Speed Read: ESPN Pulls Its Punches With WWE

If you’ve watched ESPN for more than five minutes this week, you know that last night was the season premiere of “E:60″, ESPN’s version of “60 Minutes,” and the featured story was a “rare, behind-the-scenes” look at the WWE and a profile of Vince McMahon. Jeremy Schaap was sent out to watch as the organization prepared for Wrestlemania.

Vince McMahon at Chris Benoit special on Raw

The choice of reporters makes sense - McMahon is notoriously volatile with cable TV reporters and diminutive hosts alike, while Schaap is best known for not being as good as his Dad (in the opinion of Bobby Knight). And because of the controversy which always surrounds the WWE, there were a litany of hard-hitting questions that Schaap could have asked - questions that other reporters either didn’t know to ask or wouldn’t.

So what was the end result? If you guessed “a 13 minute long sloppy wet kiss to Vince McMahon from your friends at ESPN,” you win an autographed 8 x 10 of Mean Gene Okerlund. Because what Schaap and the E:60 crew put together was - at best - shockingly lax reporting bordering on the type of fawning, hands-off “journalism” you would expect from “Access Hollywood.”

Don’t believe me? Watch it for yourself, and pay attention to all the times Schaap completely whiffs on asking a tough question, or when he does, how it’s set up as the perfect softball for McMahon to nail over the fence. I would suggest making a drinking game of it, but this is a morning post and I don’t want people to get too plastered to go to work today.

Apparently in ESPN’s world, Owen Hart’s death never happened, and the XFL was just a figment of my imagination. And even the “tough issues” they touched on were either brushed over or poorly handled.

For example, let’s look at the segment on Chris Benoit. First off, Schaap mentions McMahon’s federal steroids trial and his own admission of steroid use, but never actually asks him a question about it. And he doesn’t follow up on the WWE’s “Wellness Policy” - which has been highly criticized in the industry - other than to say “why do you need one at all?” and give McMahon a perfect opportunity to play the role of the caring boss who only wants the best for his employees.

Of course, getting sidetracked into steroid talk overlooks significant issues in the Benoit case, like how much Benoit’s history of multiple concussions might have rattled his brain to the point of no return, or how the WWE’s insane travel schedules with almost no time off can crack anyone. (They did briefly mention the WWE’s treatment of wrestlers as “contractors”, but again they didn’t ask McMahon directly about it, or any of his current roster.)

Which makes me wonder: just how much did ESPN have to give up in order to get the “exclusive” access to the WWE? It sure seemed like there was a whole list of questions that were off-limits, or at least not fully explored. I think the level of “exclusive” access ESPN received is best summed up by the fact that they were kicked out of the weekly WWE production meeting midway through because they were hitting on something Vince McMahon didn’t want to share.

But I’m sure that Schaap would argue the point tooth and nail with me…except that I read this interview with him about his profile of the WWE, and he basically admits that this was a softball piece:

I think our interview is very different and it revealed a different side of him. I didn’t go into it and put him on the defensive. We asked him the tough questions - you have to ask him the tough questions and he addressed them but he didn’t get defensive or angry as you’ve seen him in previous interviews because he understood we were approaching it from a perspective of giving him a chance and treated him with the respect that you would treat Paul Tagliabue or Roger Goodell now or Gary Bettman or George Steinbrenner. I’ve seen George Steinbrenner interviewed over the years many times - not recently of course because he has not been well - but George Steinbrenner is a guy who, with all due respect, is a felon. A guy who was kicked twice out of major league baseball, once for committing federal felonies, once for hiring a known extortionist and ex-con to dig up dirt on his best player Dave Winfield and yet, have you ever hear anybody interview George Steinbrenner on TV or in a press conference or any situation as rudely as sometimes Vince McMahon has been treated?

Good lord…sounds to me like Schaap is angling for a spot as a guest ring announcer at next year’s Wrestlemania. Have fun with that. Simply embarrassing - someone wake the ESPN Ombudsperson from her slumber and have her try to explain this to me.

