- Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
There is no denying ESPN's power in contemporary American and global culture. The self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader in Sports" has six cable networks in the United States alone and forty-six networks beyond U.S. borders. It boasts the world's highest-traffic sports website; has both regional and nationally-syndicated radio programs; publishes a magazine; and even licenses apparel, video games, and other merchandise. Indeed, and even for those who could care less about sport, ESPN is difficult to avoid. Go to a bar or gym—ESPN will likely be playing on one of the televisions. Go to the dentist—ESPN The Magazine is probably among the waiting room reading options. Enter a college or university computer lab—several users will almost certainly be on ESPN.com checking scores or plotting their next fantasy sports roster move. For better or worse, ESPN has become synonymous with sports culture. One cannot thoroughly understand the meaning of sport in contemporary society without engaging this institution.
James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales's Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN offers a history of ESPN that traces its development from an ambitious and somewhat bizarre idea to a sports media empire that is now worth more than the National [End Page 501] Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League combined. Miller and Shales gave similar treatment to Saturday Night Live in Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers and Guests (2003). Both books are composed of various interviews with the people involved in these institutions that are woven together to tell those institutions' stories. Interspersed throughout the interview material—and marked by italics—Miller and Shales provide brief commentary that creates transitions and gives context to the interviewees' carefully arranged commentary.
There are advantages and pitfalls to the engaging and surprisingly readable form that Miller and Shales employ in Those Guys. It would be impossible to discover the details the interviews reveal by researching already published discourses on ESPN. For instance, the company's various CEOs discuss the corporate identities they attempted to construct during their tenures at the company and explain how those management approaches shaped ESPN's style and content. However, too often the interviews amount to little more than opportunities for current and former employees to stroke their egos by either reveling in their accomplishments or airing complaints about bosses and co-workers. Moreover, it was clear that many of the current employees interviewed were carefully toeing the company line with their statements. The interviews with Monday Night Football announcer Mike Tirico, for instance, read as if they were lifted from an ESPN-produced public relations pamphlet. One cannot really blame these interviewees for not wanting to compromise their very lucrative jobs. However, Miller and Shales do little to critique these often overblown and biased statements. The most they do by way of critique is juxtaposing interview snippets that contradict each other—a formal move that creates many entertaining manufactured arguments.
Those Guys also places a great deal of attention on the scandals that have marked ESPN itself. Pages upon pages are devoted to the company's history of sexual harassment and the acts that have resulted in employees being reprimanded and/or fired—from Pardon the Interruption co-host Tony Kornheiser's two-week suspension in 2010 for his sexist on-air critique of SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm's outfit to baseball analyst Harold Reynolds' 2006 termination for sexually harassing an ESPN intern. Indeed, the nearly 800-page volume devotes more attention to these issues than it does to several very significant elements of ESPN's recent history, such as its development of ESPN Films in 2008 and its steadily expanding presence in international markets. But perhaps my wish to learn...