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ESPN: The Uncensored History
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2000
I bought this book because of all the buzz about the shenanigans that go on inside ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, but I was surprised to discover that the real meat is in author Freeman's chronicling of the early days of the network; it's fascinating stuff. The material about sexual harassment, though compelling, only represents one part of the book. The rest is the best.
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32 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2000
As a former ESPN employee, I caution most readers to take most of the "gank" provided in this book with a HUGE grain of salt. The sexual harassment incidents described are anecdotal at best, and even if they are indicative of a "bigger problem" throughout ESPN Plaza, what else would you expect with a company when you throw a bunch of young twenty-something males who are all self-proclaimed "sports experts" with no social outlets in a sleepy little town in central Connecticut? (Freeman's characterization of Bristol as a "city" is laughable)
Freeman does do a good job of painting the painful sacrifice young singles must make to join this odd corporate culture. But maybe also mentioning the sacrifices the married employees and their families have to make (e.g. the intense travel demands levied on many ESPN employees, the quirky weekend hours, the extramarrital activity), would have helped give this book more balance.
The book also neglects the overall stress on a given night in the screening room where every sporting event is being monitored. A brief synopsis of how a game becomes a highlight and the people involved -- from the PA logging the game to the highlight supervisor to the anchor reading it on the air -- might also help readers understand the electricity in the air on a given night at ESPN Plaza.
Other than that, though, the book is a compelling read. Many of the personnel mentioned in the latter half of the book, both talent and production, are still at ESPN. The timeline of ESPN's evolution from cable start-up to the model cable network is great. Freeman's assessment of ESPN as a "sports news" network and not just a "sports network" is very well done.
And for those wide-eyed soon-to-be college grads who would give your left arm to work for the Worldwide Leader (attention all men: they will most likely spare your arm but they'll begin to take your hairline upon arrival in Bristol), this book will definitely give you a moment of pause.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2000
As a former member of the sports industry and a recovering SportsCenteraholic, I am very glad I read this book. Anybody who enjoys ESPN will find this book interesting. That said, it is not a masterpiece, and I found myself wanting "something more". I wanted to know what happened to all of the characters, especially the anchors, reporters and founding team. In essence, I wanted to know WHERE ARE THEY NOW? This could have been handled in an appendix, and would have made this more of a reference book than a gossip book.
To me, the best theme is the evolution of Sportscenter from a highlight show to a must-see event. In the mid-to-late 80's, I thought CNN had surpassed SportsCenter, with better stories, better anchors, and better sets, as well as a partner network in CNN Headline News. John Walsh's iron will reversed that trend, and some of the best CNN personnel (Dan Patrick, Gary Miller, etc.) defected to ESPN. Subtly, over the years ESPN became a credible journalistic organization with multiple networks, and SportsCenter left CNN in the dust.
The pre-1978 Bill Rasmussen story moves slowly, and I don't think I have a full understanding of the important events leading to September 7, 1979. I would like to have had clearer information about how Rasmussen expected to pay for his vision, and why his son (theoretically the least experienced of the principals) was sent out to look for money. What kind of deals did they offer investors before Getty came in and took 85%? How soon did they expect profitability? Did they have a backup plan? I think the author wanted this to be perceived as a business book instead of a gossip book. It fails on that count, in my opinion, because the author does not seem to have a business background. The book doesn't have to be all things to all people, but those expecting deep insight into business decision-making will not find it here.
As for the gossip (which I love as much as anybody), most of the first 100 pages refer to unnamed anchors, production assistants and managers. Without names, the story is not compelling. The book picks up steam as it goes along, primarily because Keith Olbermann agreed to be an on-the-record (and angry) source. ESPN refused to cooperate with the author, so we get a lot of one-sided attacks. That may be why there is so much focus on sexual harassment and the abuse of PA's. These themes weaken the book. Certainly those topics deserved coverage, and they are compelling, but they are repeated over and over and over again.
Don't let these weaknesses scare you off. ESPN: The Uncensored History is well worth reading!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2000
If you have spent years watching nearly every Sportscenter as I have, then you will love learning about the history of the network and its personalities. But to be honest, I thought the early chapters moved slowly and there were ambiguous parts where it was hard to tell what was fact and what was the author's version of the events. I also agree with an earlier review that it is a bit presumptuous to state that certain reporters and anchors are "the best" talent, reporters, etc....
