Sports Media Gaffes Of The Year, #1 – The Decision
2010 was a banner year for controversy in the world of sports media. From the usual barrage of accidental profanity, to the fairly untrodden territory of Twitter faux pas, up to and including the cultural phenomenon that was athletes taking pictures of their penises and sending them to everybody, this year really did have it all if you enjoyed watching people make fools of themselves.
From now until December 31st we’ll be going through our favorite oopsies from the year that was. So come and join us, won’t you, as we count down the Top Ten Sports Media Gaffes of the Year! Today’s gaffe: LeBron James makes his Decision, and everyone hates him for it.
The Decision was such a disaster that it really speaks to a failing by the entirety of America. We're all a part of the culture that created an environment where enough people thought this was a good idea that it got the go-ahead - then, we proved those people who gave it the go-ahead right, by watching it. So hate LeBron James all you want (as plenty of people did after this, with reason), just know he wasn't alone in this.
But he was the centerpiece of it; it couldn't have happened without his approval. And the fact that he devoted an hour of prime-time television (An hour. Of prime time. On the preeminent sports network. All about the King.) to ditching the only pro team he'd ever played for, essentially his hometown team, ripping the hearts out of Cavs fans all over with that "take my talents to South Beach" line that he probably expected to become iconic - which it did, only doubtless not in the way he intended...well, you can understand just why he incurred so much hate.
Not that he was the only one. Interviewer Jim Gray got his share, for asking LeBron a bunch of questions no one cared about, stringing viewers along before actually asking him what his Decision was - the only reason people were tuned into this broadcast they were probably ashamed of watching in the first place. Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, in crafting a takedown of the entire spectacle that SI's Richard Deitsch recently termed the "best rant" in sports media of 2010, called Gray a "ball-less, drooling sycophant," an opinion that wouldn't be met with much argument.
ESPN itself took plenty of heat, too - after all, it gave this travesty a home. Deitsch called The Decision "the worst thing ESPN has ever put its name to" (and a few other things, which we'll get to in a bit). Joe Posnanski, who'd probably be the last person in the world to take any kind of shot that wasn't deserved, couldn't resist mockingly referring to the program as (The) Decision (powered by ESPN). And ESPN ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer, when he finally weighed in, he said:
[I]n many ways, the network's decisions in airing the James' special -- and its justification for making them -- are a metaphor for what ails the media today.
In that vein, let's look at a couple other opinions on The Decision. Deitsch:
"Plenty of great work gets done by people every day at ESPN, especially on the newsgathering and production side. Even more so than viewers who endured this self-aggrandizing, selling-out-our-journalistic-soul, narcissistic shamathon, those ESPN staffers are the ones who deserve an apology."
The weird thing about this LeBron story is that seven or eight years ago, he seemed like a nice kid. All he did was step into a media machinery designed to create, reward, nurture, and worship self-obsessed assholes. He was raw clay when he went in, and now he's everything we ever wanted him to be — a lost, attention-craving narcissistic monster who simultaneously despises and needs the slithering insect-mortals who by the millions are bent over licking his toes."
That "narcissistic" word keeps popping up a lot, doesn't it? Oh, and to prove The Decision was regarded as a disaster from the moment it was announced, here's a tweet from SI's Jimmy Traina (who doesn't curse often on his Twitter feed, mind you), when he first heard the news:
You gotta be shitting me.
Oh, but it was real. The Decision was such that it didn't just show us the worst of LeBrom/celebrity culture, it also brought out the worst impulses in others (i.e. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert's infamous Comic Sans letter, followed by him just not letting go of his very public LeBron grudge).
But mostly, it was on the receiving end of a whole lot of well-deserved hate. In addition to the rants we excerpted before, no less an authority than NBA commissioner David Stern called the program "ill-conceived, badly produced and poorly executed." Stern would later be made fun of to his face by Stephen Colbert for the Decision, for nothing other than being associated with it by proxy because LeBron plays in the NBA.
Because when it came to The Decision, everyone needed a punching bag. We'd just all do well to remember that we, as a whole, were complicit enough in this rampant solipsism that it happened...and it intrigued us enough that we watched in large numbers, even if it was just to gawk at what a train wreck this all was. For successfully speaking to the worst in all of us while permanently sullying the image of one of sports' biggest superstars and everyone associated with it in any way, The Decision is our #1 sports media gaffe of 2010 - one of the easiest Decisions we've ever made.
The Top Ten Sports Media Gaffes Of 2010
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