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ESPN’s ‘Who’s Now’: Why tell kids dollars, ‘buzz’ best measure of success?

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ESPN, bless its profit-making soul, has joined the growing list of media that negate my need to think for myself. And if you’re a young athlete, ESPN is giving you all the advice you need on how to determine what constitutes “success” in sport and life.

This month, ESPN is conducting “Who’s Now,” a bracket-based, fan-voting competition to determine the “ultimate” sports star based on both “on-field success and off-field buzz.” This morning, courtesy of the SportsCenter hosts, I learned that these criteria for the “ultimate” star include size of athletes’ contracts and attendance at “hot” events (you know, those tony bars ‘n’ such). The 32 finalists were based on fan nominations. (Adam “PacMan” Jones didn’t make the cut.)

The four brackets are named after Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth and Billie Jean King. Supposedly I don’t need to identify these people because, well, they’re also “ultimate” sports stars with sufficient “buzz.”

I’m pleased that ESPN has based this competition largely on who’s accreted the most money (salary and endorsements) and the most media attention. I’m sure all those grade-school and junior-high kids will surely understand that money and buzz are far more important than those “character-building” values that their coaches like to talk about.

I’m pleased that an abundance of pulchritude is a factor. I’m glad that the kids will rush to Google Amanda Beard and find a half-naked photo of her at the top of the search results. (Yes, that talented Olympic swimmer is … hot.) Ditto race-car driver Danica Patrick. The three images at the top of her search results show her in poses I haven’t seen since I last attended a car show in Vegas. Ditto tennis player Maria Sharapova. (At least she’s got more skin covered that Ms. Patrick at the top of her Google search.)

I’m pleased that no amateur athletes need apply here. By ESPN’s definition of “ultimate,” money counts more than athletic achievement for its own sake. Amateurs, I’m told, don’t get paid (at least above-the-table.) ESPN lets us get out those financial yardsticks to find out who’s got the biggest.

Yep, ESPN should be lauded for telling all the young folk what’s important in life: Money. Parties. Sex. Fabulous, not just good, face and body.

Given that ESPN counts off-field “buzz” as significant, let’s nominate some classes of athletes it may not have considered.

How about athletes with multiple arrests? How about those with a number of illegitimate children (and who default on child support)? How about those linked to substance abuse, including steroids? They got “it,” too: Big contracts. Big performance. Big off-field buzz.

I like sports. I like watching talented, hard-working athletes compete on the field no matter what their contract size or amount of “buzz.” But I dislike how ESPN (and a whole bunch of other sports-related enterprises, including sports reporting) broadcasts these mindless measures of stardom in such made-for-TV bullshit as “Who’s Now.”

Maybe, like Charles Barkley, ESPN doesn’t believe it needs to be a role model.

xpost: Scholars & Rogues and 5th Estate

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

July 2, 2007 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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