Ever since sports programming shifted away from its highlights format in the 21st century due to this thing called the internet, they’ve needed to fill that space with something stimulating. ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” blazed the trail with its debut on October 22, 2001, and it’s now coming up on 17 years with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. Since its inception, ESPN and other networks on TV and online have copied the rundown + debate format with mixed success. But is the “embrace debate” programming good for us in our own quest of pursuing knowledge and obtaining the tools to have meaningful discussions?
Not always, but Kornheiser and Wilbon both showed the model on how to do it well in a way that entertains the viewer without feeling the need to take a shower when it’s over. They’re informed, contrarians, experienced journalists, but most importantly you always felt there was a mutual respect for one another. Lately however as others have tried to replicate that model, they’ve been using fewer journalists with informed opinions and more individuals into hot takes.
Obviously there are plenty of non-journalists or past journalists more than capable of having intellectual debates, but they still have that same responsibility to thoroughly research the topics to be discussed. I personally prefer journalists because their jobs inherently require them to do their homework. When hot takes are thrown around haphazardly, it leads to ignorant statements, which leads to a strong and emotional rebuttal. Then we’re off! All we’re left at the end is a bunch of blowhards name calling, and arguing the validity of their opponent’s perspective.
This style of discussion and debate has now made its way onto social media. Due to the rundown format, topics on these programs aren’t typically discussed for more than 2-3 minutes. That makes them like the Twitter of TV. How quickly can they make the point with maximum impact? That mindset is a recipe for disaster. Whether we’re discussing race in America or if Eli Manning is “elite,” it can’t be done in a soundbite or a tweet.
So next time you’re watching a debate show in sports, news, or politics, make sure you know who the people are. Know their credentials on topics, and it never hurts to be skeptical. It’s no surprise you never see someone jump up and say, “You know what? I never thought of it that way!” then change their mind. Because, like in social media, they’re only there to tell us their side in the most reaction provoking manner possible.