“Digging” a Hole in ESPN’s Professionalism

ESPN has been long accused of bias in its sports analysis, but rarely is this bias showcased in prime time during an actual game. The behavior displayed by ESPN color commentator Digger Phelps during last night’s Louisville-Notre Dame game was downright despicable. Not only was Digger wearing a Fighting Irish logo on his sweater, but he made biased statements against the Cardinals throughout the contest.

Digger Phelps makes no bones about his allegiances.

After Kyle Kuric’s first half-ending dunk garnered a technical foul, Phelps berated him. He exaggerated Kuric’s actions and continued his commentary on Kuric throughout the game. Phelps referred to Notre Dame as “we” or “our” multiple times. He would praise Irish star Ben Hansbrough for great range from the three-point line, but then said that U of L’s Preston Knowles had “no business shooting” a sunk three. He even called “short” in a villainous manner as Kuric pulled up for a three. Indiana legend Bob Knight joined in the Cardinal bashing a couple times.

Yes, some of the great analysts of any sport have ties with some of the teams involved in their games. Digger Phelps coached Notre Dame for 20 years, and his experience makes him a great analyst. Still, that is no reason to make the match unbearable for the other team’s fan base. If ESPN wishes to call itself the “worldwide leader in sports,” it must act like it. Unlike in cable news, showcasing bias is unacceptable. “Fair and balanced” is taken much more seriously in these situations.

ESPN had long considered Rick Pitino a car- carrying member of the Fraternal Order of Elite Coaches, yet since “Porcini-Gate” that luster has worn off. Pitino has received fewer interviews on the network. His mantle as Kentucky’s premier coach has been taken by Wildcats Coach John Calipari. Pitino has even been passed over in a few conversations on ESPN regarding the best dressed coach in college basketball.

Armani suits aside, the behavior from Digger Phelps last night was horrendous. This is just another instance in ESPN’s long history of  being the lap dogs of the traditional hoops powerhouses like Duke and UNC. As the level of professionalism continues to suffer, so will the complaints from fans. ESPN must make some kind of policy regarding commentators who have ties to the teams they are covering, their “analysis” just becomes overkill.

Of course, you could just listen to Paul Rogers on the radio.