I attended the circus last Thursday. Center ring was reserved for LeBron James. The hour-long special titled "The Decision" was supposed to announce which team the coveted free agent would call home for the next few years. Instead, it made a mockery out of journalism and sports in one fell swoop.
ESPN, which hasn't been much of a credible news source for some time, damaged any shred of journalistic integrity it had left by even agreeing to this garbage. And I fear now it has opened the door for ego-driven athletes, money-hungry marketing teams, etc. to bypass whatever is left of the non-biased media all together. And what a sad day that is for people. Hopefully, they'll figure out why once the vitaminwater and Nike commercials fade. But I'm not holding my breath.
The most appalling aspect of this situation: How a news organization so completely and easily relinquished control of their network. Everything from what sponsors could air commercials during the hour to veteran sportscaster Jim Gray being chosen as the "interviewer" was deliberately constructed by LeBron and his people. To be fair, LeBron's camp says they're donating the advertising proceeds from his sponsors ... all $2.5 million of it ... to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. But the damage has been done.
And CNBC has since revealed that Gray allegedly was paid by LeBron's people. Gray adamantly denies this, but who knows what's true at this point because NBC may have been outbid by ESPN to air the announcement. The former ESPN and NBC reporter added to the spectacle by waiting until the 19th question to ask the two-time NBA MVP what team he had chosen, drawing the ire of the press. His hard-hitting questions included, "Did you enjoy this recruiting process?" and "Are you still a nail biter?"
I understand the landscape of journalism is changing. But that doesn't mean a news organization, no matter what medium, has to sink to this level. Without print, airwaves or bandwidth, this marketing wet dream wouldn't work. The cornerstone of the media is to serve as a watchdog. How can that be when the dog is drinking from the same bowl as the people it's supposed to be holding accountable? No matter how much the industry changes, the watchdog function should be the one constant.
The argument could be made that sports is entertainment and is not held to the same standard as say coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the health care debate. But what happens when "insert whatever entity" starts buying blocks of time on major news networks to spin their side of a particular issue complete with whatever journalist sells their soul to disguise crap for news? The "don't pee on me and tell me it's raining" adage comes to mind. I just hope CNN doesn't roll over to BP in my lifetime.
This stunt also made me realize sports as a vehicle for values such as hard work, triumph of the human spirit and victory is a sham. The full-blown business of athletics is what really exists. I am no longer disillusioned.
It will be interesting to see if the experiment in Miami does conclude with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the obviously narcissistic LeBron James winning a championship.
For the media who sold out and potentially changed the function of sports journalism, they better bank on it.