ESPN, dubbed “The World Wide Leader in Sports”, has begun and continues a slow and steady fall from greatness. Deaths, resignations, and terminations have turned the once-powerful network into one that is struggling to maintain its identity.
The decline began in 2005, when Robin Roberts, host of Sports Center, left ESPN for ABC and “Good Morning, America.” Two years later, Dan Patrick, host of “The Dan Patrick Show”, told his viewers that he was leaving, effective August 16, 2007. Nowadays, when Patrick refers to ESPN on his current show, he call it “The Mother Ship”.
Fast forward to 2012, with football analyst Erin Andrews leaving ESPN for rival Fox Sports. After Andrew’s departure, ESPN began taking some major hits, starting January 4, 2015 when Stuart Scott died of cancer. Later that year, in June, it was announced that Colin Cowherd…longtime morning show host, would be leaving ESPN to join Fox Sports. Cowherd promptly began taking shots at his former employer and was asked to leave before his departure date.
In April of last year, Mike Tirico, the voice on Monday Night Football ever since ESPN began broadcasting the game after moving it from ABC, announced that he was leaving for NBC sports. Tirico shared some of the host duties on Sunday Night Football this past football season and broadcast some games when the network gave Al Michaels some time off.
Another death stung the network on August 10, 2016, when John Saunders died in his sleep. Saunders wore many hats at ESPN, including studio host during the college football season, and the host of “The Sports Reporters”, which aired on Sunday mornings.
When the curtain fell on the 2016 NFL season, ESPN announced that Chris Berman, who has been with the network since its inception, would no longer be doing the NFL Sunday pre-game show AND NFL Prime Time. Berman will be doing other things for the network but his absence from these two critically acclaimed shows will be noticeable.
A couple of weeks ago, ESPN announced that the long-running morning sports show, “Mike and Mike”, would be ending as Mike Greenberg will be hosting a new morning sports show. Greenburg, and former NFL player Mike Golic, had been doing their show, now going on 17 years. Their show was highlighted by the two performing several stunts, including betting their “Sheets of Integrity” for the NCAA College Basketball tournament. The loser of their bet had to do some wild things…Golic had his body “waxed” on live TV; Greenburg had to milk a real cow!
Another show will be falling by the wayside as “The Sports Reporters” will be ending soon. Mike Lupica had successfully transitioned over to full-time host when Saunders died, but the show will not be going on.
There were other less-known attritions: Peter Gammons and Harold Reynolds (who was accused of sexual harassment) going to the MLB channel; Skip Bayless leaving “First Take” for a similar sports show on Fox; Brent Musburger just announced that he will be doing his last play-by-play on January 31; and so on and so on. ESPN head John Skipper is probably thinking that the network is big enough to withstand all of these moves. He had better hope that it will.