Sidebar: In writing this slightly long-winded exploration - classic Dubs, I know - I'm super grateful to the Scizz, in particular, for hashing out some of these issues on Friday night and helping me center my thoughts. Just imagine how unwieldy this thing would be without his help.
I took Thursday off this week as I struggled with a sinus infection or something quite like it. With the spare time between doses of extra strength "oh god this better get me better I have a huge day tomorrow," I caught up on some Netflix, specifically movies I can safely assume my wife would not mind missing. Having started it Wednesday night before Mrs. Dubs got home, I finished off Dark Crystal, the epic Jim Henson/Frank Oz masterpiece that still somehow holds up today. Inspired by the theme, I sailed through Labyrinth, though the viewing was more napping than anything else.
A former parole officer in the area, Hurley is the quintessential made-for-Hollywood archetype. Having been frustrated by the recidivist rates of his parolees and the frustration of not being able to keep every one of them out of jail, seeing men too old or too broken to help or fix, he opted to focus his work on high school students. Hurley's success rate is obvious, as he sends the overwhelming majority of his players on to play college ball every year, and currently holds the national record for state championships. But, like any great coach, his primary concern has always been making true men out of his boys. Having seen first-hand the reality for men who never really made that leap, his focus on the big picture has a certain urgency to it. And, to complete the morality play, following the maturation and growth is success.
It is no big secret why this kind of storyline appeals to us as sports fans. Somewhere in the midst of collective effort and camaraderie, real life lessons can be learned. And even if we are only spectators, the mere act of witnessing such moments of growth and learning and success and failure can have a profound effect. Not always, sure. But perhaps that's why we watch, as we wait for those lessons to take hold of our heroes and ourselves. Lessons about patience, about grit and determination, about the possibility of success against all odds.
Don't get me wrong, I'm as guilty of assuming the soapbox as anyone. Frankly, I want there to be high standards for my sports heroes. And I want us all to hold them accountable; to expect that - in return for our devotion - most of their maturation into men or women has happened and that most of the important lessons have been learned. Even if it sets us up for perennial disappointment, we SHOULD want our teams and our players to be the very best versions of themselves. We should demand it. Sure, I rolled my eyes when Bob Costas went off on Stevie Johnson during Sunday Night Football this past weekend, but there's also something endearing and rather comforting about knowing that people (and, often, "people" can and should be "us") are out there caring about standards of conduct and holding sports figures accountable in ways that go beyond statistics and the win column.
This context of sport and values, though, makes this week's other events all the more startling and rage-inducing.
Did ESPN just admit that they had evidence corroborating Bernie Fine's story, and that they basically did nothing with it for nearly a decade? Surely they'll have some explanation, right?
Shit, with the text commentary on that video, my point's basically made (putting aside the fact that I disagree with the editorializing in the video title).
Critics of media, of which I deign to count myself one, can often find something about sports coverage that is lacking. Here at the Deeg, we've never been shy about taking the hacks at The Network to task. Fuck, if you hire enough dipshits, you're gonna get a reputation for assbaggery. Deal with it.
This time, though, they really outdid themselves with their unification of ass and bag.
The irony of ironies about ESPN's decision to sit on this story, not to mention not disclose it to the police, is that it flies in the face of everything else we know about ESPN and it's deep-seeded desire to break each and every story possible. With this constant emphasis on being the first source of information for the public and on airing the sports world's dirty laundry ad infinitum, one would never have expected a story like this to be kept under raps for so long.
To bury something like this is a total failure of one's responsibility as both a journalist and a sentient, feeling being.
But bury it they did, and now it is their turn to be called to task for falling below even the most basic standards of human decency. This is not hyperbole. Mr. Dipshit in the video above casually explains that they weren't sure of what they had, that they couldn't verify the voice. He would have us believe that - weeks after crucifying Paterno for not doing more than the law actually requires - that there's some sort of moral wiggle room here since the law requires less of media in this situation. Fuck that bullshit, you CYAing motherfucker. As an organization purportedly concerned with uncovering some sort of truth from time to time, you can't tell me that someone at ESPN didn't think that this old audio was exactly what it now appears to be. And, assuming I'm right, and that someone did suspect that this audio suggested that Bernie Fine might very well be abusing children, one of two things should have happened: (1) the person should have gone to the police or (2) the person should have found one of the many lawyers who works for ESPN and that lawyer should have advised that he call the police.
I know there's nuance to this situation. Of course there is. And for that and many reasons, I won't sit here and pretend that I necessarily would have done differently. I've been fortunate enough to avoid the need to make decisions of such unthinkable moral weight, so all I have is a simple hope that I'd take the ideal path if put in such circumstances. But, to the extent that ESPN constantly trips over itself to point out the moral or behavioral failings of others, even when those failings have little to no impact on the outcome of any particular game, or even any impact on anyone's life other than the athlete or coach in question, it has created a higher ethical standard for itself and it's employees. So, while I can certainly understand why someone would sit on something like this for so long, I can't accept it.
Their standards don't allow me to.
What remains, then, is the backlash. If any. ESPN and the other big sports networks hold most of the cards with respect to dictating how any particular sports story is digested. Their voices frame the water cooler debate and, by extension, the availability of advertising deals and the posture of contract negotiations. Their power is profound in this weird wide world of sport. Yet, as has been clear before and as is crystal fucking clear now, their moral superiority is feigned and they are little more than automatons who publicly parrot social values without adhering to those values themselves.
Discussing this with the Scizz on Friday night, he mused on how NBC should be running this story every night, offering itself as an alternative sports outlet that doesn't cover up potential evidence of child abuse. Or, more appropriately, maybe ESPN's sponsors could just bolt, sending a clear message that moral standards can't just be claimed - they need to be achieved.
Neither of those things will happen, of course, at least not in a way that will likely rightfully rob ESPN of it's virtual monopoly or encourage it to take a long, hard look at how it conducts itself as an organization. Yet, as if it's not already abundantly clear and perhaps overstated, this likely endpoint (or lack thereof) is something I just can't accept. And neither should you.