Keith Olbermann's return to sports has been very refreshing. It's brought something different to late night sports television and he's found a way to successfully merge his sporting and political styles and personalities to create an entertaining show. Olbermann's opening rants aren't filled with the bitterness of his "Mr. Bush… SIR" days, thank the Lord, but they do contain enough bite and snark and humor to make for good television.
Tuesday night's essay presented an awkward situation as Olbermann's target was the sports media as a whole. As a result, you couldn't just see the giant elephant in the room, it was ready to stampede through the screen.
Olbermann unleashed a rant on the media hype for LeBron James' career high 61 point game against the Charlotte Bobcats, treating it like it was the single greatest performance in the history of competitive athletics. It's a typically good Olbermann essay as he calls out the histrionics from various writers giving an inordinate amount of praise to something we've seen plenty of times before. Olby also mocks the 24/7 lovefest dedicated to LeBron's greatness by putting his career high game in its proper perspective…
There's just one entity Olbermann neglected to include in this essay – his own employer.
Nobody but ESPN leads the 24/7 sports media news cycle. Bleacher Report doesn't. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel sure doesn't. And who do you think ESPN was talking about all day on Tuesday? I'll give you a hint…
If there's anyone who's more guilty than anyone else of building up these pedestals and turning everything into "the greatest game ever played," it's the four letter.
There's something truly weird about seeing LeBron James praised 24/7 on ESPN airwaves and then seeing that praise dismissed and criticized… on ESPN airwaves.
But here's where Olbermann and ESPN should heed a word of caution if they're going to delve into essays targeting the media world. Olbermann doesn't need to offer a vicious takedown of his employer, but at the very least needs to offer a humorous acknowledgment that his network plays a role in all this. (Of course they play a MASSIVE role, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking that Olbermann needs to serve as ESPN's ombudsman.) That recognition would bring transparency to the whole proceeding. Otherwise, by attacking the media and neglecting ESPN as the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in that very department, this essay rings hollow at best. It's like listening to Gregg Popovich criticize coaches for not being more open with sideline reporters.
(UPDATE: And yes as Olbermann himself and a couple others have mentioned, there is a reference to ESPN writer Tom Haberstroh calling LeBron's performance "poetry." That's fair. But we're talking about two different things here – one being a solitary word from a sportswriter and the other being ESPN the network driving the LeBron hype train as a huge part of the exact 24/7 machine Olbermann is targeting.)
As much as Olbermann is disconnected from the ESPN Echo Chamber by being in New York and outside the Bristol cocoon, he still represents ESPN, his show is on ESPN, Olbermann (the host and the show) is ESPN. And you know what they say about people who live in glass houses.