Monday, August 25, 2008
Updated: ESPN Gunning For Michael Waltrip? (Audio Added)
Update: Click here for the link to the podcast of 96.9 The Kat to hear Michael Waltrip respond to the ESPN issue and the Bowyer comment.
All was fine when ESPN left the air after the Sprint Cup Series race from Bristol. The network had worked hard to spread the coverage around and wound-up with a balanced telecast that worked well. Then, the post-race programming began.
At one point during the telecast, Casey Mears had been cleared by his spotter to move-up and unfortunately was not. The resulting accident left several cars out of the race and others damaged. ESPN played the spotter's audio, then had an interview with Mears where he explained the problem and also apologized to the teams involved.
Unfortunately, one poor production decision during the race has come back to cause the entire ESPN family of networks a black eye. Clint Bowyer's car was caught-up in the accident, and he unleashed his frustration on Michael Waltrip by saying he was the worst driver in NASCAR over his team radio.
Bowyer had no way of knowing what Mears had done. His comment came from anger and the situation as he perceived it at that moment. ESPN records all the team radios, and they chose to play-back Bowyer's comment although it was clearly ill-informed. That one decision has taken-on a life of its own.
If embarrassing Michael Waltrip was the goal, they certainly accomplished that. Bowyer's comment was replayed on NASCAR Now, ESPNEWS, SportsCenter and posted on the ESPN.com website in the race highlights. The announcers had lots of fun with it and no one took even one second to consider the fact that it was totally incorrect.
Across the night and into the next day, the slam of Waltrip was being replayed over-and-over again on the ESPN family of TV networks and websites with the announcers laughing and the Bowyer audio turned-up nice and loud.
Let's turn to the question of why? Michael Waltrip announces the Craftsman Truck Series races for SPEED. He is also a popular commercial spokesman for NAPA and other companies. He might be best-known for his TV role as a panelist on This Week in NASCAR, SPEED's Monday night hour review show. Waltrip has been a regular on SPEED for over a decade.
All these ESPN Networks, websites and producers made the decision to leave Bowyer saying "Michael Waltrip is the worst driver in NASCAR" in the highlights they used on the shows. Even on Sunday afternoon, this clip was still in rotation on ESPNEWS.
This is not about fans either liking or disliking Waltrip. It is not about the struggles of his team, or his performance in the Bristol Cup race. It is simply about ESPN making fun of Waltrip with an ill-informed comment and thinking that no one will raise a fuss. Well, here we are.
After a great four hour effort on Sunday night, how could no member of the NASCAR on ESPN team make a quick phone call to Bristol, CT and have this awkward comment removed from the highlight package? There was plenty of other great footage and a couple of fantastic closing laps.
If ESPN wants to be a player in NASCAR they have to be responsible for what happens after the event as well as what happens during it. It will be interesting to see what both Bowyer and Waltrip say about this issue by Monday night.
One can only ponder if ESPN would do this to Tom Brady or David Ortiz if they made an emotional statement that was immediately proven to be incorrect? Making fun of athletes on ESPN seems to be often reserved for NASCAR drivers.
What is your take on all this? Harmless fun or mean-spirited TV network?
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