ESPN takes Big Brother to the extreme

March 10, 2010 

Memo to ESPN: You damage your product and your image by muzzling your talent.

As my wife can attest, I'm an inveterate listener of radio and podcasts. In fact, I'd rather listen to either vs. watch TV because it allows me to multi-task.

How powerful are podcasts? If you ask Tony Kornheiser and Peter Pascarelli — both former newspapermen — they likely will cringe and clam up.

Last month, Kornheiser was suspended for two weeks by ESPN for his critique of SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm and her tight-fitting outfit that was a combination of Catholic school uniform, kilt and 1960s go-go dancer.

Storm will turn 48 later this spring. You can see a slideshow of her wardrobe via The Bleacher Report.

Kornheiser made the comment not on Pardon The Interruption but on his own Washington, D.C. radio program, which also gets rolled into a podcast. I am an avid listener of his radio podcast, and when I first heard it, I thought nothing of Kornheiser’s rant. Many folks don’t find his acerbic rants entertaining, but enough people do. Including me.

ESPN reacted swiftly, informing Kornheiser he would not appear on PTI for two weeks. Apparently, ESPN employees can only make flattering comments about each other. And I can sense the Evil HR director just around the corner. (Perhaps it was the "Holden Caufield fantasy" comment about Storm that tipped the scales on Mr. Tony.)

Well, for the past two weeks, I unsubscribed from the PTI podcast. Besides, I can't stand listening to Dan Le Batard. And if ESPN truly wants to kill PTI, keep rolling out Le Batard. He predictably takes the side of the athlete on just about every controversial topic.

As for Pascarelli, he made a comment on ESPN's Baseball Today podcast about pigeons visiting a statue of baseball commissioner Bud Selig that the Milwaukee Brewers will unveil this year. The next day, Pascarelli spent several minutes of a podcast groveling/apologizing. It made me uncomfortable, and apparently it didn't matter. Pascarelli was removed from the program and replaced.

Prior to that, there was SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt. He also was reportedly disciplined for using his radio program to criticize Selig after the MLB leader's $18 million salary was made public. Apparently, ESPN's contract with Major League Baseball elevates Selig above criticism.

So now reporters they've turned into on-air entertainers are being transformed into PR people, afraid to say what they want on certain topics. I realize the E in ESPN stands for "entertainment." From a journalistic standpoint, it is looking as if the E represents "emasculated."

Meanwhile, I have listened to just one post-Pascarelli episode of Baseball Today. As of Monday, I have re-subscribed PTI.

Welcome back, Mr. Tony. Don't change a thing, but since I read that your salary from PTI reportedly is $900,000, I suspect you never will be quite the same.

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