March 18, 2011

Fab Five "documentary" slides down ESPN's slippery slope

With Japan in a full-blown nuclear crisis and the world anxiously watching events unfold, the No. 1 story on the New York Times’ most-emailed list Thursday was Grant Hill’s response to Jalen Rose and “The Fab Five” film by ESPN.

If you haven’t seen the film, or read the news, Hill, a former star basketball player at Duke in the early ‘90s, was responding to Rose’s statements in the film that Duke recruited only black players that Rose considered to be “Uncle Toms.” Rose, who is also black, was a star player for Michigan during the same era.

Hill’s response in the Times was everything we’ve come to expect from him through the years. It was smart, well written, passionate and unassailable. But my issue isn’t about Hill’s response or Rose’s original statement. It’s not even about race relations, still an uncomfortable topic in America more than two years after we elected our first black president.

No, my issue is with ESPN, and what passes today for its journalism. Eight months after giving us LeBron James’ “The Decision,” -- a made-for-TV spectacle bought and paid for by LeBron himself -- the “Fab Five” similarly blurs the line between real and imagined. 

ESPN spent a month hyping its “documentary” on the Fab Five. But when ESPN made Rose an executive producer for that “documentary,” it sacrificed its soul and the credibility of the film.

Few have called out ESPN for again bending the rules on the athletes and sports it purports to cover objectively. Jason Whitlock, a columnist for FOX Sports, was one of the few to do so.

“Give Rose credit. He talked a major television network and an alleged news organization into allowing him to write his own 90-minute history. We should all be so lucky,” said Whitlock in what was arguably the best column in a sea of columns on the rift.

ESPN has long been on a slippery slope between covering sports and shilling for those sports. “The Decision” and this week’s Fab Five “documentary” simply hasten that decline.

Unfortunately, the Nielsen ratings for the show were released Thursday and ESPN quickly announced the 2.1 rating made it the highest-rated “documentary” in ESPN’s history. To ESPN, that will be all the justification it needs for ditching its objectivity. But the viewing pubic is the poorer for it.

Grant Hill’s response to Jalen Rose {New York Times}
Fab Five film fantasy, not documentary {Jason Whitlock, FOX Sports}