Thursday, July 14, 2016

COMMENTARY: Gordon's ESPY Snub Should Have Been Expected

ESPN gave NASCAR another backhanded slap last night in Los Angeles, and honestly, we should have seen it coming. 

As part of the annual ESPY Awards ceremony, singer Justin Timberlake took to the stage at Microsoft Arena to honor a trio of retiring sports legends; former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Olympic soccer gold medalist Abby Wambach. Each athlete was the focus of a video montage highlighting their respective career – narrated by fans reliving their highest highs and their lowest lows – before receiving the ESPY “Icon Award.” 

Those honors were well-deserved. Notably absent from the list of honorees, however, was four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, who also hung up his competitive helmet at the end of the 2015 season. 

ESPN’s exclusion of Gordon -- an athlete with as many championships as Peyton Manning and Abby Wambach have Vince Lombardi  trophies and Olympic gold medals combined – was insulting and inexcusable. It was also the latest in a long line of snubs for a sport that – in the minds and hearts of the decision-makers at ESPN – still does not deserve a place on the national sporting stage.

During the network’s most recent run as a broadcast “partner” from 2007 through 2014, NASCAR clearly ranked a step below the traditional stick-and-ball sports in the estimation of the Bristol, Connecticut brass. At the time, ESPN had a number of other broadcast contracts in play; creating a number of maddening schedule conflicts. During college football season, the opening laps of NASCAR Nationwide Series races were frequently bumped from ESPN to the company’s ESPN Classic or ESPNEWS channels, rendering them unviewable by basic cable viewers. Other broadcasts were bumped in favor of Little League baseball and tennis; events with ratings far lower than NASCAR’s. Post-race coverage and Victory Lane interviews were sometimes abbreviated -- or eliminated entirely --- as the network rushed away to other, apparently more important events. 

Manning, Wambach, Bryant: Honored
ESPN’s flagship SportsCenter broadcasts treated NASCAR like the proverbial red-headed stepchild, foregoing Monday morning race results in favor of in-depth analysis of last night’s clash between baseball cellar-dwellers. When NASCAR did make the SportsCenter cut, viewers were afflicted with anchors who knew little or nothing about the sport. In October of 2008, SportsCenter reported that Roush-Fenway Racing drivers Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle topped the championship standings; unaware that Johnson has spent his entire career at Hendrick Motorsports, not Roush-Fenway Racing. 

Most days, SportsCenter delved into NASCAR only to provide anchor-buffoon Keith Olbermann with an excuse to roll-out his juvenile Dick Trickle jokes, just one more time.  

ESPN’s NASCAR nadir came in August of 2014, in the hours following the tragic death of Sprint Car driver Kevin Ward, Jr. in an on-track incident involving former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart.

Just one week after correctly choosing not to air graphic footage of Indiana Pacers star Paul George breaking his leg in a practice game, the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” inexplicably broadcast the grisly, unedited video of Ward’s death, over and over again. SportsCenter re-racked the footage dozens (if not hundreds) of times over the next 24 hours in a shameless, callous display of tabloid journalism. 

Immediately following the next day’s Sprint Cup Series broadcast from Watkins Glen, ESPN aired a long-form report on the incident, featuring additional airings of the accident video, stand-ups from a clearly uncomfortable Mike Massaro at the Ontario County (NY) Sheriff’s Office and analysis from legal expert Roger Cossack, who incorrectly predicted that Stewart would eventually be charged with manslaughter. The broadcast angered NASCAR fans and set the stage for the network’s departure from NASCAR, just a few weeks later.  

Gordon: Snubbed
Based on ESPN’s track record of shoddy treatment, last night’s latest snub came as no surprise. 

There is no doubt that Gordon should have stood alongside Bryant, Manning and Wambach last night in Los Angeles. His omission, however, speaks volumes about the presenters and nothing about him. 

Do we care that one of the greatest champions of our sport was unceremoniously ignored last night? Yeah, I suppose we do.  

