Tag Archives: ESPN

Reaction to Paul Shirley

Yesterday Paul Shirley posted an essay regarding the Haitian relief effort entitled If you rebuild it they will come. Mr Shirley is a retired basketball player and freelance author. He posted the article on a site called FlipCollective which contains essays written by Shirely and nine other authors. In addition to writing for FlipCollective, Mr Shirley also wrote a weekly music column for the ESPN website that was featured on Page 2.

Mr Shirley’s essay is a critical look at the Haitian relief effort. He questions the wisdom of donating toward rebuilding Haiti. He asks tough questions about accountability.

Public outcry was swift and violent. If you read the comments after the essay you’ll see a disturbing number wished death or harm to the author. In less than 24 hours ESPN released this press statement:

“Statement Regarding Paul Shirley: He was a part-time freelance contributor. The views he expressed on another site of course do not at all reflect our company’s views on the Haiti relief efforts. He will no longer contribute to ESPN.”

I do not agree with Mr Shirley’s essay, but I do think it raises important questions. Questions about Haiti and questions about disagreement.

Questions about Haiti

The relief effort in Haiti is encouraging to see. I believe it is important for those of us who have been blessed with much to offer support.

When I see the news coverage from Haiti it causes me to wonder. Where was the concern for Haiti one month ago? A nation where 80% of the population falls below the poverty line, where more than 80% of urban areas are slums, and where life expectancy is low and infant mortality is high. As a country Haiti has been dealt a tough hand, with high levels of debt and geographical features that invite disaster (particularly from drought, hurricanes, and earthquakes).

You see, it takes much more effort to offer help that goes beyond simply writing check. And it’s not as glamorous to fight poverty on a day-to-day basis as it is to fly in with disaster relief supplies. Haiti has injuries that band-aids will not fix.

Mr Shirley focuses on responsibility in his essay, to the point of sounding very cold. It is true that the leaders in Haiti failed their people. This raises difficult questions about the roles of other countries and how much help they should provide. When I say this I am referring to more than just earthquake relief efforts, I am talking about building infrastructure, eliminating slums, and establishing medical facilities.

Questions about disagreement

The way ESPN handled the controversy regarding Mr Shirley was troubling. In less than a day they completely disassociated with him. There was no discussion about what he had written (keep in mind that the controversial essay was written for an unrelated site). The implication in the press statement is that everyone at ESPN must believe and say the same thing (ESPN has a history of preventing their writers from expressing thoughts and opinions on other media outlets).

Reading blogs and news stories, and particularly the comments posted after them, reveals that we as Americans are not very good at civilized disagreement. Insults start flying. Threats of boycotts abound. Hostility is normal. Logic is normally lacking, as is compassion. And sadly, many people argue from moral or philosophical positions contradicted by their very lifestyles.

Why must we be so reactionary?

One of my favorite quotes is from Robert Frost: “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” You’ll notice that Frost does not say education is the ability to tolerate everything. No, the key is to be able to hear opposition and respond evenly.

This means commenters on the essay who disagreed with Mr Shirley should have responded with rebuttals, counterpoints, or developed thoughts of their own instead of using insults, curses, sarcasm, and wishes of harm. A logical argument might change Mr Shirley’s mind; a string of insults will do no good.


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Kornheiser Leaves MNF

I’ve mentioned in the past that I have a mix of love and hate for ESPN. Things became a bit brighter with the announcement of Stephen a Smith’s  departure (my least favorite ESPN personality). And then I got to hear Skip Bayless (my second least favorite ESPN personality) get chastised by Mike Missanelli last week. Recently I heard the news that Tony Kornheiser will be leaving the Monday Night Football broadcast team, which is wonderful news.

Tony Kornheiser encapsulates my conflict with ESPN. I love hearing hm on PTI, but can’t stand him as a color commentator on MNF. So the move was welcomed by me. Let Tony debate Wilbon, that is where he belongs.

To sweeten the deal ESPN is bringing Jon Gruden to the MNF booth. He will certainly be back in coaching next season, so this is a temporary fill, but I still like it. I always liked Gruden when he was the offensive coordinator in Philly. I hoped the Eagles would offer him the head coaching job. As a head coach he seems to be a bit overbearing, and in hindsight I’m glad the Eagles ended up with Andy Reid (at times Andy drives me crazy with his play calling because he tends to go pass happy pretty often, but he’s a good coach). But I will always feel some degree of fondness for Gruden.

So ESPN improved their football broadcast team. Of course, this coming season the NFL will be under a cloud following John Madden’s retirement. I’ll miss hearing him call games.

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An Inconvenient Ad Placement

This evening I stopped by the ESPN MLB page to check the headlines. I was looking to see if Ken Griffey Jr had officially signed with the Braves yet.

I noticed a humorous connection between the first headline and a prominent ad on the page.


Notice that the top headline in the upper right corner reads “A-Rod says he got ‘energy booster’ injection.” Stories about A-Rod litter the page. Among this PED bashing and righteous indignation there is a fishy ad that says “Tired of being tired?” A smiling doctor offers you FRS, which “many of the world’s best athletes” use. Hmmmmmm. I think I’ll pass.

Any kind of wonder supplement that goes by a few initials and promises to make me stronger, faster, or more energized is dubious indeed.

By the way, I titled this post before I noticed the headline on the feature article was “Convenient Truth.” It appears Al Gore is never far from our minds.

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Baseball Tonight Exegesis

“Fill thine horn with oil . . . and go” is ESPN Baseball Tonight host Steve Berthiaume’s  unique catchphrase. In a previous post I briefly declared my appreciation for it. I’ve noticed that people end up on my blog while searching for the meaning of the phrase, so I thought I would discuss it.

The phrase is taken from the King James Version of I Samuel 16:1.

And the Lord said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Beth-lehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.

The Lord instructs Samuel to stop grieving about the evilness of King Saul. The oil Samuel is instructed to take with him is for anointing the next king, which would be King David (his anointing takes place in verse 13).

So why does Steve Berthiaume use the line as a catchphrase? I really do not know. He seems to use it when a Philadelphia Phillie hits a homerun, so maybe he is saying “Phil thine horn with oil and go.”

I like it because it’s not often the Old Testament makes an appearance on ESPN. Catchphrases have license to be unique, strange, or vague. And who doesn’t like hearing the word thine once in a while?

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The Baseball Draft: Ballplayers and a Troubling Lower Half

I watched a few minutes of the ESPN coverage of the MLB draft yesterday afternoon. After every pick Steve Phillips would say of the draftee: “He’s a ballplayer.” You’re kidding? He plays ball? You mean the Devil Rays didn’t just draft an electrical engineer from Tulane who starred on the chess team? He was a member of the baseball team? He knows how to run? And throw? And hit?

My favorite moment occurred when St. Louis drafted Brett Wallace from Arizona State University. Wallace is a big third/first baseman (6’2″; 235 lbs) who can really hit. Scouts have some reservations about his weigh distribution (one report states: “Wallace has been described as a good athlete trapped in a bad body”). To state this bluntly, he has large thighs and a large posterior. When the ESPN analysts were interviewing him after he was drafted they fired this beautiful question at him: “Do you feel you will be limited by your lower half?”


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