July 29, 2014

On ESPN, Bias and Cleveland Misery Montages

Last night as the Indians were battling the New York Yankees on the 4th of July, ESPN personality trotted out a little statement about Cleveland.  Predictably, the people of Cleveland on Twitter started attacking.  I actually don’t know who Dari Nowkhah is.  This isn’t to discredit him or somehow make him less of an authority on anything.  I am just being honest when I tell you I wasn’t following him and I didn’t know who he was.  That being said, rather than being one of the masses that foams at the mouth, I thought maybe I would try to educate an ESPN employee about how Cleveland feels and maybe why we feel that way.

@ESPNDariNowkhah - “Wow – Cleveland is sensitive.  I love the city, really do. It was a joke – enjoy your first place team and don’t be so serious. Wow!”

@WFNYCraig - “@ESPNDariNowkhah Think about that the next time your producers run a montage of all our failures on your network. It’s not us. It’s you.”

@ESPNDariNowkhah – “@WFNYCraig the montages aren’t depicting fiction.”

@WFNYCraig – “@ESPNDariNowKhah I’m just trying to explain in a civil fashion. Look at the reaction.  Think maybe it has something to do with ESPN?”

@ESPNDariNowkhah – “@WFNYCraig I can assure you, there is nothing about your city that makes anybody at ESPN feel strongly one way OR THE OTHER!”

@WFNYCraig – “Cleveland fans might be too sensitive.  We can own that. ESPN will NEVER be willing to own that they purposefully poke the bear.”

That’s the thing I guess.  I do believe Dari Nowkhah when he says that ESPN isn’t anti-Cleveland.  My problem with ESPN is that maybe it is something even worse.  Maybe they are just lazy.  Why else would the four-letter network – as many of its detractors call it – roll out the Cleveland sports misery montage every time the Indians are fortunate enough to find themselves on Sunday Night Baseball?

Trust me when I tell you that Jose Mesa has very little to do with the 2011 Cleveland Indians.  When that happened most of this Cleveland Indians roster was 12 years old and probably not even a Cleveland Indians fan.  Point being that, we should only have to continue to wear that outfit if we want to and when we feel like it.  Trotting out all that stuff about John Elway and Michael Jordan is tired and lazy at best and mean-spirited at worst.

You’ll have to excuse Cleveland fans for being a little sensitive when something that is lazy at best and mean-spirited at worst is trotted out over and over and over again.  When it is plastered in your face as frequently as it is in ours, it does start to appear to be anti-Cleveland.

It’s just sports. It’s supposed to be fun.  Digging at each other is what we are supposed to have fun doing.  That’s the nature of rivalry and competition.  Still, we don’t think of that as the job description of the broadcast wing of ESPN.  A commentator like Dari Nowkhah should be able to say whatever he wants.  Then again when you wear those four letters  - ESPN –  in front of your name, you are a target for all of its flaws.  Fair or not, that’s the way it works.

Just like there is truth to all of the “Cleveland Sports Misery Montage” there is just as much truth in ESPN sometimes not knowing what they subconsciously do to fans with their production decisions.  Cleveland fans may overreact to even the slightest digs by ESPN employees, but the next time they poke the bear during one of their broadcasts or play that montage again, they can’t say they are digging at us unknowingly.  We’ve told them time and again that it is gratuitous, lazy and obnoxious.

If they haven’t already, maybe it is time for ESPN to ask themselves why they insist on showing that montage seemingly every time Cleveland plays a game in the national spotlight.  What purpose does it serve? Who is the audience? Was it just easy to press play on that stock footage?  Rather than trying to indict Cleveland for being so “sensitive” maybe they ought to indict themselves for being so callous and lazy.

  • TheManCalledX

    Dari, it doesn’t matter how many times you say things, it’s not going to change the perception. ESPiN is the only “news network” I can think of that has had to have an ombudsman write articles about the way your network tries to manipulate it’s viewers. ESPiN is the reason I cancelled my cable, and until there is a worthwhile competitor that isn’t completely locked out due to monopolies on broadcast contracts, I won’t be getting my cable back.