Knee injuries in girls

Also needing to do a better job of explaining things: sports medicine expert Dr. Robin West, who was interviewed by the NBC Nightly News for a look at the rise of knee injuries among young athletes (surprise - they are being pushed too hard too soon by overbearing parents). In a Web exclusive, Dr. West talks about why female athletes are especially at risk for ACL injuries, and why menstruation might be a factor. Or not.

This is about as confusing as Newt Gingrich trying to explain why women can’t serve on the front lines in the military because they get “infections” once a month. So having a period makes athletes more susceptible to knee injuries? Got it. And goes a long way to explain so much about Tom Brady. ZING!

(Also, I question giving anything the title “Knees: The Achilles Heel of Girls’ Sports.” Wouldn’t the Achilles heel be the Achilles heel of girls sports? Unless women don’t have an Achilles heel - let me check my copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and get back to you.)

Lastly, the computer the NFL uses to create its schedules - which I suspect has a computing power somewhere between the evil machine from “War Games” and Hal from “2001″ - finally spit something out last night for the rest of us to ponder. Among the teams cursing the results, according to THE SPORTING NEWS, are the Bucs, Panthers and Dolphins, while somehow the Steelers wound up with a relatively pothole-free schedule. Go ahead and start the conspiracy theories now.

Other stories that happened last night as you tried to come up with a worse way to die than being crushed by a palm tree:

  • It looks like TBS has found its baseball version of Charles Barkley, as they have announced the signing of David Wells as studio analyst for their MLB coverage. Much like Barkley, he’s fat, frequently in trouble and has a loud mouth. I’m sure he’ll mesh well with Cal Ripken.
  • david wells dodgers

  • You might remember a few weeks ago when members of the Oregon basketball team were accused of some Duck-on-duck crimes. The EUGENE REGISTER-GUARD reports that as punishment for shooting at ducks at a local park, head coach Ernie Kent has ordered the players to work at a local humane society.
  • The SPOKESMAN-REVIEW says that Washington State might be done with football players Romeo Pellum and Micheal Willis, after they were arrested early Saturday morning on separate driving charges (suspended license and DUI, respectively). At least they were able to save head coach Paul Wulff having to drive over to the jail twice to pick them up - how thoughtful.
  • According to the AP, Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam threatened to “cut off the head” of the leader of the Korean Football Association in a recent interview, which sort of irritated the Koreans. I can’t imagine why.
  • Speaking of soccer, Chelsea and Liverpool had one of the craziest games in recent memory yesterday during the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal, with the game ending in a 4-4 draw and Chelsea advancing on a 7-5 aggregate. The LOS ANGELES TIMES has the blow-by-blow.
  • Don’t really know much about Masters champion and now two-time major winner Angel Cabrera? This piece in the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE will change that, and give you a new appreciation of just where he’s come from - he’s no silver spoon, well-bred golfer.
  • New Jersey has just built a new state-of-the-art arena for the Devils and also upgrading the Meadowland’s Izod Center, the home of the Nets which is just eight miles away. As the NEWARK STAR-LEDGER notes, some people are wondering if this money could be put to slightly better use.
  • Apparently in Wisconsin, you can’t have junior hockey without booze, which is why the JANESVILLE GAZETTE says that Janesville City Council had to vote to allow the local ice rink to sell alcohol. The City Council did need to look up wine coolers online as part of their debate, making me wonder what self-respecting drunk hockey dad would be caught dead with a wine cooler?
  • The Mets opened Citi Field in ignomious fashion, with a 6-5 loss to the Padres. So it’s probably for the best that, as NEWSDAY reports, many fans weren’t able to see the game thanks to “obstructed view” seats.
  • Least surprising story of the baseball season so far: MLB.COM says Nomar Garciaparra left the Oakland A’s game against the Red Sox after one inning with soreness in his calf muscle.

What is the greatest prop in the history of wrestling?

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Sad Day As Harry Kalas, Mark Fidrych Pass Away

• Another sad day for MLB fans. Legendary Phillies announcer Harry Kalas dies after collapsing in the broadcast booth before a game vs. the Nats.

