Saturday, August 4, 2007
Tony Stewart vs. ESPN: Does He Have A Point?
Apparently, the criticism of Tony Stewart by ESPN "talking heads" this week was a little more spread-out than originally thought. Lots of article links and emails pointed The Daly Planet in several different directions and to several different ESPN on-air announcers. What the network is up to this time is anyone's guess.
As ESPN begins to recognize once again that NASCAR exists, Tony Stewart has become the first to have to handle the "other shows" that ESPN produces and the fact that the ESPN News Network is "always" on-the-air.
The Daly Planet has been vocal about the fact that ESPN has chosen, in some cases, to use reporters who are not familiar with NASCAR to report on it. Many fans believe it is because the network still does not fully respect or even understand the sport.
One Daly Planet favorite this season is ESPN General Assignment Reporter David Amber. On-hand at NEXTEL Cup races before ESPN began its coverage, this sports TV veteran proved immediately to be novice at NASCAR. Fortunately, that did not matter as the NASCAR Now program he reported for was also hosted by two NASCAR "outsiders," Doug Banks and Erik Kuselias.
Between Amber, Banks, and Kuselias, the largest and most well-respected cable sports network in North America had absolutely zero credibility with fans or teams. Banks was unceremoniously fired, and never heard from again. Kuselias never even acknowledged his co-host's departure on-the-air. The network refused to comment.
Now, six months after this ESPN mess of "NASCAR illiterate" on-air talent began, Mr. Amber found himself face-to-face with Tony Stewart in a group of reporters at Pocono. Mr. Amber decided to ask Stewart a question, and then all hell broke loose.
"If every time we do an interview you want to stand here and dig-up dirt, you might as well go and find somebody else because we will wait until you leave." said Stewart. "Do we always have to leave with a dagger in our back from ESPN? That's all I'm curious about." Stewart continued to add some additional comments, without profanity.
This story was reported nationwide by the Associated Press, which means it has "legs" and will be making the rounds of news outlets. Stewart broke the "pack" of reporters tradition, and told Amber that he, and ESPN, were not welcome to continue to interview him. The question is, does he have a point?
The Daly Planet has been working hard this season to celebrate the racing coverage we have seen of the Craftsman Truck, Busch, and NEXTEL Cup Series. Along with that, however, comes a bevy of brand-new shows that are concerned with off-track issues. Remember, ESPN is a twenty-four hour a day monster that must be fed content endlessly...on each channel. Hence, the infamous "Who's Now."
From SportsCenter to Around The Horn, NASCAR now has to find a place in the content of all these shows. Prior to this season, NASCAR was clearly the Kryptonite of ESPN, and the network gave the entire sport the cold shoulder.
Does anyone remember Doug Banks asking Kasey Kahne if he would "stand by" his comment that David Stremme was fat? Anyone remember the hype of Montoya being "dangerous" and the other drivers being "deeply concerned?" How about the fact that Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were "feuding" after the Martinsville finish?
NASCAR is a square peg in ESPN's very round hole. On the track, good pictures and great sound. Hard-working announcers, and solid pit reporters. Away from the track so far this season...nightmare. Now, the network finds itself in a tussle with one of the sport's highest-profile stars. Can you believe it?
It might be time for ESPN to have a little meeting and try to decide how to rectify the "non-racing" issues that seem to be plaguing the network. Tony Stewart has a highly-rated Sirius Satellite Radio show each week, and this media platform gives him the guns to fire back at ESPN whenever he wants to a national audience.
Before you judge things on this simply "Tony being Tony," imagine if this was Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, or even Dale Junior who was truly upset. Remember, ESPN can decide at any time, on any show, on any network, to continue to perpetrate the belief that NASCAR drivers are just redneck drunks. Or, they can adapt a fresh new attitude and embrace the reality around them.
Maybe, a nice weekend retreat would help. Say aboard Jeff Gordon's one hundred and six foot eight million dollar yacht. That might change a few opinions.
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