Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

December 30, 2012

HOPKINS: Haven't missed the 'worldwide leader'

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — I made a resolution at the start of 2012, and like most resolutions made, it was broken. However, I can proudly say that I lasted until early August before succumbing.

My resolution — actually, a vow when I made it — was to avoid watching ESPN for a full calendar year. There were two exceptions: Major League Baseball-related programs including games and the show “Baseball Tonight” and any NFL-related shows, including “Monday Night Football.”

I vowed not to watch “Sportscenter.” Not a second of “Pardon the Interruption” or “Between the Lines.”

I didn’t need to listen to Skip Bayless and Stephen Smith arguing on “First Take” over who’s the bigger jerk. Too often ESPN commentators are discussing the sports topic of the day and too often, that topic is the latest outrageous behavior. Sometimes they criticize the behavior, but usually it’s encouraged. They seem to glorify jerks, the athletes who believe that the game is secondary to their performances or personalities.

To me, it’s not worth expending the energy on nonsense. Nor do I need to watch what seemed to be the constant stream of “look at me” highlights.

ESPN also devotes too much time to sports I don’t care about. I’m not much of a college sports fan, which is something ESPN has in spades. I’d rather watch the best of the best, and those athletes are found in the pro ranks. They also show the NBA almost every night of the week. I’m a hockey guy. Basketball appeals to me about as much as fingernails scraping across a chalk board.

With NBC SportsNet showing plenty of the National Hockey League (when it’s not in the middle of labor strife) and other hockey viewing options, plus the Yankees on the YES Network, there wasn’t much need for ESPN.

Now that you have the background, here’s what led to my undoing.

The night my resolution came screeching to a halt was a brilliant moment of programming more than it was giving in to my own failings. I was flipping through the channels late one night and as I passed through channels 26 and 27, where ESPN and ESPN2 reside on cable, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a Formula One auto race.

I grew up watching Formula One races with my father and brother, and was fortunate enough to see the last two F-1 races held at Watkins Glen, in 1980 and 1981. I still watch when I can, which isn’t that often, but these vehicles with their precision engines still fascinate me more than any other form of racing on wheels.

Curious, I turned back to ESPN2 where, sure enough these fabulous international racing machines were screaming by the camera. But they weren’t today’s cars. It looked like a race from the late 1980s when I watched every race.

At first I thought it was a season in review type show, but I soon recognized it as a documentary on Ayrton Senna, a fantastic Brazilian driver who died in a wreck in San Marino, Italy in 1994.

I wasn’t a fan of Senna when he was alive; he was a rival of one of my favorite drivers, the fantastic Frenchman Alain Prost. However, during the documentary I learned about his lobbying for driver safety, his highly Catholic faith and how he lifted the spirits of an entire nation not only by his driving but through his philanthropic efforts and patriotism.

It was a very satisfying program. When it was over, I realized I had broken my resolution. “Those sneaky &*@$#,” I said to myself. How dare this network that usually favors dreck over substance lure me back with quality programming?

At least it was worth it. Had I given in to watching a “highlight” of a player attacking a fan or some egocentric celebration, I’d have been really disappointed with myself.

Since that fateful night, I’ve continued to limit my ESPN viewing, which has been made more difficult by the NHL lockout. Still, I’ve succeeded in only watching ESPN a handful of times. The most egregious example was after the Seattle Seahawks “defeated” the Green Bay Packers on the final play of regulation on Sept. 24. An incredibly poor call by NFL replacement referees gave Seattle the win. I simply had to hear the discussion.

Was this the call that would settle the labor dispute? What did players and coaches think? This is when ESPN can still truly shine.

Still, the moments during which I’ve tuned in to ESPN have been fleeting. I haven’t missed it and have found better things to do. I just may try this approach with the NHL when it comes back, too.