"You have to chime in, no?"
That was a Gchat I received from a friend yesterday afternoon. I'm a guy who constantly chimes in on hockey's place on television, and something involving the words "hockey" and television had happened. By now, you probably know that professional Skip-Bayless-one-upper Stephen A. Smith claimed that three "ties" made the Chicago Blackhawks' 22-game point streak inferior to the Miami Heat and their then 14-game win streak. Barry Melrose later came on and allowed him to continue using the phrase "ties" without correction. Tony Kornheiser used the phrase "ties" as well on Pardon the Interruption later in the day.
Let's ignore the fact that the two sports are in completely different positions in their seasons, have played completely different seasons, and the fact that the Blackhawks' point streak is actually 28 games long, counting back to the 2011-12 NHL season. Let's ignore the opinion that I think most sports fans have -- that comparing different sports at any time in history is about as stupid as it gets. Before I "chime in," let's take a look at how the story developed.
Awful Announcing has the lowdown on what happened. Sports Media Watch (the first person, I think, to even notice this) accurately, deftly and mercilessly chronicles a lot of the show's mistakes here. Deadspin accurately satirizes the very notion of someone expecting coherent, accurate hockey analysis from Stephen A. Smith. Greg Wyshynski does a little bit of all three in his piece. (It's worth noting that four web-based publications combined -- but didn't necessarily compete against each other -- to give you better coverage of a gaffe by an ESPN staffer than ESPN gives to most sports stories.)
Before 11 p.m. ET, when the adults and the highlights (for the most part) take over, SportsCenter is a worthless, unwatchable program. The morning SportsCenter, originally developed because reruns of the last night's 1 a.m. ET show were unable to break in and provide adequate coverage of early morning-breaking sports stories, have been an absolute failure.
These are shows that attempt to be about the show, with an occasional guest starring role from "SPORTS!" They are not shows that are about sports. I've said my final words on ESPN's treatment of the sport of hockey, and I hope most hockey fans have as well. This isn't about that, however.
This is not a hockey problem. This is an "ESPN outside of game coverage and the 11 p.m. ET SportsCenter have become terrible" problem.
Just to break it down for you: This is a prominent sports columnist, living in the biggest sports city on earth, one that has a fairly popular (in fact, as popular as it's ever been, if you check the numbers) hockey team in it, with two nearby teams as well. Not only that, but Smith is from Philadelphia, a city in which hockey has mattered more than basketball since Julius Erving retired. This man was brought onto a network's flagship show to talk about two teams in two sports, and he did not know one of the basic rules of one of the sports.
This goes beyond what Deadspin said -- correctly -- that trusting Stephen A. Smith for hockey analysis is stupid. This is CNN-esque boneheadedness from a man who is paid to talk about sports. A man was on television talking about a sport -- in fact, yelling emphatically about it -- and he did not know a basic rule of the game. Not just that, but the SportsCenter anchor who allowed him to prattle on, Sara Walsh, allowed him to get away with saying that. And then Barry Melrose allowed him to get away with saying that later. It's absurd, and regardless of the sport, it's bad television.
Because it's not just hockey -- far from it. SportsCenter's coverage of baseball is dormant most of the offseason, occasionally pops up during the regular season, and is irrelevant all year long. They've turned basketball into, essentially, a boring game of 1-on-1, superstar vs. superstar, dunk vs. dunk. College football and NFL stories are adequately covered, but SportsCenter gets bored of them and turns it into debate fodder as well.
I could go on for another 4,000 words about the debate shows (First Take, etc.) that pollute ESPN and ESPN2's airwaves the rest of the day, but there are better people to dissect those shows. There's a reason I singled out SportsCenter: It used to be literally my favorite show. When I was sick as a kid, I would watch reruns of SportsCenter over and over again until something else came on. This was in the Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, Rich Eisen and Stuart Scott days, so it was as much about how funny and informed the anchors were as the sports highlights themselves. The Lights on NBCSN is a welcome throwback to those days.
SportsCenter used to be a worthwhile collage of sports information that furthered the discussion between fans. Now, SportsCenter wants to be the discussion. Maybe that's fine for one show a day, but you forget, the show is on for nearly 18 hours a day. Can you imagine there being some poor sap having to sit through every hour of SportsCenter? There has to be some ESPN employee that needs to do it.
I can't even picture getting through one anymore, and that's not good for sports.