Harry Kalas Mark Fidrych

And former Tigers pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych dies while working underneath his pickup truck at his Massachusetts home.

Brian Bosworth: From Hollywood Harley DUI laughingstock, to home state hero after saving man’s life by performing CPR.

• Another dead goat is found hanging outside Wrigley Field. If it didn’t work in 2007, why would it work now?

Smokin’ Joe Frazier says God gave Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s disease.

• Masters winner Angel Cabrera owes his success to chewing gum.

Read more…

Speed Read: Cabrera To Be Nicorette’s New Angel

You may have noticed that during his final round conquest at the Masters, Angel Cabrera somehow wasn’t smoking his customary cigarette. No, it’s not because packs are going for upwards of $10 in New York City. It’s because after his mid-round puff break at the 2007 U.S. Open, Cabrera felt a little self-conscious about how the public might think that he was “out of shape.” As if the fact that he’s a Santa Claus-like obese Argentine who walks like a duck and sweats profusely wouldn’t give that away, the cigarettes were really pushing him over the edge.

angel cabrera green jacket

Well, Cabrera kicked the habit, and boy wouldn’t you notice that it made a big difference! Except that it didn’t at all. The man still wears golf duds that look like they were ripped out of a 1980s rehab center, he still waddles down the fairway and, as Adam pointed out last night, he still doesn’t speak English, despite camping out on the tour for two straight years.

In fact, when you really break it down, there’s only one thing that was different about Cabrera this weekend: He was chewing lots, and lots and lots of gum. Lots of it. And why, pray tell, would Cabrera be plowing through Seinfeldian cases of gum? One word: Nicorette.

nicorette gum

That’s right, Nicorette finally has a golden celebrity sponsor, and he’s even named Angel. If only he could speak English, he could give advice like “Every time I could nervous about two-putting, I popped some Nicorette!” Or, “Every time I shanked a shot into the trees, I remembered I was paired with Kenny Perry and that he’d definitely choke, so I took the time to enjoy a nicotine-laced chomp.”

Oh, if only Angel was fluent in English, then we’d really get to enjoy what he was thinking when he kept giving the thumbs up to the cameras after the green jacket ceremony. Something tells us he thought his jacket came with by swimsuit models. Maybe that was lost in translation, too.

lesslye perry

Of course, if Perry had held on to win, we wouldn’t have needed the swimsuit models in the first place, we just could have checked out his daughter. No, not the 14-year-old who was smushed into TV shots with her mother, but the Tennessee Titans cheerleader. Yes, Kenny Perry’s daughter, Lesslye, is a cheerleader for the Titans. And, as you might suspect, she’s fit to be a Titans cheerleader, even though her name is spelled in a way that makes you wonder if her parents spoke English any better than Cabrera.

lesslye perry titans page

So, what does Perry think about having a smoking hot daughter who is a professional cheerleader (when not serving as a CPA)?

“It’s pretty cool. I get free tickets to the games.”

Well, that’s a relief. Now if this guy had won the Masters, then we could really relate to him. And to Kentucky, which, in our case, might be a first.

masters boob grab

Of course, having Lesslye around makes some things irresistible. Like, say, squeezing things. Evidently, that’s even more pressing when you see a star like Tiger Woods make a big shot in person. Case in point: Check out this video from the 15th green at Augusta yesterday:

Now THAT is one grabby husband! Or partner. Or stranger who happened to be sitting behind a large-breasted woman who, after copious amounts of alcohol, was OK with a fat, drunk guy lean up against her and wrap his arm around her shoulder.

In fact, please let it be option No. 3. That would be beyond hilarious, particularly since it pushed CBS’s Masters coverage into the rarefied air of, well, precisely the kind of crap they show in the middle of the day during the week.

You know, for all the masturbatory pseudo-celebration about Cabrera’s second major title, there’s an equal case to be made that Tiger and Phil Mickelson choked a way a chance at supreme, all-time greatness. After all, that really was a horrendous playoff.

