An Open Letter to ESPN’s Keith Olbermann

By Brian Flood Comment

Dear Keith Olbermann,

As a sports fan who is paid to cover TV news media, I need you. More importantly, sports fans need you.

Your half-hour daily show is easily the best thing on the ESPN family of networks for passionate, educated sports fans. It’s refreshing to hear poignant commentary from a sports savant without having to sit through a group of talking heads essentially screaming over each other. Your takes are polarizing, controversial and must-see television for any true fan of sports media.

Please don’t screw this up.

Please, Keith. I’m begging you. But I’m also scared.

A four-day suspension isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but I’m afraid another lapse in judgment could result in a permanent vacation. The sports world simply cannot afford for you to take a permanent vacation. Yet, history suggests that it’s only a matter of time.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t a regular viewer of your MSNBC program “Countdown,” as I was a single 20-someting living in NYC during the pre-DVR era for much of its run. I don’t always agree with your political opinions, but hey, I don’t always agree with your sports opinions, either.

But even when I disagree with your take on a hot-button sports issue, it would be foolish not to respect what you have to say.

The political world doesn’t need you. It didn’t always appreciate you. But, Keith, the sports world does need you. It needs you badly. Your return to ESPN was the best thing to happen to the “World Wide Leader” since it acquired the rights to Monday Night Football.

If we lose you, who is going to act as the voice of reason when Roger Goodell inevitably botches his next major decision? Who else is going to take on sports villains such as Bobby Petrino or deliver powerful eulogies when we lose legends, such as you did when Dr. Jack Ramsay passed away last year?

Who else would successfully take on a dog-abusing executive, as you did when former Centerplate CEO Desmond Hague was fired after you called for viewers to boycott stadiums and arenas using Centerplate for their catering needs? This story was not even mentioned on other sports programs. But it should have been.

Yes, your Twitter outburst directed at Penn State students and alumni was irresponsible and childish. Quite frankly, I don’t know what you were thinking. But regardless of what Penn State fans and students think, your “Olbermann” show has easily done more good than harm for the world of sports.

While it’s bizarre that ESPN makes you share a studio with your direct 5pmET competition, “Around the Horn,” the two shows clearly have different target audiences. “Olbermann” requires a certain level of sophistication and historical sports knowledge to comprehend. While, “ATH” is my 14-year-old brother’s favorite program.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Your critics often chastise you for being on a “secondary” ESPN channel, but my feeling is that there simply and sadly aren’t enough qualified sports fans, home from work at 5pmET, to justify bumping a show with horns, fancy graphics and talking heads yelling at each other.

But, hey, this might not even matter in the modern era of DVRs and online viewing.

When I came to your studio a few months ago to produce a “My First Big Break” segment, many people throughout the industry warned me to essentially “walk on eggshells” and called you everything from intimidating to difficult.

You turned out to be charming, patient and extremely candid… resulting in a terrific piece on your break in the industry (which can be seen below). Basically, your haters couldn’t have been further from the truth.

So, Keith, please don’t do anything else to give ESPN executives a reason to take you away from us. The sports world simply can’t afford it. Please, on behalf of educated sports fans, both liberal and conservative, try to stay on your best behavior. At least for a few more years.

Sincerely,

Brian Flood, Co-editor of TVNewser

The views of this letter are solely the views of the author and not Adweek or TVNewser.

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