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The Center Of Sports, Revisited

by John Asante
Jan 19, 2011

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John Asante

A about a year ago, I completed my first post for Blog of the Nation, in which I discussed a top ten list showcasing the worst sports shows of the 2000s. Nearly every show on the list derives from the sports broadcasting powerhouse we know (and I love), ESPN. Luckily, SportsCenter was left off the list.

For those who've watched the show as it repeats through the day, the catch phrases, on-screen information tickers, and high-energy game footage are all apart of SportsCenter's flare. At times, it can be a bit much. But the anchors put on an informative show for the masses. With that said, I can only imagine how traumatic an episode can be for a first-timer.

James Parker, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, wanted to learn more about American football. So, what better way to learn than watching SportsCenter? In theory, this method is a quick method in order to play catch-up. In retrospect, it may not be the most effective tool for understanding the game.

No doubt SportsCenter has a different emphasis, or a different flavor, in the middle of the Olympics, say. But football is the SportsCenter sweet spot—the sport that most lends itself, that is, to the high SportsCenter style. What violence, and what a lot of rules! Terrible outbreaks and collisions hovered over by an unstinting pedantry: good calls, bad calls, disputed calls, coaches tearing off their headsets in disgust. Knots and pits of struggle from which the ball suddenly zooms out like a flare, like a line of poetry. The game offers bottomless arcana: hidden yardage, anyone? And it moves in talk-friendly spasms, brief throes halted by the whistle or the prone body.

Yet, Parker understands that as zany as the show may be, SportsCenter is the glue that holds the sports universe together:

Overall, though, Sports­Center is a place of quiet joy—a place where needs are understood and met, like an opium den. In a bar in Boston, with Sports­Center exploding at low volume in the background, I quizzed the bartender about the show. "I lit up a joint the other day and watched the football," he told me, "and I saw it in a whole new way. It was soap opera crossed with war." The attraction of sports is inexhaustible: the fan, unlike the player, does not grow old. Or rather, he doesn't grow up. And in the eternal present of SportsCenter, its endless boogie of stats and replays and breaking news, he finds his peace. Life is simply too muddled, too busy. Who can make sense of this scrum of incident? We can: we have the Ford Edge Touchscreen. So what happened here, Merril? What happened?

To read more on Parker's journey to the center of sports, you can find it in the January/February issue of The Atlantic.

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