Thanksgiving Day, I was enjoying a surprisingly good college basketball game between Duke and Portland State in the PK80-Phil Knight Invitational Tournament. A matchup I suspected would be a lopsided blowout. Apparently, everyone but me was either using the restroom, getting a beer, or basting the turkey, because I couldn’t find hardly anything on the web about Duke’s Grayson Allen and his sit-down with a bunch of kindergarteners in a segment of ESPN’s Little Experts called “Crisscross Applesauce.”
ESPN is wont to run 60-90 second snippets, coming out of commercial breaks, featuring athletes, coaches, or broadcasters just trying to act like regular people, often with a humorous undertone. An example is the “94 Feet” segment with Jay Bilas, where the former Duke Blue Devil-turned-analyst walks the length of a basketball court with a player or coach; asking questions as they stroll the hardwood. These are usually fluffy, silly, human interest queries like, “Boxers or briefs?” or “Fruit Loops or Chex? The most comedic element of these segments is usually when the individual they choose to interview either doesn’t like to talk or is unexpectedly surly. It’s like going “90 Feet” with Gregg Popovich on a good night.
ESPNU’s “Little Experts” is one such piece of fluff-TV, designed to make individuals and, probably, more importantly, ESPN look like human beings with a sense of humor. Engaging little kids for their insights on adult sports topics is always a laugh-a-minute, right? That is if watching Skip Bayless debate football with a distracted, attention-starved 7-year old in a bowtie is your idea of humor.
In the Thanksgiving PK80 edition of Little Experts, Grayson Allen was, in fact, sitting crisscross-applesauce with a group of said 7-year-olds fielding their hard-hitting questions. At one point, a kid asked Allen if he ever “had a fit on the bench,” to which Allen busted-out laughing with phony, “I can’t believe he just asked that” outrage. Aww…. Grayson Allen laughs at cute little kid’s cheeky questions? He really is a human being after all; not the maniacal, spoiled, crybaby we all through he was. Group hug!
This pathetic, patronization and pandering is something that happens far too often in the media today. The news cycle shredding, the one-year mandatory waiting period, and then the rebuilding begins. I’m pretty certain I could fill a solid couple of pages listing all of the people in the last 10 years that the media has completely torn-down to nothing, only to make a concerted effort to build back up again. Everyone likes a good phoenix story right?
That’s not to say that Grayson Allen should be banished to the media fires of hell for the rest of eternity either. He did something as stupid and senseless as ESPN’s pandering, tripping an opposing player… Three separate times. But, whatever happened to purgatory? Maybe Grayson Allen should just go away, from a media perspective. Do his job, play his role, graduate, go out for the NBA Draft at the end of the season and see what happens.
I have no idea what caused Grayson Allen to behave like a complete and utter narcissistic jackass last season. But, there is no doubt Allen is a hardworking, talented basketball player. News flash: he wouldn’t be playing for Duke if he weren’t. It almost feels like the media is looking for another Christian Laettner character, including the “30 for 30” episode 25 years from now. There are just two problems with that, Grayson Allen doesn’t have one eighth the charisma of Christian Laettner or the ability to convince the world that he doesn’t care what they think. Charisma and aloofness count for a lot while wearing the black hat.
Allen seems to possess a renewed vigor so far this season, having chosen to stay for his senior year at Duke and also being named the team captain. Good for him. I have no doubt Grayson Allen has turned a major corner in his life. However, that doesn’t obligate the media, especially ESPN, to become a surrogate publicist for Allen. The “Little Experts” segment was unnecessary, mostly unfunny (as most of them are), and it didn’t take a genius to figure out what ESPN was up to. If Allen’s NBA career doesn’t pan out, perhaps there’s an analyst’s spot waiting for him at ESPN?
The bottom line is, ESPN should really stick to sports. From the sounds of it, this past year, they are having a tough enough time with their core business model. Staging reputation rehabs is not one of the Worldwide Leader’s strong suits.