by Ryan Meehan
Over the last few months I’ve been reading the ESPN biolog, “Those Guys Have All the Fun”. From time to time here at FOH we bash ESPN and for the most part they usually deserve it. It’s still usually on my TV in the background, but any real sports fan will tell you they would do at least ten or fifteen thousand things different about Sportscenter or the ESPN Network in general. It really just depends on who you’re talking to and whether or not that person’s team lost that particular day.
It should also probably be mentioned here that I read almost all of this book while donating plasma. For any of you that don’t know what that’s like basically it’s where you sit on a bed with nothing to do for an hour while a machine sucks red blood cells out of your arm through a huge needle. It’s hardly pleasant. But at the end you get fifty dollars worth of free groceries and it’s hard to argue with that. So you have to factor that in with the amount of my higher-than-average bitterness.
Another thing you have to realize is that even though this book was written by an individual who doesn’t work for ESPN it’s somebody who is obviously enamored by everything they say and do. That very author (James A Miller) also did a book chronicling the history of Saturday Night Live, and I didn’t read it but from what I’ve heard and read in reviews, it didn’t contain a lot of criticism about the show from the dude who penned the book.
“THOSE GUYS HAVE ALL THE FUN” - James A Miller, Paperback – 2011
The format’s pretty basic. There’s your standard introduction, and the meat of the book is mostly just quotes from interviews with ESPN personalities, network executives, and various athletes over the years. From time to time, Miller will go ahead and give a page’s worth of facts (in italics) to compliment the interviews but for the most part this is just an assembly of records with very little “writing” per se. It was probably a bitch to get all these interviews…but seriously who cares? That’s no excuse, this guy probably has every contact in the world. So depending on how you view the importance of his ability to use the copy and paste function on his laptop it’s either a high D or a low B.
The Book’s Ability to expose Keith Olbermann: A++
Just the idea that Keith Olbermann would want to participate in this piece of literature is bonkers. Almost everybody in this book said that he was a genuine talent, but almost everyone also said that he was the biggest dick on the face of the earth. Almost everybody works with a guy who is opinionated like this but the company can’t get rid of him because he’s great at what he does. That was Keith Olbermann at ESPN, and the same person he was when he got to MSNBC to spray all of his liberal garbage over cable television. (That position is currently being well taken care of by Rachel Maddow, the guy who has his old time slot.) Keith uses a lot of big words in his paragraphs to point out the fact that basically he wants everything his way. But when the race car crosses the finish line, he just ends up sounding like a grad student that’s trying too hard.
The Book’s Ability to expose Disney Exec Michael Eisner: D
You’re not going to get any pro-Michael Eisner take out of me ever. I think it’s hilarious that the guy who owns the world’s biggest empire when it comes to children’s entertainment would also step on your child’s head if it meant making a few extra thousand dollars. There were probably dozens of quotes given by several employees in middle or upper management that had to be squashed due to the fact that it may make Eisner look like the sniveling, smirking, sadistic prick. The only reason I’m not giving this an F is because it did mention several times that Eisner’s whole drive was based on the fact that he had it out for Ted Turner and had for several years. For example: do you really think Eisner wanted the NBA on ESPN that much? Of course not, but Ted had it for a while by then and Michael wanted to prove to everyone that he could have it too. If you look at where the NBA was at that point in time it definitely wasn’t a ratings question, it was junior high shit. Eisner wanted to have the cooler sneakers, and he was going to do whatever it took to get them.
Mention that Lee Corso probably should not have a job anywhere, let alone in the broadcasting industry: F-
Nowhere in this book does it mention that Lee Corso should 1) have never gotten a job in broadcasting in the first place, and 2) stole his entire schtick from Dick Vitale. Speaking of which…
Bonus Points for this being a book, therefore making it impossible to hear Dick Vitale out loud: Infinite
But I wouldn’t buy the book on tape if I were you. I don’t know if he reads his parts but I would guess that he does, and you can’t afford to make that mistake.
Taking advantage of the opportunity to discuss some of the problems of the organizational structure of the company: C+
Eh, I’ll give this a C+ because although I thought some of the people interviewed could have done a better job with this but then again some of them were worried about what impact it might have on their professional career and you can’t really fault them for that. If you read between the lines you can kind of see where the problems lied, but it’s a book…you shouldn’t have to do that. You should be able to just read the book and it should tell you. It’s a business, there’s only so many ways you can look at it.
After reading some of this stuff I found myself saying: “Are you fucking kidding me?” For example: The part where they tooted their own horn about how on 9/11 they switched to a major network news feed for the first time in the channel’s 22 year history. Of course you did…So did every other cable channel. You want a cookie for that? Seriously…I’m sure it wasn’t a difficult decision to switch from your back-breaking analysis about how the Carolina Panthers were going to fare on Sunday to the biggest terrorist attack on American soil ever. If I was in the military I’d be insulted as hell by that segment. In our society today people take offense to so many of the wrong things, and then when something like this happens no one even flinches. It’s more than just a little depressing.
The whole premise of the book was supposedly to tell this story about how this small humble company that wanted to broadcast local sports transformed itself into the massive media behemoth that they are today. Yet there were all of these little checkpoints all over the book that say “Step _ on ESPN’s road to world dominance” Well if you had the whole “world domination” thing planned out, how is it such a rags to riches story? It constantly switches back and forth between being a historical recollection of this tiny business going through trial and error to figure out what works, and a carefully laid out plot of how ESPN had planned to take over cable media and knew exactly how they were going to do it the whole time. Which one is it?
