by Fox Doucette
Hey, who likes college baseball? How about women’s softball? Tennis match running half an hour with your new top shoes for pickleball sound good to you? How about a high school basketball game that turns into a blowout but runs ten minutes long anyway? Women’s college hoops between mid-major programs, sound like fun? According to ESPN, all of these events are so damn important as to be shown in their entirety while fans of Friday Night Fights get to wait and decide they’d rather watch another channel in the meantime. Hey, Chopped is on the Food Network! And the secret ingredient basket has bacon, Savoy cabbage, bananas, and veal brains! HOW WILL THE CHEFS HANDLE IT? What? There’s a fight on? Sorry, missed your chance OMG VEAL BRAINS.
There is a famous (or infamous) chicken-and-egg argument in television. When a network dicks around its audience by moving their favorite show all over the schedule or not showing it consistently in its time slot, people, especially casual fans, turn away and watch something else. That same network then turns around and, citing low ratings and lack of viewer interest, cancels the show, claiming it “never found an audience” while failing to acknowledge this as being a direct consequence of never giving an audience a chance to find the show and make the emotional and temporal commitment necessary to the lifeblood of episodic television. We may live in an on-demand and DVR world, but the general run of humanity still has a strong connection to the idea of “this show is on Friday night at nine, and let’s get some nachos and have some friends over to watch”, whether that’s FNF or something like a new episode of Mythbusters on a Sunday night.
Mind you, in sports, things run long and occasionally you have to get a “we now return you to our regularly scheduled program already in progress.” Football games go to overtime. So do basketball games. Tennis matches go three sets with all three sets decided via tiebreak. Baseball games go extra innings. Things happen. Indeed, a lot of “things happen” things are thrilling. Show me a game between the Charlotte Bobcats and the Sacramento Kings and if it goes an extra five minutes, I’m riveted because I want to see which crappy team is slightly less crappy. I want to see a buzzer beater, and I can wait a few minutes to watch what I tuned in for because of that opportunity. Even a sport as otherwise dull as tennis is thrilling when something is at stake, and a good competition could be a game of tiddly-winks and if it’s close and well-contested, that is the essence of what is great about sports.
It’s when we get things like what ESPN2 has been doing lately that the Worldwide Leader really starts to grind my gears and make me wonder if there’s a market for writing snarky recap articles about competitive cooking shows. Last week, Stanford played Florida State in a super-regional baseball game. FSU jumped out to an 11-1 lead by the fifth inning, and extended that lead such that the game finished 17-1 in the Seminoles’ favor. Did ESPN2 cut away from a game that was in no doubt in order to show live boxing that may have featured competitive fights (and, as it so happened, featured some very entertaining but not terribly competitive fights, i.e. great knockouts)? Of course not. Fans had to wait for the better part of half an hour while the farce that was that baseball game played itself out.
Consider also the blowout of a high school basketball game mentioned at the top of the discussion here. Let’s for a moment leave aside the moral, ethical, and sporting implication of putting high school students on national television to be dissected en route to their one-and-done sham college experience en route to the NBA. Even when LeBron James was in high school, that was excessive and stupid and a symptom of everything that is wrong (and possibly racist) with the meat-market treatment of inner-city kids playing a game that will give only the tiniest percentage of them a shot at a living but which requires immense commitment and opportunity cost in order to make a real run at that level.
Nay, here at issue is the mere fact that a high school basketball game, something of interest only to the sort of degenerate that thinks college basketball recruiting is such a life-or-death proposition as to want to gawk at young men and size them up with the acuity and lustful eye of a pedophile, and one that was not even competitive (one team was up by 20 as the clock struck nine), was nonetheless allowed to run the extra ten minutes to its conclusion while boxing fans waited. This wasn’t exactly the Heidi Bowl. It was a meaningless game that mattered only insofar as the sneaker companies’ latest ho-to-their-pimp got to be on ESPN.
What is the message to boxing fans here? It really ought to be quite clear—the message is that ESPN2 thinks boxing is a dead letter that is just profitable enough to keep around but not so much so that it is worth giving any manner of respect. Fans are expected to keep coming back for more, and on ESPN’s own social media platform, the community moderators have the gall to say “wasn’t that worth waiting for?” after an utterly mediocre main event (example: Almost all of them this year.) No. It wasn’t. It’s my job to put up with this stuff because I write about the sport. If not for that, I could be watching someone cook veal brains. Wrapped in bacon. With motherfucking bananas. On a goddamn cabbage leaf seasoned to perfection. I’m hungry now. See what you did, ESPN? No wonder boxing is so damn fringe. I wonder if Teddy Atlas can cook.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights (when it’s on, anyway) for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly column (which is always on) appears on Thursdays. He wouldn’t eat veal brains even on a dare, what with the whole mad cow thing. Fan mail, hate mail, and bath salts to facilitate eating a different sort of braaaaaains can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. (note to FBI: not actual solicitation for “bath salts” or any other controlled substance. Is joke, comrade.)