    The more I think about it, it all makes sense. ESPiN is owned by Disney. Walt Disney was a notorious anti-semite. Cleveland has a large Jewish population. ESPiN hates Jews. ESPiN hates Cleveland. See how easy it was for me to draw completely illogical conclusions from very vague facts that have no correlation? Seems like that’s all it takes to get a job working for ESPiN.

  • Ward

    To Dari -

    You say you spent a lot of time on the Tribe’s rise, and Colt McCoy. You also spent an entire summer on “The Decision.” Even naming it “The Decision.” Given all of our curses start with “The” you’d think a respected sports news network with our pitfalls queued up for anytime we play, would recognize that using “The” would add to that reel. It’s insensitive, and to a fan’s eyes – appears premeditated. I understand you meant no malice in your tweet. We’re a fanbase with more pride than residents. Given the ESPN in vront of your alias on twitter, you should excercise some unbiased opinions. Believe it or not, you represent ESPN regardless of the disclaimers on what you say. We see it as being an unecessary statement. So, continue to profit from our pitfalls. Make another special about our city. Add those montages to EVERYTHING we do. But if and when we win a national title, we certainly expect ESPN to apologize and spend an entire year talking about our insurmountable odds in winning whatever title we won.

    I’m from Cleveland. I saw “The Shot” (twice) as a little boy. I saw the Indians lose in the World Series, twice. I saw the Cavs get swept in the finals. Hell, the WS losses prompted me to quit playing little league. It’s rough watching those failures. And when we’re reminded of them day in and day out, it gets old real fast. Yes, we know “The Drive” happened, The Catch, The Decision, The Shot and The Fumble happened. We got it, thank you for reminding us every chance you get.

  • Vengeful Pat

    Crap, again I find myself agreeing with mgbode. Dari is only pointing out truth, and that truth is that ESPN’s only bias is towards ratings. Whatever gets an increase in viewers is what ESPN is interested in, and I 100% believe that. So, to say ESPN is unbiased is 100% incorrect, but to say they have a vendetta against a city is also 100% incorrect. As we all remember, ESPN used to stuff the Buckner error down our throats constantly before the Red Sox won the World Series in ’04. They love to hype failure for one reason… not to pick on a fan base, but to be able to capitalize on the story when that team finally does break its “curse”. I do believe Dari when he says that ESPN and most of its employees would like nothing more than for a Cleveland team to win a championship because they would have weeks of “breaking the curse” coverage to run.

  • Nigel Tufnel

    Coincidentally, Adam Carolla responded to a caller about Cleveland sports on his 7-5 podcast. His advice to this caller
    was don’t attach yourself to your cities sports successes or failures. It does not reflect on you personally.

  • http://blog.clevelandsportstorture.com/ CleSporTorture Doug

    Dari,

    There’s no doubt sports misery has defined Cleveland for a generation. We get it. It’s a story that cannot be denied. The point of Craig’s piece is the utter laziness of running misery montages during nationally televised regular season games. Or your network making nonsensical juxtapositions between Tressel leaving and The Decision. That’s not informative or insightful or capturing any kind of regional zeitgeist. It’s cheap and sensationalistic, at best. So seeing an ESPN anchor making an “easy” Cleveland joke on Twitter is going to rankle some folks.

  • Garry Owen

    Per usual, mgbode is dead-on. Dari’s post is simply hollow and disingenuous (though I appreciate that he took the time to respond to all of us directly at our humble WFNY).

    Ratings is everything, and the only thing, to ESPN. As Dari admits, they may not technically be biased toward the Sox and Yankees, per se, but they certainly are biased toward “ratings” at the cost of the real story and the sports themselves (which is very curious to me, because after all, with whom is ESPN competing for ratings on sports coverage? ESPN2, ESPN3, and their other ugly spawn??).

