Sports fans lose with ESPN moves

ESPN dropped the hammer on a bunch of its best sports journalists last week, and whether you realize it yet or not, fans are going to lose out in a big way because of it.

We are going to lose out on some great reporting and insightful storytelling from experts who are on the ground, actually doing the legwork, talking to sources and giving us useful information.

What we are going to get instead are more Screamin’ A. Smith clones yelling at us, more former athlete analysts telling us how things were back when they played, and more nonsense such as Dan Le Batard droning on about bathroom preferences.

I love sports. I love talking about and hearing about actual sports news. The meaty stuff, the technical jargon, the behind-the-scenes stories.

You know who delivered that kind of stuff for ESPN? Andy Katz. And Jayson Stark. And Dana O’Neil. And Ed Werder. And Eamonn Brennan. And Brian Bennett.

They were all fired last week. By a network sending the message of, hey, we are no longer going to even attempt to deliver thorough, hard-hitting sports journalism on a widespread basis across all major sports.

As a huge college basketball fan, it’s inconceivable that ESPN would get rid of Katz, the very best in the business, and O’Neil, another one of the best in the business. The phrase we use in the media is institutional knowledge, and very few people are as tied in about college hoops as those two.

MLB fans can say the same about Stark; NFL fans about Werder.

As many have pointed out, ESPN let go roughly 100 people, yet Stephen A. Smith and his $3.5 million salary remain. I can sit here and scream at you the way he does about that being ridiculous, but the truth is, his show, “First Take,” gets huge ratings, and ESPN probably loves what Smith does for them.

So that’s probably what we’re going to get more of in the future. Stories and information be damned. Just put a bunch of shows with people arguing about the same recurring topics — LeBron James, the Dallas Cowboys, Carmelo Anthony — and have that be the content all day long on TV and the web.

There are a lot of people who don’t like ESPN and haven’t for a long time. Believe me, there has long been plenty to dislike.

But there also has been a great deal of stuff to like over the years, namely the outstanding reporting and writing done by some of the folks mentioned above. ESPN.com put it all in one place, so you could seek out what you wanted and ignore the rest.

Unfortunately, now there will be even more to ignore.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “All these people will get another job somewhere else,” that’s perhaps true. Most will, with smaller salaries, a smaller audience and less cache than a job at ESPN provided.

In today’s financially challenged media world, there will never be another behemoth like ESPN that can accumulate and pay for such an enormous talent pool. So, all of those journalists will wander around in the wilderness of internet sports media and be scattered so much that it’s difficult to find their work.

Meanwhile, the work at ESPN is going to take a massive hit, with the network and its website sinking even further into the business of providing salacious, lowest common denominator sports content.

This and that

n Saturday had to be very difficult for Saint Francis safety Lorenzo Jerome, who expected to be selected in the NFL draft after hearing himself talked about so much recently.

No one knows for sure why Jerome fell out of the draft after being projected as high as a fourth-round pick. Whatever the reasons, Jerome surely will use the draft slight as motivation and will have a huge chip on his shoulder beginning his pro career. He signed a free agent deal with the 49ers.

n On the subject of Saint Francis football, major props to the absolutely incredible job Chris Villarrial has done to make the Red Flash a factor in the NEC and FCS. I used to think winning at Saint Francis was impossible in football, and Villarrial has proven that it can be done.

n Only one Penn State player was drafted — receiver Chris Godwin — which is remarkable for a team that finished in the top 10. The Nittany Lions have a ton of top-flight talent coming back that will be eligible for next year’s draft, namely Saquon Barkley, so fans have every reason to be excited about this fall.

n If PSU is in a playoff or major bowl, Barkley almost certainly will play. But if the Lions struggle and end up in a lesser bowl, don’t be surprised if Barkley skips it to protect himself for the draft.

No one held skipping the bowl game against LSU’s Leonard Fournette or Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, two top 10 picks, while Michigan tight end Jake Butt dropped from potentially the first round to the fifth round after getting injured in a bowl game.

n The most awesome thing about the draft was Pitt running back and cancer survivor James Conner going to the Steelers. Not wishing for anything bad to happen to Le’Veon Bell, but hopefully Conner gets some opportunities and becomes a big factor. Terrific young man.

n Congratulations, Gift Ngoepe, on becoming the first African-born player to reach the major leagues. His historic achievement should and probably will get some type of recognition at the Hall of Fame museum in Cooperstown.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.

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