Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Those Guys Have All The Fun - Soccer Edition

So, what to do with my review copy of the new book about ESPN, Those Guys Have All The Fun?

First off, I have to confess I did once work for ESPN - at least the website.
I wrote for the soccer section of the site during the period when John Skipper, now the head honcho of the whole ESPN shebang, was running the website, but as a freelancer, I never had any inside contact with ESPN culture.

I've never been to Bristol, the hub of all things ESPNish. My checks did come with a little Disney logo of Mickey Mouse, though.

Funny thing was, I only met Skipper when Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated introduced me to him at the 2007 MLS All Star Game.

As a soccer writer, my take on the book comes from that angle. Though Landon Donovan made the cover montage (he's in the "S"), it's pretty sparse. The first mention of the beautiful game is on page 40.

Let me explain that the book consists almost entirely of printed excerpts of interviews from people involved with ESPN. There's not really a cohesive narrative thread. It's a bit like reading a transcript from a huge roundtable discussion on the company.

On page 40, Chris Berman (aka Boomer, the Swami, Mr. NFL Primetime, "You're with me, Leather") is explaining a bit of his history and arrival to ESPN.

I knew what I wanted to do when I was fourteen. Although I played varsity basketball and varsity soccer, I didn't play football. Big boy, but didn't play football. I was tall and skinny. Varsity bowling. I played some soccer, which was barbaric in the early seventies. Played basketball. We had a little radio station and I announced the football games to two hundred people on Friday afternoons. I was loud, probably too loud. We didn't really need a transmitter.

That's the soccer mention in the one paragraph. My first thought was - varsity bowling in high school?

My second thought was surprise that Berman, basically known as the king of American football, actually played soccer as a youngster. I thought then about Aldo Donelli, the soccer player who helped the USA get to the 1934 World Cup (scored four times in his debut match!), but worked for years coaching American football on the college and professional level.

Then again, the seventies were the heyday of the NASL. Pele was playing for the Cosmos, and the game was pretty popular, at least among young players. However, it's telling that even when ESPN was desperate for programming and showing random sports like rugby, Berman's short mention is the only time soccer registers in the history of the World Leader in Sports, at least in this book's version of it, for the first 300 pages.

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