Should we care? Probably not. 

After all, we’re talking about the ESPYs here, not the Nobel Prize. Despite national television coverage on ABC (parent company of ESPN), the ESPY Awards are little more than a three-hour self-aggrandizement; a celebration of self by a network already far too enamored with itself and aired (not coincidentally) on a night where no professional sports are played, anywhere in North America. 

In the end, I am confident that Gordon will survive last night’s snub. Ninety three career Sprint Cup victories – third on NASCAR’s all-time win list – and a guaranteed, first-ballot spot in the NASCAR Hall Of Fame will do that to a guy.  

Deserved as it may have been, last night’s ESPY hardware would have faded into the background on Gordon’s mantel, dwarfed by all those race and Sprint Cup championship trophies. 

In the end, I guess, it’s no big deal. 

After all, former NASCAR On ESPN commentators Allen Bestwick and Dale Jarrett have moved on to other networks – or in Bestwick’s case, other sports -- and continue to do outstanding work. Ricky Craven and Marty Smith continue to cover NASCAR for ESPN, providing balanced, experienced, knowledgeable commentary that makes up for the shortcomings of the rest of their network.  

We’re fortunate to have them, and fully capable of differentiating them from their employers, who sadly, continue to underwhelm.

14 comments:

  1. The only Nascar driver ever on the espys is Danica patrick who clearly is there as eye candy. And always nominated Jimmy Johnson fell to Kyle Busch this year. Many other categories deserve a Nascar driver but never happens. Oh and let's not forget putting Bruce Jenner on camera last year. The espys are a joke filled with political overtones, corn rolls and overpaid players who bring their mom's to boost their egos.

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  2. The only Nascar driver ever on the espys is Danica patrick who clearly is there as eye candy. And always nominated Jimmy Johnson fell to Kyle Busch this year. Many other categories deserve a Nascar driver but never happens. Oh and let's not forget putting Bruce Jenner on camera last year. The espys are a joke filled with political overtones, corn rolls and overpaid players who bring their mom's to boost their egos.

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  3. What is the difference between ESPN bumping a few laps to a higher tiered programming channel and Fox showing the entire race on higher tiered channels not on basic cable. I agree NASCARis not covered like other stick and ball sports but the whole race season cannot be watched by the fan unkess they shell out big money to get premium channels.

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  4. All I can offer after reading this is a virtual standing ovation, sir. Well-written!!! ����������

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  5. Miss AB in NASCAR. One of the best.

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  6. The ESPYs are a joke anyway, I mean they gave Bruce Jenner an award for chopping off his pecker. That was enough for me to decide that network is clueless.

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  7. Jeff Gordon is a champion in many ways, far above some stupid executive at ESPN there fools for snubbing Jeff Gordon, and the fans, friends, & family won't forget it, Here's to a Awesome Champion 🏆 Enjoy your retirement, you've earned it,👍

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  8. Anonymous8:46 PM

    They are more 'entertainment' than sport, haven't focused on competition in years. Just never mind that man behind the curtain...

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  9. The Espys was on? I don't think I've ever watched it

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  10. @The NASCARJeff10:13 AM

    ESPN checked out on NASCAR long ago... not surprised

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  11. The fact that the name Olbermann is included here as an employee of ESPN says plenty. Any company that will retain him as an employee as long as they did shows an agenda other than reporting sports and it's no wonder they snubbed not only Gordon but also Nascar. Although I'm surprised that with Gordon's charity work with Clinton they still snubbed him. That indicates how badly they regard Nascar and it's fans.

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  12. Interesting that NASCAR is treated this way since NASCAR was one of the primary sports that made ESPN into the World wide leader.

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  13. Guess that when you're big, famous, and are financed by the rat named Disney that you don't NEED to remember or acknowledge the sport that got you where you are...

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  14. Maybe some psychic told them that Jeff was going to have to come back and sub for Dale Jr. Maybe the ESPYs will honor him next year. I'm not going to hold my breath, though.

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