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ESPN PONDERS RIGHTEOUSNESS IN OFFERING SHOWBOATING CLIPS
Published May 21, 1998
While ESPN's "SportsCenter" airs highlights every night, the producers and hosts of the show "are concerned about the effect on their audience -- particularly younger viewers -- of replays showing professional athletes celebrating victories by making throat-slitting gestures or choke signs," according to Leonard Shapiro of the WASHINGTON POST. ESPN's Dan Patrick, during a panel discussion sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates, on whether athletes are becoming more demonstrative to get on "SportsCenter": "We are guilty of showing gratuitous celebration, and I'm sure it leads to high school kids wanting to do it, too. The whole thing of slitting your throat, that's embarrassing, and we shouldn't do that. ... If there's an honest, spontaneous celebration, great." ESPN's Chris Berman: "I hate that. I don't know if that's our problem. If it is, we need to do something about it. To me, that's an NBA thing. It's one of the reasons I don't watch it very much." ESPN Exec Editor John Walsh said that there "is increasing pressure" to include more sports on the show, but that the "obligation [is] to show to a large audience the sports that are most popular. We have people from leagues petitioning us all the time for more coverage. That's one of the big changes in the last five or six years. We give a lot more time now to auto racing and golf because the interest is there" (Leonard Shapiro, WASHINGTON POST, 5/21). MORE ON HIGHLIGHTS: USA TODAY's "In Focus" section examined the culture of sports news networks. FSN Exec Producer John Terenzio: "Hockey fights, car crashes, backboard-shattering dunks -- we show them all and make no bones about it. There's viewer interest, and we're not ashamed of it." ESPN News Dir Vince Doria said that the "top priority in highlights is their relevance" to a game story, "but there's room for interesting video -- and a backboard breaking is interesting video" (USA TODAY, 5/20). In Baltimore, Milton Kent: "So all that talk out of last November's ESPN town meeting on sportsmanship must have been just that -- talk. How else does one explain the judgement of 'SportsCenter' producers to lead yesterday's overnight show with the Orioles-Yankees melee over NBA and NHL playoff highlights and a three-homer performance from St. Louis' Mark McGwire?" (Baltimore SUN, 5/21).