A Show That Predicted Our New Reality

A decade ago, ESPN weathered the controversy over the show Playmakers. It represented ESPN's futile effort to become a real broadcast network. It was fiction--it was a piece of art, to be honest with you--that tried to give ESPN the credibility it had frittered away by showing ridiculous trash sports for years. To go from filler programming like Australian Rules Football to a scripted drama that was on par with the shows on entertainment television brought ESPN a great deal of praise.

The problem was, the praise and the ratings weren't enough to get the show renewed. It was really controversial and it broke new ground. It showed the inside-baseball stuff about football that people regularly consume on Deadspin and on a number of other websites. The NFL begged ESPN to kill it and ESPN is, if nothing else, a whore for the three major professional sports leagues and the NCAA.

People need to understand the three biggest problems that the NFL is facing right now--concussions, racism, and homophobia. These issues could come back and cause the league to collapse under the weight of endless lawsuits. Playmakers was an excellent example of how a show with artistic and commercial qualities was able to reflect this reality back at society and inform while entertaining. How many shows actually ever do that well?

What people don't get is that the younger players have moved beyond sexual orientation because they have lived in the culture as it is, not as it was. We are a long way away from the normalization of sexual identity and orientation--call me when Tom Cruise and John Travolta have their badly-needed moment of clarity and honesty. The older part of the NFL--the players who have been around for a while, the coaches and the front office personnel--still live in a world where institutionalized homophobia is how Jesus would have wanted it.

ESPN failed to see the value in being a patron of the arts instead of a splayed-out whore for a collection of billion dollar franchises. That's why I always laugh when I see comments from ESPN's ombudsman. Really? A critic on the payroll? Give me a break. ESPN will never search for its soul.

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