    This is how a first place Indians victory over a first place Yankees team on Monday night garners the headline of “Jeter Goes 0 for 4.” It’s just bad reporting and, arguably, worse institutional ethics. But hey, at least they got all of those mindless Yankees bandwagoners on the “West Coast” (who were going to watch Sportscenter anyway) to watch Sportscenter. Well done.

    I’m increasingly beginning to think that the only “waste of energy” (thanks, Dari), both figuratively and literally, is ESPN.

    [Curse them for being about the only place that I can get my college football crack.]

  • http://www.zfcomics.com dgriff13

    Luke– being a Cleveland native now living in Philly.. you are completely correct.

    ESPN likes to paint fanbases a certain color and show the rest of the world said color until we’re all *ahem* blue in the face. Creating a story, a “character” we’ll all remember and maybe connect too. Even if there really isn’t much of one there to begin with. Cleveland fans are bitter losers (in grand, laughable fashion), Philly fans are angry & violent… we’re are both PASSIONATE as all hell. That’s one aspect I’ll give them credit for. I’d rather be a passionate fan, who will support my last-place NBA team as if they’re in the playoffs…. than a fan who barely shows up (*ahem* Miami *ahem*)

    It’s frustrating that any time we go against our “mantra”… like when Philly fans CHEERED Mcnabb when he returned to the Linc (yes! they DO cheer too!), that was pretty much glossed over. Didn’t fit the character ESPN wanted to show the world.

    Just wish over here in Philly, I got to watch local CLE stations.. and not have to resort to national channels. I’d probably have a lower blood pressure.

    As angry and I can get over it, I think it’s like dealing with a bully. Gotta ignore it, do your thing, embrace what makes your fanbase special, and cheer on your teams until blue… or orange & brown… in the face.

  • ClevIsTheCity

    This dari gentlemen cracks me up. He insults the indians and the city of cleveland by hash tagging “its cleveland”. If it was all in fun he wouldn’t have written its cleveland at the end. Your damn I’m bitter, but it isn’t because of the fact we haven’t won a championship since 64, its because every time I turn on espn. Dari, just man up and admit that the bias is alive and well and espn anchors/hosts/commentators are all programmed talking heads. Need proof? Just watch sportscenter, pardon the interuption, around the horn, first take (aside from jay crawford) or any cleveland game on espn.

  • Luke

    dgriff13:

    You’re spot on. We are not cities or fanbases to ESPN. We are characters that they have control over and we do not. When we try to reshape that character, it is glossed over. As a Philly fan, I see other fanbases do ridiculous things that ESPN would endlessly criticize Philadelphia for. But, it isn’t newsworthy if it is fans in Oakland or something and it isn’t newsworthy if Philly fans do the right thing. We have no control over the character they portray us to be.

    Philadelphia is the grumpy cousin and Cleveland is the unlucky nephew in the story that ESPN crafts (what the town will become once they win a title, we shall see). We cannot control the characters they created. All we can truly do is turn to other sources instead who are less likely to make us into caricatures. I’ve stopped visiting ESPN.com a year or two ago, though they monopolize the market, and I’ve found my news elsewhere through honest blogs such as this one.

  • http://www.zfcomics.com dgriff13

    Luke: speaking as a comic strip cartoonist who develops simplistic and easy-to-label characters and storylines based on pigeonholing those characters, I see ESPN as more of a puppeteer/director than strictly a source of sports reporting. But honestly, that goes for any large sports network.. or any large corporation for that matter. It’s part of the world we live in.
    Not that I support it at all, but it’s not like ESPN is way off. Exaggerated sure, but Cleveland fans are bitter and desperately longing for a title. We don’t need the constant reminder and that’s annoying… but I also do not see all Philly fans as being violent and ruthless. I think there’s those types in every fanbase. I can’t blame Philly fans for being upset… I think that’s a bit more skewed than how ESPN depicts CLE fans. Actually, when was the last time a major violent incident happened at a Philly game? Heck, last season a Browns fan made headlines for a violent incident (Jets game).