However, like I said, if you can't get enough of the network(s), the magazine, and the Web site, then this is a quick read and an enjoyable one.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2000
I really enjoyed this book. Having some inside knowledge of what used to - and still does - go on at ESPN, I thought that this book was a good start at peeling back the facade of the SportsCenter commercials. However, while the instances of drug use, sexual harrasment, and out of control executives are portrayed in the past tense, one wishes that Freeman had followed these themes up to the present and broadened his view away from the on air talent. After all, the executives could not have turned so blind an eye to this stuff if they weren't just as guilty (and they were!).
Hopefully there will be a sequel which tells all about some of the rights deals as well as the misbehavior in the corporate suites.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2000
You will look at ESPN in an entirely different way. This is one of the best books about the building of a corporation that will you read. It gives the good and the bad. This is what I wanted to read, a book about the total ESPN network, not what ESPN wants me to believe with its fluffy ads that I know now aren't true.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2000
Mike Freeman, one of the New York Times top sports reporters, has written a gem of a book, ESPN: The Uncensored History. Through diligent reporting, Freeman traces the history of the most powerful cable network in the world from its humble beginnings to the 800-pound "mouse" it is today. Along the way he startles the reader with tales of drugs, gambling and sexual harrassment at ESPN, revelations that surely won't make the folks at Disney -- or in Bristol-- very happy. Buy this book; it's a great read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2000
A very interesting look at ESPN and how it started from scratch to become the powerhouse we all know it as today. The book gives us a unique view of life inside the network as well as a closer look at the anchors we all know. Several reviews have criticized the amount of time spent on sexual harassment issues at ESPN, but it's vital considering the workplace as we know it here in the new millenium.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2000
This isn't quite what you'd expect from the press.
Much of the book is taken up by the tale of how ESPN was started. I found that part to be very interesting and well-written, full of information that I never knew about the nascent and historic network. However, it's not what most of those grabbed by the press will care about.
The story of the abuse of PAs and of drug use in the same years it was gripping the sports world is revealing if you didn't expect those things. However, the abuse of PAs is hardly unique to ESPN in the TV world, which doesn't make it any better, but which context seems to get short shrift. I also think many would have expected that a jock net in that era would have its share of drug use.
The sexual harassment at ESPN that is alleged in the book (and its poor handling by execs) is similarly less than shocking -- even if that's a very sad thing to say in the year 2000. The Tirico story was publicized at the time it happened, and the book doesn't really add much detail to that particular incident (except the author's impression that Tirico is not contrite, which is by its nature subjective and debatable). The other stories -- again, containing abysmal and inexcusable conduct -- are hardly shocking in a sizeable company with lots of young males, many of whom were jocks or are jock culture-obsessed. Is such conduct as is alleged wrong? Absolutely. Shocking? Nope, especially not when an on-air personality has already been publicly exposed to have been disciplined in that regard.
I found the profiles of the on-air staff to be relatively unrevealing, too. Keith Olbermann is an opinionated, brash, sometimes egocentric, eccentric guy with a strong sense of what he thinks is right and wrong. Anyone expect otherwise? Tom Mees and Dan Patrick were/are pros and respected. Berman is revered for what he does, and respected, but sometimes too full of himself. Berman, Patrick and others get close to athletes off-camera, which might make one question their integrity, but which also might give them serious leads that others wouldn't get. The "insights" into the personalities at ESPN basically tell us that they are... mostly exactly what we expected from watching them on TV. Of course, that may not be at all the fault of the author -- if they are mostly what they seem, there wouldn't be much he could do about it, after all!
Finally, a book that claims to be critical, in my opinion, needs to be doubly careful in editing, lest it leave itself wide open to having its accuracy attacked. Unfortunately, there's one doozy here that the sports people in Bristol will spot quickly: Freeman initially puts the New England Whalers in the American Hockey League (page 49), then in the "World Hockey League" (page 50). Of course, as those in Bristol who used to call them the "home team" (often with sarcasm) will know instantly, the Whalers were in the World Hockey Association before joining the NHL. Oops.
In summary: Generally well-written, especially in its first half, but not nearly as shocking as the press suggests, and not all that insightful as to current ESPN personalities.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2000
Sex, drugs, and rock n roll all part of the sleepy town of Bristol, CT? You bet! Tales of influential higherups preying on new entry-level women are both compelling and discouraging. The stories about the exploits of the light-eyed editor "Warren G" were extremely interesting. What a chick magnet! I was a bit disappointed that the characters of "Drew", "Camille", and "Eunice" were not fully developed. Production assistants RUN espn! But really, every female who ever worked at ESPN has a story to tell of inappropriateness. Read the book if you think ESPN is a dream job...you'll change your mind.
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