Friday, May 22, 2009

On Tony K.

I come from a long line of balding and irascible Jews, and so I feel a certain inevitable kinship with Tony Kornheiser. And while I will take him at his word that his resignation from the Monday Night Football booth was voluntary, and while I imagine Jon Gruden will do a fine (if VERY INTENSE) job as Kornheiser's replacement, this does raise an interesting quandary about the average sports fan, who does not abide by lightheartedness or cynicism or pop-cultural musings during an actual game, but will gladly wade into these waters for hours at a time between kickoffs.

I suppose that's what ESPN is aiming for here: A more HARDCORE FOOTBALL crew, perhaps in an effort to directly compete with the NFL Network, perhaps as a reaction to the fact that Monday Night Football is now only the second-most popular game in a given week (Sunday, after all, is now "Football Night in America," although I actually refer to it as "Keith Olbermann Night in Socialist Russia"), and MNF often attracts only the truly degenerate fans who can bring themselves to sit still for a Week 15 matchup between the Vikings and the Lions. It makes sense for ESPN to go TOTAL FOOTBALL, but it also kind of unwittingly reflects my own cranky complaints about the new media landscape, which increasingly only offers two viable options: Hardcore SABR-metric analysis based on statistical regression, or blogs named after 1980's middle-relief pitchers that link to pictures of WAGs and drop steady streams of cynical references about...well, pretty much everyone.

It used to be that newspapers served to fill in the middle ground between the hardcore and the ridiculous; newspapers, when fully staffed, offered the best glimpse of personalities, of ongoing narratives--Kornheiser's genius as a newspaper columnist, in fact, was his very fusty ability to call out bad behavior while simultaneously tempering the seriousness of the games themselves. (I would argue that he did this on MNF, as well, by calling out the otherwise excellent Ron Jaworski on his forays into rampant nerdiness.) But this, I think, is the real problem with the new media landscape: There is no middle ground anymore. And if that makes me sound irascible, well, so be it.

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