Another thing they don’t shy away from is describing how awesome and professional they are. Which of course is hilarious because it’s ESPN, America’s leading media source of unintentional fart and dick jokes. But you’d never know it by reading this book…they make everyone out to seem so serious. Information like ”Stuart Scott says Steve Levy is a great guy to work with” and “Steve Levy says Stuart Scott is a great guy to work with” and “Pretty much all of us think Scott Van Pelt looks like a giant dildo with glasses on” doesn’t provide me with a lot of updated insight as to how the network is run.
The Book’s Ability to cover other difficult topics: B-
Going with a B here because of the way they covered the Erin Andrews story - That whole ordeal had to be horrifying. To be perfectly honest, I would expect most people to retire or go into hiding after something like that. I’m not going to go into detail about what happened here (mostly because I don’t want this website to be linked with “how to” information when it comes to stalking television personalities) but if you remember it was a set of very unfortunate circumstances that eventually led to Andrews testifying before a Senate Subcommittee, and I can only imagine it was pretty hard to organize and put into print.
Only reason I can’t give it an A is because I don’t quite remember the Rush Limbaugh story taking that long to unfold. I remember Tom Jackson throwing a hissy fit the following week regarding Rush’s comment regarding the media being “desirous that a black quarterback be successful in the NFL”. I agree that Rush didn’t choose his words properly, but if I remember correctly the backlash was almost instantaneous. In the book it suggested that it took until Tuesday for it to really begin to make headlines but if you go back and look at the timeline, I’d be willing to bet almost anything that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were both staging separate protests outside Rush’s house before the Sunday Night Football game even started.
Another thing about Limbaughgate that the authors failed to mention was that McNabb hadn’t played well, and if you look at history (as his stats would reflect) he’s easily one of the most overrated QBs in NFL history. I’ve always sort of felt that since that moment McNabb’s been given a free pass towards greatness when in actuality he’s only been slightly better than mediocre.
The Jim Valvano situation was/is always difficult to sit through, whether on TV or on paper. I thought they handled it well and if it raises awareness that’s a positive thing so good for the author and the foundation. However that would prove to be the only worthwhile moment in the history of said awards show, bringing me to my next point…
The Book’s Ability to call out the ESPYs for being totally ridiculous: D
I’ve never watched the ESPY’s once in my entire life. There’s no reason to. Yet there’s only one quote in the entire book (from Bill Maher) that alluded to the fact that the ESPYs are virtually worthless. (Aside from the V Foundation) As Maher says, there’s no need to have an awards show for sports because they’re competitions. We already know who won the competitions so we know who the best teams and players are, there’s no need for an awards show. And if there is an awards show, then there’s technically no need for the competitions in the first place which would take all of the fun out of everything. There was at least ten pages chock full of bullshit quotes from guys like Shaun White and tennis players that aren’t Andy Roddick discussing how cool it was to meet all of the “real athletes”. What a joke. The ESPYs is and always will be stupid.
Bonus note here: I’m a huge fan of Andy Roddick and I’m not a huge tennis fan. And since I’ve never gotten the chance to use this video in any other article, check this video out starting at about 2:23:
X is not really a grade, but I’m making it one. This book is eight hundred pages long. Eight hundred goddamned pages. That’s the definition of overkill. They could have gotten away with either 600 or even 550 and told the same stories while at the same time being more effective. I remember there being way too much information about sailing, but you have to remember I consider any information about sailing to be too much. If you gave me a three page essay explaining what the hell the America’s Cup is, I’d likely recommend you cut at least fifteen pages out of it.
Overall Grade for the book: C+
This book gets a C+ as a whole because after reading it I don’t really feel like I know a whole lot more about ESPN than I previously did. For the most part this book was full of a lot of on air talent stroking the ego of other on air talent so they could say thanks to each other at the water cooler the day after it came out. There were some on air personalities that weren’t spoke of very much, probably because they’re just kind of blah. A good example would be the lack of attention given to Colin Cowherd, who has an hour long show on the network in the afternoon AND does the morning drive show on ESPN radio. You’d think that would certainly command a lot more space in print. But then again he’s kind of an anemic douchebag, so what are you going to do?
In no way am I trying to downplay what ESPN has been able to do for competitive sports, as it’s been one of the best things to happen in its history. But this book is certainly not considered to be a classic amongst sports books. If ”Those Guys have all the Fun” is a 10, “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton is a 78. Compared to a lot of David Halberstam’s work, it’s is a joke. There were a couple people who reviewed this book that thought it was an astounding piece of literature, and what do you know – those are the writers whose quotes ended up on the back of it.
I want to make sure that when we review something in the media, we give you the opportunity to check out what other people in the media think of it so just to make sure that we’re playing fair, here’s another review of this book:
Here’s a link to buy the book on Amazon:
I’m currently in the process of reading “When the Game Was Ours”, which is a book by Boston Globe writer Jackie MacMullan about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. I admit it’s early (I’m only about 75 pages through) but so far I haven’t lost any sleep if you know what I mean. Here at FOH I have a new Deep Six coming up later next week, as well as a can’t miss review of the TV show “My Strange Addiction” that I haven’t finished because the season finale is coming up. In that episode there’s supposedly a woman that can’t stop drinking her own urine so I don’t want to do that piece without leaving her out, even though by this point in her life I’m sure she’s quite used to it by now. So maybe when I’m done with all that I’ll get to the Johnson/Bird book, but no promises as so far it’s an awful read.
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