Sunday, October 12, 2008

ESPN's Pregame Show Is the Best and Pacman Jones Proves It

Once again, Jason Whitlock is right.

And I'm not talking about the Pacman Jones nonsense, although it figures prominently in my reasoning. I'm talking about his proclamation several articles ago re ESPN's pregame show. It is the best of the major networks' offerings.

I'm not saying it's a great show or anything, but ESPN's is the gold-standard of that watered-down genre.

By definition, the pregame shows tend to be obnoxious. They are built on hype and strong opinions about gray areas. They stir up controversy and seem to take great pleasure in doing so.

The personalities tend to be former athletes, but not really great ones. That means they are usually arrogant but insecure, and that insecurity comes through in their analysis. Plus, they have to incorporate ridiculous gimmicks or weak skits.

There's always lots of shouting, forced laughter at horrible puns/jokes, and giggling from grown adults - most of them closer to Social Security than high school.

And ESPN's is no different.

In a lot of ways, it's worse because it's TWICE AS LONG. That's a lot of the two Chris's - Berman and Carter (nah, I actually don't mind Carter). Fortunately, ESPN has several important advantages.

Namely Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson, and Mike Ditka.

Don't get me wrong. Each of the aforementioned says something that is utterly insane and indefensible, probably on a showly basis. But we're comparing a group that includes Howie Long, Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson, Chris Collinsworth (does he still do Fox's?), Boomer Esiason, Shannon Sharpe, and Dan Marino. Seriously, look at that group. Yikes.

Jackson, Keyshawn, and Ditka all bring an old-school attitude to analysis. They call it like they see it and they are fearless. Each has absolutely zero problem calling out anyone. Sometimes that is their downfall; it's true. But I don't care - their honesty is so refreshing that I have a ready supply of mulligans for them. And, more often than not, they don't need 'em.

For instance, take the Pacman Jones vs. Arizona Cardinals segment.

It encompassed a lot of the obnoxious elements listed above.

The intro was unnecessarily ominous and over-dramatic. Ed Werter's report was incendiary - teammates rolling eyes re the apology, teammates exhausted by him, teammates calling it a nuisance, TO sulking, Warner imply he's overrated, and Pacman telling people the fight was more violent than being reported (?!?!?!). There wasn't much talk of actual football.

But the analysis of Pacman was DEAD ON.

Jackson opened up by basically calling Pacman a n*****. Keyshawn looked a little uncomfortable, but neither he nor Carter disagreed. Unless I'm wrong, Carter was nodding his head in agreement.

Hey, I'm neither from the Neighborhood nor black so I don't have the right to comment other than to say that's pretty honest and fearless. Even for a guy like Tom Jackson.

The panel goes on to point out that the reward just isn't worth the risk. Dallas is already a supremely talented and successful football team without Pacman Jones. And how good is he really? They point out the need for leadership from someone besides Tank Johnson i.e. Tony Romo or someone known for football accomplishments rather than police blotter stats.

I'm sure the Cowboy fans are firing up their laptops right now, taking great exception to the segment.

But here are the undeniable facts:
  • The Dallas Cowboys have one of the most talented teams in the league
  • The off-field nonsense is one of the most significant threats to their Super Bowl aspirations
  • Jones has an insane history of off-field problems
  • He was given a second-chance that a lot of people probably felt he didn't deserve
  • He's not doing everything in his power to make good on that chance
  • His most prominent defenders and only ones I've heard have the most to lose (other than Pacman) if he blows it

Furthermore, this is a grown man who has bodyguards to protect him from himself.

He has been arrested more times since he's been in the NFL than everyone I know combined (not everyone I know is a saint and even saints get drunk).

His behavior either directly or indirectly contributed to another human-being's paralysis.

He has JUST been reinstated from a really loooooong suspension (one that could easily have been a ban) for things just like this.

He has been given ground rules by the ONLY man who would have given him a second-chance, which he broke.

But everything is even worse than it looks because Pacman is in a position to do so much good if he could just show some growth and maturity. For himself, for his family, for his team, for his sport, for his race, for humanity. He still can, but he's blowing it.

This is a high-profile African-American male who came from poverty and violence, but made himself a millionaire by excelling at an occupation that rewards ferocious collisions between human bodies.

It should be no surprise that he has issues with temper and violence. And it isn't, which is why he's been given so many second chances. We want him to prove to that an individual can come from a brutal, more dangerous world (out of necessity) and use its survival skills to adapt to this gentler, more civilized one.

Instead, he is giving all the naysayers and racist rednecks out there yet another fallacious reason to continue hating - the poor, African-Americans, pro athletes, football players, whomever.

That's gotta be frustrating to guys like Jackson, Keyshawn, and Ditka.

That's gotta be frustrating to a lot people.

They are right to call him on it and that they do is why they are the best.

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