    Now, how the CITY itself is depicted.. that’s a whole OTHER issue. That annoys me more. If I have to hear the Mistake by the Lake joke ONE more time….

    RE: this article, I think ESPN is lazy, yes. I think there is an unintentional bias, mainly based on market size and viewership. It’s all about the money. Very few (outside of CLE) want to hear that the Indians beat the Yankees… more people are Yankees fans, so they’ll wanna hear about Jeter’s return (0-4, ha!). Lame, but it’s big business… $$$$$$$. I think that’s the driving force, more than any anti-Cleveland hatred or pro-big-market bias.

  • Bryan

    This is really kind of ridiculous. What Dari said was totally fine. I am a diehard Cleveland fan. Born and Raised. Our sports history is tragic. How is it “biased” to refer to that tragic sports history when discussing our current teams? Our history (unique and compelling) is relevant and important context for the successes and failures of our current teams.

    Again, think about the LeBron story. Every Cleveland fan argued that LeBron could achieve something greater by staying in Cleveland precisely because, in Cleveland, winning a championship means more (due to the historical context). Yet when a national media member leverages our historical context to make a Cleveland sports story more compelling, the same Cleveland fans scream bias. I don’t get it.

  • Will

    I completely agree with it being lazy journalism. Being originally from Cleveland and currently living in Cincinnati it is a testiment to how much they show those montages that my fiancee not being from the area but rooting for our teams sees the packages and doesn’t understand why they keep showing “that stuff”. The funniest part to me is afterwards she always says “well now we are going to lose.” I guess the cleveland mentality has rubbed off on her.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    I called Dari a dick. I stand by it in the way that he is a published sportswriter and that cracking a joke at Tomlin’s efforts underminded the more prestigious aspect of his performance in the game. I get that Twitter isnt an official outlet and that anybody who has a Twitter account has their right to their own opinion. Further, I understand that (probably) somewhere in Dari’s responsibility to ESPN is a unmentionable that he is expected to have some sort of Twitter following or at least generate conversation. Nonetheless, I repeat, that I find it unprofessional.

    I think anyone running a blog should have the right to be biased or sensational. I think when you work for the mega-conglomerate of sports media, that you are held to a higher standard. Twitter I suppose is a gray area. I can give Dari a pass based on his response, but I also feel he needs to realize that if he self-admittedly confesses that ESPN is based on ratings, that he needs to understand that Chicago, NYC, Boston, LA, and Philly will ALWAYS dominate (whether the teams are good or not), and that Cleveland will always play second fiddle at best (with occasional 1-2 year stints where we are so good that you cant backhand us). Dari, deal with being second fiddle for decades and then come tell me you wont be a little bitter about our treatment.

  • the umpire

    Dari, you did a great job on play by play with the akron/miami game….perhaps that’s your calling….b/c @ tweeting jokes you failed miserably….ESPN employs some of the most narcisistic, self absorbed a-holes on the planet…i don’t think dari is one of them, but the others are why i priamrily watch espn news…so i don’t have to deal the “personalities” and their ignorant commentary…dari’s just chimin in to impress his peers…

  • DCTribeFan

    Love the comments! Cleveland fans are the best! Waiting for Next Year, yes, but always hoping THIS is the year!

    Made me wonder, though, how this Dari Nowkhah guy (never heard of him) would take the following tweet:

    Dari Nowkhah spent a few years at ESPN but only his mother remembers it. He’s back at Channel 5 in Iowa city. #itsanobody.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    Dari just mentioned this on ESPN. I didnt realize who he was before this, but I actually have liked him about 1000 times more than some of the other broadcasters. He’s not as over the top.

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