still bug the snot out of me, a reminder of how all sides of the sports world are in bed with each other when it comes to ESPN. I suppose the average beer-guzzling, Homer Simpson-type sports jock sniffer gets all excited by that sort of constant promotion, but I don't.

    I do wish this book had more stuff from Gayle Gardner. I always thought she was good on TV, great voice and the red hair. She got canned or whatever during one of the 5-7-year periods I wasn't paying attention to ESPN (in one stretch, my son was born and we canceled cable TV for a good stretch), but I remember hearing something about how she had messed up somehow, or maybe I got it wrong. Whatever. I just really liked her. I sat next to her in the pressbox at a bowl game one time and she came across as a nice person, not anything like that Olbermann ass.
  8. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    I have the book and every time I think about starting it, I think, 'Do I really want to give this massive amount of time to the topic of espn??'

    I know I'll read it. And then I'll be annoyed with myself for getting sucked in.

    I can't be the only one who feels this way.
  9. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    Is there an audiobook? I could see listening to it during my commute or when I have yardwork to do, but I definitely do not see myself sitting down and spending the time it would take to read it.
  10. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    From what I've heard about this one (so far) it doesn't seem like there's anything as scandalous as the Tirico stories in Freeman's book.

    I actually really liked Freeman's book.
  11. TheSportsPredictor

    TheSportsPredictor Well-Known Member

    There is.
  12. billikens

    billikens Member

    I finished it this weekend. Thought it was a good read, although there were parts I couldn't focus on and just kind of skimmed through. Are the ESPYs that big a deal that they had to keep bringing them up?

    I took away way more than just this, but the first two thoughts off my head when I reached the end:

    - There's no shortage of self-absorbed a-holes among the ESPN talent, but even in that group, Jim Gray seemed to take it to another level.

    - At the next big ESPN celebration, I hope Simmons, Berman, Kornheiser and Tirico all end up at the same table.
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