ESPN goes under the knife with new book (cont.)
The release of the excerpts prompted at least one current staffer to choose a stunning venue for commentary. SportsNation co-host Michelle Beadle did not hide her feelings for Erin Andrews in an interview last week with Deadspin. Asked how the company felt about Beadle's comments on a website that Miller compared to "crack cocaine" for many ESPN staffers, Soltys said, "She would also fall under the same comment."
Those who work in the business of sport will devour the book. The casual sports fan is likely to find certain parts tedious. The biggest criticism is the sheer size of the narrative. Miller gives certain subjects (Kornheiser, for starters) far too many pages to whine and dedicates six pages to the horribly conceived Bonds on Bonds show where two would suffice. While it's great that Lee Corso picked 12 straight winners in 1999, his assessment of it doesn't add much to the oral history of a company. In similar fashion, that Patrick McEnroe called a tennis match with his brother John is best left for the McEnroe scrapbook or a future McEnroe on McEnroe program.
In a podcast with SI.com, Miller admitted that the book is "schizophrenic." He said he found that his best-selling book on Saturday Night Live that he did with Shales was read in bursts over a long period. That will likely be the case here, too. The book would be sharper if excised by 100 pages or so.
But these are small quibbles, because the reader is ultimately granted the kind of behind-the-scenes access that sports media junkies are rarely given. For instance, Miller asked current ESPN college basketball analyst Bob Knight about the interview the former coach conducted with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap in 2000. The tense confrontation ended with Knight, who had just been fired by Indiana, insulting Schaap and walking out on camera.
"They gave me three people to choose from who would do that interview, and I picked Schaap because of his dad," Knight said. "I didn't even know the kid. I had Digger [Phelps] tell Schaap that there was a question that I'd like for him to ask, and he refused to ask it. He told Digger, 'I can't do that. I can't ask something that he wants asked.' I didn't enjoy that interview at all. I thought the guy was a chicken---- little coc-------. Forget that guy. I have no interest in talking about that. Jesus Christ, enough of this bull----."
In what my colleague Jack McCallum called "an astonishingly self-defining moment," veteran anchor Chris Berman, the standard-bearer of cacophony and all things pro football at ESPN, offered this remarkable take about his network's canceling the controversial drama, Playmakers, at the behest of the NFL. "I'm a simple guy," Berman said. "I don't watch TV. I don't go on the Internet. So I never watched Playmakers, but I knew if the league was pissed, I probably should be pissed." McCallum, in an upcoming review of the book for Sports Illustrated magazine, accurately writes that "Berman does not cover the NFL; he is the NFL."
The long-term reverberations of the book are unlikely to be profound. The news cycle will play up the titillating aspects, the author will go on a long book tour and ESPN will continue to broadcast SportsCenter and gobble up sports rights. Interestingly, the company's current top two executives -- president George Bodenheimer and John Skipper, the executive vice president of content -- come off as the least ego-filled of all the top decision-makers interviewed. Both are smart and well-liked among the troops.
What should be fascinating, at least, is how the entity covers the book itself. Miller is scheduled to appear on the not-so-hard-hitting Mike and Mike in the Morning radio program on Tuesday morning and the Scott Van Pelt Show later that afternoon.
Miller said he has already heard from more than a dozen ESPN staffers, and most of those calls were favorable and complimentary. "But several called to complain that they weren't in it or not in it enough," Miller said. "One in particular called to ask for help about what to do next in their career. They are convinced they are going to get fired."