Column: ESPN may be getting carried away

Published 12:47 am Friday, September 3, 2004

By Staff
If you haven't seen the movie Dodgeball yet, go out and see it. It's hands down the funniest movie of the summer.
In the movie, a team of misfits competes in a national dodgeball tournament. The tournament is broadcast on ESPN8, "The Ocho."
The idea of ESPN expanding to eight networks and covering something as riddiculous as a dodgeball tournament was hilarious. But it got me thinking - the movie's parody could soon be reality.
With ESPN's empire and number of channels growing on an almost daily basis, and the network already showing numerous obscure sports from around the world, it won't be long before we're watching grown men play dodgeball on ESPN8.
ESPN, a network dedicated to bringing sports fans in-depth coverage of every athletic contest imaginable, has been cable TV's sports authority for 25 years now. But lately, ESPN has overstepped the boundary of sports in some of its programming.
A prime example of ESPN's ability to stretch the definitoin of sports lies in one of its most popular programs, The World Series of Poker.
Poker's popularity is ascending into the stratosphere, largely because ESPN airs episodes of the World Series seemingly non-stop during the week. Throw in the explosion of internet poker, and gambling is the new cool thing to do.
The mass viewership ESPN has gained from the World Series has caused other networks to create series of their own.
The Travel Channel has the Wolrd Poker Tour, featuring many of the same players from the World Series. The Game Show Network shows the Celebrity Poker Tour, featuring washed-up B-list celebs.
And while all this is very entertaining and captivating, it doesn't belong on ESPN. At the risk of angering millions of poker fans, poker is not a sport. It is not an athletic contest. It's a game.
There are no physical struggles in poker. In fact, there's no physical aspect whatsoever, unless you count throwing away cards or pushing in chips.
If poker is a sport, why not show the World Euchre Tournament? Why stop there? ESPN could expand its coverage to board game tournaments. I'm a mean Shoots and Ladders player - ESPN should do a special on me.
While poker is ESPN's latest attempt to expand its coverage to something loosely considered a sport, it's not the only one.
Every year, ESPN airs the national spelling bee finals from Washington, D.C. At least poker's entertaining! No sports fan turns to ESPN to see if little Johnny Somebody from Iowa can spell "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
This year, ESPN also showed the national math competition for middle-schoolers. That's going too far. Just because something involves a competitive element does not make it suitable for ESPN, or TV for that matter.
When sports fans flip to ESPN, they want to see men beating up on each other and fantastic physical accomplishments. They don't want to see little kids spelling or computing.
Save that for "The Ocho."