On Thursday, San Jose Mercury News sports columnist Tim Kawakami wrote that he's boycotting ESPN because "it's the only game in sports-TV journalism, and, like all monopolies, has gotten bloated and maddeningly self-absorbed."
He may have a point, but the question of whether ESPN should (or even could) be boycotted is the subject of another column. Instead, here's a reason to stay tuned: the Great Outdoor Games.
No, I'm serious. The GOG offered competition without embellishment and was refreshingly devoid of all the sob-story hooey that'll soon be upon us with the Olympics. It was another of ESPN's made-for-TV attempts to market itself to everyone, but at least it wasn't as dreary as the ESPYs or "Dream Job."
Plus, chainsaws were involved.
The concept for most of the 19 events can be summed up in four words at most: man (or woman) climbs log; man saws log; man climbs, saws log; man shoots gun; man catches fish; dog finds duck, etc. It's that simple. Compare that to many Olympic sports, especially the ones where judges decide who wins.
Sure, track events have basically one goal -- run fast -- and only a select few have what it takes to even come close to qualifying for the Games. But it's not like the GOG athletes are just armchair hacks. When's the last time you shinnied up a 65-foot wooden pole dragging a long handsaw, secured yourself with a rope and cut off the top? And many Olympic athletes aren't simply going for gold? They want fame and the fortune that goes with it. Heck, some of the GOG athletes weren't even wearing any corporate logos.
In fact, the only evident self-promotion came from timber climber Brian Barton, who seemed to think it was 1990 and that he was Billy Ray Cyrus.
"Mullets are coming back," he said. "We're gonna bring 'em back."
ESPN's GOG announcers -- including NHL commentator Bill Clement (who strangely will help call the Olympic badminton competition for NBC) and football guy Merril Hoge -- were into it, or at least seemed to be. Paul Page, known from his work with ABC as "the Voice of the Indy 500," didn't hold anything back when calling an event -- the Superweave, kind of an obstacle course for dogs -- that on the surface seemed kind of silly.
"Dilemma makes a bad move on the entry!" he breathlessly shouted. "Echo takes the lead! . . . It looks like it's Echo all the way, but no, Echo comes out of the weave poles early! . . . Dilemma takes the bronze!" It was a third-place race involving dogs, and Page was calling it as if it was the Kentucky Derby.
Soon we'll be deluged with Olympic human-interest stories. The Great Outdoor Games had none, only a bunch of earnest athletes gunning (sometimes literally) for medals and perhaps a millisecond of fame. Give me the hot saw anytime.