by John Walters
Tweet Me Right
Narrow World Of Sports
Long before ABC Sports found itself under the umbrella of Disney and Bob Iger, it was the fiefdom of a true sports visionary, Roone Arledge. My former SI colleague, Steve Rushin, once wrote an outstanding profile of Arledge as part of SI’s celebration of its 40 years in print.
Arledge, not unlike Christopher Columbus, shrunk the world by traveling far and wide across the globe. Whereas Columbus brought Europe to North America (with catastrophic effects, we might add), Arledge brought Europe and Asia and even Acapulco into the living rooms of North Americans in the 1970s via ABC’s iconic Saturday afternoon TV show Wide World of Sports.
“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport…” announcer Jim McKay intoned by way of the show’s introduction, accompanied by a majestic score, and we were off. Evel Knievel making some bizarre leap on his motorcycle. Muhammad Ali or some other boxer fighting in a place we’d never heard of. Figure skating from San Moritz. And yes, cliff diving in Acapulco.
What a wonderful and humanistic venture. No one at the United Nations may have ever done more to promote, well, globalism, than Arledge. Sure, we loved the NFL (the league’s apotheosis was the 1970s and you’ll never persuade us otherwise), but we also looked forward to expanding our sports horizons as ABC’s cameras traveled across other horizons.
Sadly, for reasons of budget, of tail-chasing and, yes, of rights fees, ESPN/ABC now has a distinctly antithetical approach to sports coverage than Arledge did. Just last weekend for instance, the Tour de France concluded (with the youngest champion in more than a century), and Olympic tuneups the World Swimming Championships and USA Track & Field Championships also concluded. Athletes who should’ve become household names this week such as Egan Bernal, Caleb Dressel and Simone Manuel, and those who should already be, such as Sandi Morris (above), Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn, were completely ignored by both ESPN and espn.com.
Yes, part of the equation is that these events were televised by NBC/NBC Sports, but why should that matter to a network/brand that promotes itself as “the worldwide leader in sports?” And sure, ESPN did provide nominal coverage of the Women’s World Cup and Megan Rapine (which aired on Fox), but it too was largely muted.
Instead, we get a daily diet of Screamin’ A and others projecting on what the Lakers will do this season (it’s July) and hot training camp updates from the NFL. Future historians and/or sociologists will note the parallel paths of nationalism taking place in the U.S.A. and ESPN’s coverage of sports and ruminate on how one impacted the other, and vice-versa.
Now I’m sure Jamie Horowitz would never pitch this, and I’d probably be laughed out of Jimmy Pitaro’s secretary’s office, but given how much easier it is to “span the globe” these days electronically and digitally, I have to wonder if there’s an appetite out there for fans who want more. For those who’d be entertained by a program, even if it were a weekly, that brought the world of sport to our laptops and televisions. I’d watch. We might even call it “The Worldwide World of Sports.”
Might there really be good news in college football, much less on the planet? People doing the right thing because it’s the right thing? Well, blow me down, Olive.
Yesterday the University of Alabama and the University of Wisconsin, two Power 5 schools that wear big boy pants but are not in the same conference, announced 1) that they will play each other in the years 2024 and 2025 and 2) that they will do so not inside Jerry World on at the Mercedes Benz Dome but in Madison and Tuscaloosa.
If you’re wondering, Does this mean that Nick Saban is hanging it up after the 2023 season, well I am, too. Seriously, though, could this be the inception of an encouraging new trend in college football, one that has largely been absent since the late 1970s (with apologies to the University of Miami, which continued doing so through the mid-1990s)? That is, the resurrection of the much-loved intersectional matchup, and on campus? In the words of Oliver (but not erstwhile Tide defensive coordinator Bill Oliver), “Sir, I want more, please!”
Meanwhile, CBS Sports provided its preseason Top 10 yesterday and if you’re curious, it goes a little something like this: Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Ohio State, LSU, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Notre Dame.
From that list, LSU is the only one that will face three other Top 10 schools. The Tigers get Texas, Florida and Alabama. Meanwhile, Auburn gets four—Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama—and that’s not even counting their games versus Oregon and Texas A&M, while the Aggies also get four as well: Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and LSU.
Manitoba Manhunt (Cont.)
It’s a grisly story, of course, but we are daily fascinated by the ongoing freedom of Canadian teenagers Kam Mcleod and Breyer Schmegelsky, who have now been on the run somewhere in Canada for nearly two weeks.
Think about it: they’re missing and they have not contacted a soul to declare their innocence, so they’re either dead or more likely, guilty. And if you understand how vast and underpopulated Canada is, once you take Toronto and Montreal out of the equation, then factor in that both boys are 6’4″ (difficult to disguise that), it’s downright bizarre that the RCMP, using drones and dogs and infrared cameras and who knows what else, have yet been unable to find them.
Fact: Canada ranks second overall in geographical size but 222nd in terms of population density. Which, to our way of thinking, should make these two fugitives easier to find. One wonders if the trail has gone cold, if the RCMP is simply guessing as to where they are. If they’ve been able to make it to Toronto, Canada’s largest city, they’re going to be much more difficult to nab. And you have to wonder how much heat the people in charge of this manhunt are taking, being outwitted to this point by a pair of high school-educated, ex-Walmart dropouts. It’s as if Beavis and Butthead are up against Tommy Lee Jones’ character from The Fugitive and winning.
One telling fact: they apparently haven’t killed anyone in more than ten days, which tells me they’re more interested in remaining on the lam than in a killing spree. Or they’ve been claimed by the wild and no one has found their corpses yet (and may never).
This story from the Toronto Globe and Mail provides a pretty good update of how the teens have thus far eluded capture and how the RCMP appears to be basically lost in terms of narrowing the search area.
The Bowel-ry Boy
A mad pooper is on the loose in Staten Island. The serial pooper has twice gone No. 2 outside the same home in New York City’s most quasi-borough this month and cops have told the residents of the house that there isn’t much they can do about it. Now, if he happens to be attempting to be selling cigarettes on the sidewalk…
So everyone’s favorite ex-Notre Dame wide receiver this side of Tim Brown and Rocket Ismail (and maybe Jeff Samardzija), New York Giant Golden Tate, has been suspended four games for taking a banned substance: a fertility drug.
Where does this rank on his career misdeeds? Less or more serious than his break-in at Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle? And aren’t both less grievous than former Irish teammate Michael Floyd’s DUIs? When did the Irish get so gangsta? Tate, whom Irish fans have always found appealing, is himself appealing the NFL’s suspension.
Dog & Butterfly
Alright, we were inspired by our friend’s moon fraud piece to go back and listen to this Heart tune from 1978. It only peaked at No. 34 on the charts, but sisters and Ann and Nancy Wilson have fared well, critically, as the decades have passed. Vocalist Ann is as talented as any female singer post-Carly/Carol/Joni as far as we’re concerned. And Nancy married Cameron Crowe.
8 p.m. CNN
Live from the FOX Theatre. You got owned, Dems!