Jeff Pearlman

  • Twitter Icon
  • Twitter Icon
  • Twitter Icon

The ESPN carnage

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 10.12.44 AM

As many of you have likely heard by now, ESPN is firing people left and right today. And it’s heartbreaking.

This isn’t just ending the internship program, or cutting back on free coffee. This is the dismissal of some of the biggest and most-reputable names in journalism. Ed Werder. Paul Kuharsky. Jean-Jacques Taylor. Dana O’Neil. Mike Goodman. Mark Saxon. Brett McMurphy. Stephen A. Smith.

Oh, wait.

Stephen A. Smith was not fired. His $3.5 million-per-year salary is safe. And do you know why? Because he’s really good at yelling. And screaming. And shouting. And barking. And stewing. And making 20-second arguments over things he almost certainly doesn’t really care about. Which, of course, shouldn’t detract from his long and storied career as a reporter, where he befriended (and protected) players he liked and threatened those who dared challenge the Tao of Stephen A. Like, ahem, Kevin Durant.

But here’s the thing: This isn’t actually about Stephen A. Smith. It’s about the decline of good journalism and, sadly, the decline in the demand for good journalism. At some point in modern history, we (as a people) decided we prefer personalities and pizzazz over substance and detail. Our zest for a well-reported story has been overtaken by our zest for the mindless carnival barkings of hacks like Stephen A. and Skip Bayless.

This is not Stephen A. Smith’s fault. He realized long ago that reporting on Eric Snow’s sprained ankle wasn’t cutting it (just as Skip realized reporting on Troy Aikman’s non-homosexuality sexuality wasn’t cutting it). So he adapted to the times, surrendered his integrity card and went full-blown Ringling Bros. And it worked. He’s getting paid; he’s receiving the airport recognition he craves; he’s The Man—even if that status is flimsy, transparent and utterly void of substance.

Meanwhile, journalists (people employed to report, investigate, write) are discarded with ruthless and reckless abandon.

Don’t be fooled by ESPN’s upbeat statements of corporate adjustment. Don’t buy the inevitable “We’ll be a stronger company” baloney.

This is a shedding of quality.

This is an assault on the profession.

  • GaGirrl

    This is the most honest, accurate and no B.S. take on this entire ESPN dumpster fire. Thanks for putting it out there.

  • Tony Hooker

    Somebody won’t be getting holiday cards with CT postmarks….:-)

  • Yehuda Hamer

    How much money is ESPN saving a year now?

  • DC

    Very well stated.

  • J. Sheffield

    not everybody let go was a journalist. Do Danny Kannel and Trent Dilfer look like journalists to you? If this isn’t about Stephen A. Smith, then why would you post his picture and name drop him but say ‘this isn’t about Stephen A. Smith.’ ESPN has journalists and they also have sports personalities. Stephen A. falls in between both. He has the ability to provided a nuanced perspective on sports. I think your ‘perspective’ is unfair. Using your little blog to basically blame him and not blame him is bush league. Why are you upset? Are you mad they didn’t hire you and lay you off?

  • Ted Mark

    Just think how many jobs could have been saved had they gotten rid of Greenberg and everybody with the last name of Golic.

    • William Coley

      Right??

  • 72mike72

    Newspapers, for more than two decades have done this in the name of leaner is better. Usually you do find names, at least on the local level, who have been around long enough to have accumulated raises and so you get kids with no history of the area they cover,. It’s their sandbox; we are only allowed to play in it. Death of jobs also scares internal critics into silence.

  • Dana Reddick

    Well, I think I’ll wait a day or so after the NFL Draft, then I’ll call to cancel my Insider subscription. Their actions made it virtually worthless.

  • Bob Mutch

    Talking “heads”, when done poorly, can lead immediately to three options: mute the sound, change the channel, turn it off. Stephen A. Smith’s shouting behavior can produce all three of the above options. For those like Stephen who rant and rave, they could learn a lot about skilled communication by following the examples of such astute commentators as Grant Hill, Reggie Miller, Al Michaels. The loud mouths of Dick Vitale and Smith prevent meaningful communications–and the separation between them and those who exhibit quiet competence is huge!

    • fretlessman71

      At least Vitale is a great ambassador for his sport. One could argue that he shouts from a standpoint of positivity, however annoying one might find him. Not the case with “Stephen A.”

    • pointguard22

      Reggie Miller?

  • fretlessman71

    Quality, schmallity – give me hours of entertainment watching people who haven’t touched a ball since P.E. scream at each other about a sport they believe they know everything about. And pass the Pepto Bismol.

  • Eric J. Schultz

    Sign of the times, baby.

  • E080

    All I remember you for is your idiotic post about the University of Delaware being racist that had no basis in reality.

  • Tim Weaver
  • Michael P. Connelly

    Way to bury the lead. Ratings … It’s TV. Ratings … Journalism never was at home where lips moved. It’s at home where it’s memorialized based on fact and fairness. Someone’s jealous about paychecks and inflection …

  • QUS ONE

    Steven A. Smith has a uniquely African-American persona, let’s call it the short guy in the barbershop. I understand that this may not resonate with some viewers.

    To say he lacks integrity is way over the line. He does not make shit up for controversy like Cowherd.

  • Reggie Roberts

    This seems to be built on 2 premises. 1. ESPN disproportionately laid off more journalists than personalities. 2. ESPN should primarily be about journalism. I’ll accept #1 just so I can argue against #2. Sports Journalism isn’t necessarily dying, its just dying at ESPN (again, if I accept #1). But why should ESPN not divest in journalism and let other media handle that? Let ESPN be about entertainment (and even barking) if they want to be, and be happy that journalism can live on through other media.

    That said, the more interesting question is what are the over-all implications on the future of sports journalism? I don’t know that I would blame Stephen A Smith or make him your poster boy for all things wrong with the world if the consumers of sports entertainment value barkers over journalist. ESPN is just reading the market and making decisions. I stopped watching and listneing to ESPN a long time ago, but not because they didn’t have serious journalism. I got tired of constant ads and “subway fresh takes”.

  • Greg Thrasher

    I am glad Smith clapped back @ Jeff’s bigotry laced attack on him. Black Americans continue to be scapegoats and targets for envious Whites like Jeff.

    BLM

  • Chuck Wayland

    There may be some people who are racist in their dislike of Stephen A. Smith. Such people likely tolerate or like Bayless and Cowherd. On the other hand there are people who detest Smith, Bayless, Cowherd and all the other people who yell instead of report, promote themselves instead of sports, and are generally obnoxious, disagreeable, and uninformed.

Showtime Book
Love Me, Hate Me Barry Bonds Book
Sweetness Walter Peyton Book
The Bad Guys Won Book
The Rocket that Fell to Earth Book
Boys Will Be Boys Book

Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life