“I was used to being part of the background, not part of the story. But ESPN intentionally and unintentionally created the celebrity sports journalist.” - Jemelle Hill, columnist, ESPN.com
When Bill and Scott Rasmussen started what would eventually become ESPN in 1978, they certainly didn’t intend to fundamentally shift the nature of journalism. They just loved sports.
But somewhere along the way, as journalists-turned-ESPN icons like Chris Berman and Stuart Scott began to hear their personal catchphrases muttered aloud, the idea that commentators on the network were there only to deliver the news became as ludicrous as the idea that the way they commentated would, one day, be mimicked across the world of sports broadcasting.
They were part of the news. And, in extreme cases, they were the news.
Welcome to the New World of Journalism: an era ushered in by the rise of the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
In the book “Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN”, author’s James Miller and Tom Shales, through the use of a massive pile of interviews of anybody who has ever been associated with the network, tell the story of ESPN as only the people who were a part of it can tell, with the occasional italicized buffer from the authors to transition from one era to the next. What you find between the covers is an expansive look into the station that most sports fans turn to nowadays without a second thought.
And what you come away with, after reading about events such as “The Decision”, is a greater sense of how this tiny station based in Bristol, Connecticut changed the way we consume sports.
Journalists are no longer impartial observers. Their take on certain events has the power to shift the public’s perceptions. And they know it. This is especially true in sports.
Never before have the media held such power.
We should look no further than the history of ESPN to see how this came to be.