Just this past week, ESPN laid off over 100 total writers, broadcasters, and radio show hosts in a massive reduction in its workforce. It’s an unfortunate part of the working world in which we live. Good, hard working people get left in the dust for little to no reason at all. While layoffs are something you never wish to see in any particular field — as it’s hard for many, this one seems especially brutal when considering ESPN’s timing and the quality of the contributors that they fired.
Firstly, this layoff seems to be badly timed for the major sports network. In the midst of an exciting playoff race, ESPN dropped some prominent NBA reporters, who beat write for teams still in the postseason. Independent bloggers who sold their site or worked their way up from typing up articles in their room (much as I do) to become a part of the largest sports entertainment network in the entire world were lackadaisically cast aside. It was an incredibly shortsighted move by a network that’s increasingly growing deaf to consumers’ wants.
In the age of social media, people want to be able to find a reporter, commenter or broadcaster that they trust. One writer whose work I’ve grown to find particularly interesting is Ethan Sherwood Strauss, an NBA writer who was recently laid off by ESPN. Strauss gave interesting takes, went beyond the typical headline-grabbing article titles and instead focused on something different: the game of basketball itself. With people wanting constant updates and information as quickly available as possible, Strauss made sure to tweet along with games, while giving his insight into certain offensive sets and potential mismatches on the floor.
We’ve seen ESPN stray from this kind of article writing — the kind that actually merits intellectual thought and interest in the game. Rather, they’ve gone an all too familiar route: the Hollywood one. A couple of years ago a popular subsection of ESPN, “Grantland”, was terminated. Bill Simmons, a prominent writer and radio host, was one of the most notable people to be axed. “Grantland” was a site that explored the intersection between sports and pop culture, and genuinely piqued readers’ interest. With prominent writer Shea Serrano also gone, a new site has been started, one with direct similarities to “Grantland”, called “The Ringer”.
With such writing talent straying off into a new market, it’s fair to wonder what ESPN is left with. We see people like Steven A. Smith, who is loud and unafraid to state his opinion whether or not he’s asked, on ESPN’s prime viewing hours. There are discussions of LaVar Ball and his family, Russell Westbrook’s pregame outfits, and other tidbits of nonsensical information. It shows an unsettling trend for the average sports fan. There will be less discussing of actual sports, and topics will instead veer towards attention-seeking articles without any substance.
The only way to see change is by demanding it, moving towards sites like “The Ringer” and independently following these writers. Only then can we get back to real sports journalism.