• In case you missed it on Saturday — and it lasted long enough that it started to feel like the furniture toward the midpoint of overtime — the NCAA Div. I hockey championship wasn’t just good, it was all-time great. Maybe even the greatest of all time.

• Speaking of hockey, the NHL playoff schedules came out last night, and there are at least four ridiculously intriguing first round matchups.

• The Cavs steamrolled the Celtics yesterday, a blowout that was largely overlooked because neither team’s playoff status or seeding was at stake, and Boston was playing without Kevin Garnett. Then Ray Allen decided he’d had about enough of Anderson Varejao, and suddenly, a playoff subplot was born.

• Your official ping pong ball leaders in the Blake Griffin sweepstakes: Sacramento.

• Coming soon to a Gilbert Arenas-led team near you: Another atrocious coach.

• Of course, the Wizards have hardly cornered the market on embarrassment in the nation’s capital: The Nationals can’t even sell out their season opener. Maybe it has something to do with how the team can’t win a game.

• We’re showing you this because it really doesn’t happen every day: The Pirates turned a triple play - for the first time since 1983.

• The Dodgers scored a run in the second inning yesterday even though the inning ended with a double play that stranded Andre Ethier at third base. Wait, what?

Would you buy gum from Angel Cabrera?

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Cabrera Wins God-Awful Playoff For Green Jacket

Strike up a cheer for no-necked, chain-smoking, obese athletes everywhere. After a scintillating first few hours that saw Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson rocket into contention, Kenny Perry’s late lead evaporated with his game-winning putt coming to rest an inch away from the cup, leading to a three-man playoff between Perry, Chad Campbell, and Angel Cabrera. It ended up being probably the worst playoff in a major event in golf’s history.

Angel Cabrera smokes
(I guess you could say Cabrera smoked the competition! Oh, whatever, like you can make a better joke when you’re under deadline.)

The first playoff hole involved nobody coming close to making birdie; Cabrera’s tee shot went far into the woods, presumably so the Largentinian could sneak a few puffs away from the camera’s prying eyes. Meanwhile, Perry’s approach shot would have been better if he had just thrown his golf ball, and Chad Campbell’s was even worse. Campbell had a long putt to save par; he failed, disappointing the dozens of fans who had ever heard of him.

That left Cabrera and Perry on the second playoff hole, Hole #10. Perry stayed erratic, including sending a chip shot about 30 feet past the cup when he needed to get up and down to save par. Cabrera’s aim was truer; he two-putted for the win, and Perry’s bid to be the oldest major champion in PGA history was sunk.

Cabrera is an unlikely champion for several reasons. Read more…

Tiger Out Of Masters Race; Will People Still Care?

After “Moving Day,” or the Saturday leg of the Masters, we’ve got an interesting scenario. The final pairing is Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry at -11, while Chad Campbell sits at -9 after a late double bogey. Jim Furyk’s an intriguing comeback pick at -8. Then there’s Tiger, tied for 10th place, but seven shots back at -4. Sorry, but that means he’s out of contention.

Tiger Woods Green Jacket
(This won’t happen.)

So are people still going to watch the Masters on Sunday? The top of the leaderboard is bunched together, so it should be exciting. Then again, Tiger’s not going to win; he’s never come back from this much of a deficit, and he has looked miserable this weekend. Not happening. So this is golf’s health test: will people spend their Easter watching players like Angel Cabrera and Jim Furyk fight for a major?

Read more…

*Athletes*, Pall Malls To Converge At Olympics?

As the Olympics fade from view, at least for many sports-saturated Americans, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem has a fantastical idea to bring the formerly great Games back into the stateside spotlight: pro golfers in the Olympics.

John Daly Photos Cigarette

From Finchem’s blog this week: “Since then we have continued to examine the various issues presented by golf being an Olympic sport. While there remain questions to be answered and issues to be resolved, I believe the time is now right to move forward.

Angel Cabrera John Daly Smoking Golfers

We, of course, the Finchem’s plan is a grand idea. Read more…