ESPN: They're Covering Mike Tyson, Not Boxing

27.07.04 - By Frank Lotierzo - - On September 7th 1979 the Entertainment Sports Programing Network debuted, more commonly known as ESPN the all sports cable network. Myself being a huge Sports enthusiast watched a lot of ESPN up until about 1993-94. At one time I couldn't go to bed until I watched Sportscenter. Make no mistake about it, Boxing is my passion and has been since I was about five years old. However, I am an avid follower of both NFL and College Football, and watch it all day Saturday and Sunday in the Fall and Winter.

When ESPN debuted I was ecstatic and thought the concept was brilliant. Twenty five years later ESPN is so big and influential, that calling it's concept brilliant may actually be an understatement. What I loved about it when it first aired was that they covered Boxing and devoted a lot of broadcast time to it. Today that's not the case. Like with all other big business and corporations, ESPN is all about numbers and the bottom line. They now seek tabloid headlines a majority of the time in order to draw ratings.

At one time I really thought ESPN cared about Sports and the game. Today, that's not the case at all. Maybe they did at one time, but due to their high profile and growth, they've changed. On top of that they pay no attention to Boxing. They also cut their budget for the fighters who fight on Friday Night Fights aired on ESPN 2, and their Classic Boxing Series that runs on Tuesday night's is programmed buy a couple shoe-makers

The only time Boxing is ever a main topic or lead story on ESPN is if it's about Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, and sometimes Roy Jones. Unless one of them are fighting, or there is news pertaining to them, Boxing is an after thought. I remember watching Sportscenter after a couple of the Gatti-Ward fights just to see the coverage they gave it, if any. As I expected it was only mentioned in passing.

As most are aware, former Heavyweight Champ Mike Tyson fights this weekend for only the second time in 25 months. This past Sunday ESPN devoted monumental coverage to Tyson. Granted, Tyson's return to the ring at age 38 is a big story and definitely warrants coverage. However, there is more to it than that. Mike Tyson is controversial and brings ratings. Controversy and ratings are right up ESPN's alley.

As I sensed, ESPN will be all over Tyson this week as he winds down his training for his fight with British Heavyweight Danny Williams. Although Tyson is always news, even he is not worthy of the time they will spend on this fight. Tyson hasn't owned a piece of the Heavyweight title in nearly eight years and neither he or Williams are ranked in anybodies top-ten. ESPN could care less about Tyson or the Sport of Boxing, and I'm not suggesting that they should. It's just if they covered it with a little more regularity, their motives wouldn't be so obvious. The fact is they are only paying attention to this upcoming fight because of Tyson, who despite not fighting in 17 months is still a big draw.

No doubt the brain trust at ESPN probably realizes at age 38, this is most likely Tyson's last legitimate shot at getting back in the title picture and being taken seriously as a World class fighter. They will cover this bout from just about every angle, which is actually a good thing, but their intent is phony. They just want to make sure they're on the scene to cash in on the Tyson express.

Another example of ESPN setting the table so they can cash in, is how they orchestrated their greatest athlete of the century series in December 1999. That whole greatest athlete of the century series was a farce. It didn't stipulate any criteria or parameters. Nobody knew if it meant the greatest pure athlete, or who had the most impact and influence on their sport. Was dominance and Championships won taken into account. How much did longevity factor into the equation. The answer is nobody knew. The deciding factor was basically who ESPN thought they could parlay into the most promotions and commercials by naming him their athlete of the century.

Here's how you know that's what played a major role in choosing their winner. Mostly everyone knew what athletes would be somewhere in the top-ten. And everybody knew who would make the top three. At the conclusion of the countdown the final three were Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, and Michael Jordan. When I saw who the final three were, I didn't have a morsel of a doubt who ESPN would declare the athlete of the century. It was so obvious that it was laughable.

When it was finally announced, ESPN declared Michael Jordan it's athlete of the century. What a shock! The fact is Jordan was chosen because he is still alive and is the most well known athlete in the World today who can be interviewed. By ESPN naming Jordan it's athlete of the century, they can be aligned with him and trade off of his name and popularity. Over the coming years ESPN can continue to commercialize Jordan, "Their Athlete of The Century", something they cannot do with Ali and Ruth. The fact that ESPN covered Jordan's entire career and is alive and well along with being a ratings magnet insured Jordan the honor.

Think about it, how could ESPN profit by naming a deceased Baseball player like Babe Ruth their athlete of the century. They certainly can't interview him. On top of that, just about everybody who was alive and witnessed him play at his peak has probably passed on. The fact that Ruth didn't play in the ESPN era I'm sure hurt his case also.

What about Muhammad Ali, who is the most recognized person in the World? I have no doubt that two things kept Ali who should've been the winner from winning. Although Ali is still more widely known than Jordan throughout the World, his physical being had to be an issue. Due to Ali's affliction with Parkinsons Syndrome, he avoids the public spot light. Ali's speech is hindered by his condition and he hasn't granted interviews in years, dating back to the mid 1980's. How could ESPN promote and commercialize Ali?

Another thing I'm sure ESPN took into account was the fact that Ali's peak years and influence were before the ESPN era. The last time Ali won a title fight was September of 1978, exactly one year before ESPN debuted. ESPN's largest demograph is probably around 19-34. Kids who grew up watching ESPN don't even know who Cassius Clay was. Forget about ESPN even considering Ali as their athlete of the century.

I know this, if you asked me to pick between Ruth and Jordan, I'd have a hard time. However, the Ruth-Jordan debate should've been for second. Regardless of whatever stipulations or criteria set, Muhammad Ali was and should've been the athlete of the century. Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan are off the charts when it comes to their achievement and importance in Sports/U.S. history, but they didn't quite reach the level of Ali.

If you want to see and learn about Mike Tyson's return to the ring this weekend, watch ESPN Sportscenter. You'll be provided with all that you need to know. They'll have plenty of interviews and debates while showing some training clips. I don't begrudge Tyson this attention at all. He's a big story and will keep Boxing in the main this week for all the right reasons. This week ESPN will milk the return of Tyson to the fullest extent they think they can. I just wish I didn't see through to the phoniness of it.

I wish ESPN would use some of their reach and influence to cover some other fights and fighters who deserve the notoriety and coverage, possibly raising Boxing's profile. I'm sure if I asked those in charge of programing at ESPN why they don't devote more time to Boxing? They would say that Boxing is a fringe Sport and most only care about it when there is a big fight on the horizon. My answer would be, maybe if you gave it more attention and exposure, more fans would follow it and develop more of an interest in it.

Look for ESPN's Boxing coverage to cease after the Tyson-Williams fight. The next time Boxing will be covered by ESPN will be the Monday before the Hopkins-De La Hoya fight on September 18th

Article posted on 27.07.2004

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