The idea of an award show for sports doesn’t seem altogether like a stupid idea, both from an entertainment and business standpoint. Award shows get more viewers than ever, and fans, always eager for an opportunity to argue and compare, have yet another outlet in which to judge world class athletes. Yet, just because the ESPYs can happen, doesn’t mean they should.
The ESPYs are ESPN at its most ESPN. The frequent criticism lobbied toward the media giant, for which there are great websites devoted, applies tenfold to the ESPYs. Complete with disproportionate coverage, biased opinions, and manufactured drama, the ESPYs are able to sum up everything thats wrong with the way we consume sports in just one broadcast.
Not that ESPN has ever been one to downplay itself, but the level of self-importance on display at the ESPYs is unmatched in the media world. CNN doesn’t have a politics award show. The very nature of the show—handing out awards for sporting achievements that already issue awards—highlights just how interconnected ESPN, as both a news source and as a broadcast provider, feels they are to the leagues they cover so relentlessly. The NBA already has a way of distinguishing “Best NBA Player,” but that won’t stop ESPN from insisting it’s still up for debate.
The ESPYS are a four hour version of SportsNation.You can vote for the “best” team right now online. It’s a night of #hottakes brought to life, as celebrities, athletes, and ESPN anchors team up to sensationally compare apples to oranges. Somehow “Most Clutch” isn’t a category. It’s the “big debate” settled once and for all for the channel that spent a month arguing over Lebron’s answer to the NBA Mount Rushmore.
The question yet to be answered is “who are the ESPYs for?” Now in its 21st year, winning an ESPY still does not exactly mean anything. Winning the ESPY for “Best NHL player,” (which again, is already an award called the Conn Smythe) does not serve anyone but the network, as it applauds its ability to moderate the great debate. Sidney Crosby does not need another ESPY. Other categories make the mistake of pitting sports against each other, somehow missing the entire point of sports in the first place. There are some things in life that are unquantifiable. Sports to a large extent are. There are winners and losers, and after the game you can use numbers to deduce who did what. When you compare teams from different sports you create an emotional argument out of an otherwise objective one.
The “Best Play” category is an interesting one. A single play does not a championship make. Why “Best Play” feels different is that there is room for comparison. It’s essentially what SportsCenter does every night with their top plays. It’s the situation, mixed with athleticism that makes a play, and situations do not always have a numerical value.
I’ve always thought that SI’s Sportsman of the Year is an important honor. It seems holistic and thought out, yet doesn’t attempt to make a statement out of an award that is clearly subjective. ESPN’s continued attempt to make The Oscars of sports will continue to fall short as long as it tries to be The Oscars of sports. That’s because athletic competition is judged on the field, court, ice, track and clay, not in Bristol.