Publish date:

Bristol Stomp

According to ESPN: The Uncensored History (Taylor Publishing
Co., $24.95), which is being published on April 5, Bristol
University is--or at least used to be--one helluva party school.
"It was not unusual," writes author Michael Freeman, "for anchor
Gary Miller, after more than a few beers, to shave his rear end
at a party to loosen everyone up."

Well, who among us hasn't.

"There was a ticker machine outside [the] SportsCenter [studio]
that had so many razor blade nicks in it from people using razor
blades to cut up their cocaine," Freeman quotes one former
employee as saying, "they had to replace the top of the machine."

That never made the "This is SportsCenter" ads.

"I know you want to screw me," Freeman has anchor Mike Tirico
telling a female coworker at a party in 1992, "so let's leave."

He...could...go...all...the...way!

Anecdotes such as these and others--Tirico, who in 1992 served a
three-month suspension from his job for sexual harassment, is
the marquee name in a litany of sexual offenses--are a big
source of embarrassment for ESPN, and understandably so. In 20
years the network has risen from a plot of dirt in central
Connecticut to become the center of the TV sports universe. Yet
Freeman's book, while covering all the bases, some more
perfunctorily than others, devotes a disproportionate amount of
ink to the thesis that ESPN has been an inhospitable workplace,
especially for women. "There's 17 pages on Mike Tirico,"
complains one ESPN employee, "and probably half as many on Chris
Berman."

In 1997 Freeman, the NFL beat writer for The New York Times,
faxed a letter to ESPN stating his intention to write a history
of the network and requesting access to its headquarters,
employees and archives. He was flatly rebuffed. But, says ESPN
spokesman Chris LaPlaca, "we never prohibited individuals from
talking to Mike."

Freeman, however, says the interviewing process often was
straight out of the film The Insider: "One female employee told
me to meet her at a park. We got out of our cars, and all she
said was, 'Start walking.' We walked into some woods until she
was sure we were out of sight, and only then could I interview
her."

Freeman says that John Walsh, ESPN's executive editor, told him,
"The only way I'll talk to you [in an interview] is if I can
control the book and I can take out anything negative about
ESPN." The network's executives say they refused to assist
Freeman because they heard that he was pursuing the
sexual-harassment angle. "I don't think that we had a double
standard [in not cooperating]," says Walsh, "because the scope
and focus of the book was personnel issues, which could
potentially hurt the reputation of my colleagues."

Forced to rely too heavily on ex-employees, Freeman provides an
unflattering portrayal, an account more "boo" than "yah." ESPN
deserved to be treated better. So did Freeman.

--John Walters

COLOR PHOTO: MELVIN LEVINE

SHOT SELECTION
A new Web video service will wedge its way into the coverage at
Augusta National

This Thursday and Friday the USA Network will cover the opening
two rounds of the Masters. USA goes on the air at 4 p.m., but
many viewers can't be in front of a set at the appointed hour.
For those who own a computer with a modem speed of 56K or
higher, and who, when they're finally able to watch the action,
want to zero in on the coverage devoted to their favorite holes
or golfers, there's a solution.

The tournament's official Web site, www.masters.org, has
contracted with FasTV.com, a leader in video-streaming
technology, to equip the site with a Masters Video Player. Users
will get an index of USA's coverage (and CBS's on April 8 and 9)
listed by golfer and hole, among other categories. If you want
to focus on the 12th at Augusta National, you can click on the
hole number and view video of the shots on Amen Corner's par-3.

"Technologically, we could take any video shot and have it up in
about a minute," says FasTV.com spokesman Blair Rhodes. This
year, however, because of rights agreements between the
tournament and CBS, the Masters Video Player can be accessed
only at the conclusion of each round--and only pictures that
made it onto the telecast will be available.

With an event such as the Masters in which action is flung
across 18 holes, real-time computer video might be preferable to
traditional television coverage. Someday, perhaps, the lords of
Augusta and the networks will allow Web-connected viewers to
make the choice.

--J.W.

Winner

Golf on NBC
The preliminary Nielsen rating for Sunday's final round of the
Players Championship was 5.6, outpointing CBS's NCAA men's
basketball regional final (North Carolina versus Tulsa), which
got a 5.4.

Loser

Golf on ABC
Last Saturday's third round of the LPGA's Nabisco Championship,
featuring an amazing 68 by 13-year-old Aree Wongluekiet, got a
barely detectable 0.8 Nielsen.

The tale of ESPN's rise digs deeply--too deeply--into
behind-the-scenes shenanigans.