JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

ESPN troubles …

Bill Simmons: Gone. ESPN: Fading.
Bill Simmons: Gone. ESPN: Fading.

It’s an interesting world.

Woke up this morning to the news that Bill Simmons is leaving ESPN, after spending my hour of gym time last night watching SportsCenter and pretty much losing my mind.

The two linked bonds? Simmons worked for ESPN, and ESPN feels … lost.

It’s a weird thing. Until a few years ago, there was no bigger entity in sports. Actually, I suppose ESPN remains the biggest entity in sports. But something has changed, and while I’m not entirely sure I can place my finger on it, the trouble—for me—starts with SportsCenter.

Why? Because the show has become unwatchable. Yeah, that’s a cliche word often used to describe something as bad, but watchable. Not in this case. SportsCenter is just plain brutal, to the point where, on most nights at the gym, I’ll spend my elliptical time watching Sean Hannity and Fox News over ESPN (I’m a huge liberal, and I loathe Hannity’s takes. But at least he’s entertaining). Back in the day, when SportsCenter was manned by folks like Olbermann and Patrick and Mayne and Scott and Cohn and Steiner, the gags and goofs were an element—but really only a small element. The games and athletes were the beef; they were what mattered. Now, it’s one joke after another after another; one gag and spoof. It’s not fun. It’s dumb. Just dumb. Tons of energy goes into picking the Top 10 plays—which have nothing to do with news. Here in California, the late-night show features Neil Everett, who seems like a nice man—but refuses to let highlights be highlights. The giggling is just unbearable.

I want to watch highlights. Hell, I dig highlights. I was raised on highlights. But this nonsense … no. Just no.

Simmons’ departure is another problem. Love him or hate him—the guy was a revolutionary sports journalist who brought special qualities to ESPN. Now he’s gone, and SportsCenter is worthless … and Bayless and Stephen A. and … and … there are issues.

Real issues.