Ripping ESPN is something of a pastime for sports fans. It’s really been that way ever since the advent of blogging, which gave fans and alternative media a voice that they previously didn’t have, and has increased significantly in the age of social media, where it’s easy to quickly post a derisive comment that doesn’t necessarily require much thought or depth.
Those who work at ESPN obviously hear a lot of that blowback, and some are more vocal about it. “SportsCenter” anchor Scott Van Pelt was particularly outspoken about receiving criticism and insults from viewers in an interview with Jimmy Traina for his “Off the Board” podcast. Van Pelt said detractors live in a “make-believe world” where they “talk shit,” but don’t share that kind of feedback with him when he meets people in person. They don’t talk about not watching ESPN or that Van Pelt’s show isn’t good. So where are those critics?
“There’s nothing more chicken shit than that,” he said.
You can listen to the entire podcast here. The conversation about ESPN’s critics begins around the 26:00 mark:
Part of the backlash that’s developed toward ESPN over the past 12-15 years comes from the evolution of how we consume sports and sports media. “SportsCenter” is just never going to have the utility for us that it once did because we can get highlights and analysis from so many other outlets and mediums now. The same goes for studio and debate shows. We’ve seen and participated in those discussions on social medias with friends, followers and a media that is increasingly accessible in that space. We’ve had them with our friends and hanging out at bars.
So when people say they don’t watch ESPN anymore, is that what they mean more than watching live events like college football, the NBA, MLB, college basketball and the NFL? Or as Traina asserted while talking to Van Pelt, is there a narrative — especially among those who follow and cover sports media — that ESPN is failing because of political slant and social commentary? Van Pelt had no use for that stance either:
“If you truly wanna boycott the NFL and you wanna boycott ESPN, the notion that some guy sitting out there, or gal, and they decide, ‘You know what, I’m gonna cut my entire cable package because ESPN gave an award on a made-up show in July because there’s no sports, to a woman who used to be a man, so I’m now not gonna have any cable TV at all and I’m gonna sit around at night and read books by candlelight like olden times because of that,’ that’s not happening. And if you did that, than you’re so dumb that I can’t even pray for you because you’re beyond hope.”
Of course, cord-cutting is a real concern for ESPN and Disney. We cover that here at Awful Announcing on a regular basis. But are subscribers cutting cable and satellite because of ESPN’s politics? As Van Pelt points out, very few — if any — are going to take that kind of stand. People are dropping those services for less expensive alternatives that offer the programming they want without having to pay for all of the channels they don’t want. But those aren’t the people beating their chests about how much they dislike ESPN and the network having an agenda.
It’s compelling to hear a prominent personality at ESPN be so outspoken on the subject, however. Clearly, certain criticisms about ESPN have irritated Van Pelt and he surely speaks for many others in Bristol who have let such remarks and narratives get under their skin. Frankly, it’s fun to hear Van Pelt get so worked up about it and he’s obviously in a position (freshly armed with a contract extension) where he can say what he actually thinks and have it really matter.
There is plenty more in his conversation with Traina, including the “Barstool Van Talk” situation, that’s worth your listening time.