Cutting The Cord

A month without ESPN could test the world's strongest man. But quite frankly, it gets easier to stay outside the lines as weeks go by.

July 05, 2006|By RICK MAESE

We needed a break.

The two of us had been living together pretty seriously for a while, and the relationship had grown into something serious. We woke up together, ate together, worked together and went to sleep together. Was this the most successful relationship this side of 1950s television or an unhealthy lifestyle completely awash in co-dependency?

"I don't really know how to tell you this -- geez, this is hard," I stammered. "Look, I'm just going to come out and say it: I think we need a break."

Click.

I held my breath, bracing for the worst and slowly placing the remote control on the coffee table. Just one month, I promised myself. Just one month with no ESPN at all. Not in the car, the computer, the television or the phone. I was quitting Cold Pizza cold turkey. I stopped lunching with Dan Patrick, muted Stephen A. Smith and vowed no more John Kruk in bed.

You see, something had changed in our relationship. In recent weeks and months, I'd noticed that my daily routine was being dictated by a cable television network. It was my soundtrack and my search engine, and at some point -- I don't remember when, probably during a World Series of Poker broadcast -- we crossed the bridge from symbiotic to parasitic.

It became quickly apparent just how difficult my task would actually be. I woke up one morning refreshed, tuned the TV to a news channel and raced out the door before ESPN could even start with her early morning seduction. I drove for more than 10 minutes before realizing that I'd been listening to ESPN Radio the entire time. The station was just another part of a daily routine; when the car starts up, so does inane sports chatter. Clearly, this wouldn't be as easy as I thought.

I quickly erased the channel from my preset stations and decided I needed a battle plan. I'd also need to change the home page on my computer. For anyone who spends his or her day hypnotized by a 19-inch monitor, ESPN.com is like a nanny. You click "home" and it's like putting a 3-year-old in front of a SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon.

I also had to reprogram my television stations. I couldn't afford to flip through the channels and succumb to temptation. How many times in the past had I attempted a quick check of the ticker and then before I knew it, three hours had passed and I was watching Koreans smack a shuttlecock back and forth?

The first week flew by and was actually a bit of fun. I felt like I was playing an elaborate game of dodgeball. Plus, there was a sense of purpose behind my mission, some noble cause that justified my newfound sports ignorance.

"Sorry, I couldn't open that link you sent me."

"Really? Kobe was on Patrick's show?"

"Nope, missed that game last night. Who won?"

By early in the second week, though, my task had become a chore. I felt somewhat detached and started resenting ESPN. I knew the network had integrated itself into our daily lives, but until you make a concerted effort to avoid it, it's hard to understand just how much it permeates our conversations, our schedules, our daily culture.

There was one night I was getting a bite to eat in Canton. I sat with my back to the televisions, the ones beaming ESPN in the bar area. Just my luck, I was facing a mirror and unintentionally kept stealing guilty glimpses of a baseball game. Actually, truth be told, the TVs kept stealing glimpses at me.

"I hate that guy," said a friend, pointing to Stephen A. Smith in a commercial. Before I knew it, an entire conversation unfolded on something I didn't see. And this was happening every day. All anyone seemed to ever say was, "Did you see...?" or "Did you read...?" or "Did you hear...?"

NO, I MISSED IT! CAN WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE?

By the third week, my reality of ESPN had become completely obscured. The two of us had been so intimate, so close for so long, and yet I had been blind to the founding tenets of our relationship. Suddenly, the more I tried to avoid ESPN, the more I seemed to notice her.

In conversations, I began equating the network to Big Brother. I was convinced the NSA was somehow involved. I kept her out of my home, but still, she was everywhere: restaurants, bars, stores, hotel lobbies, airports, in the office. What did these televisions broadcast before the Worldwide Leader came along?

And there were bigger questions, of course: Had I been seeking out ESPN all these years? Or had she been seeking me? How could I possibly avoid the network if she seemed so intent on chasing me? ESPN -- her TV stations, her radio signal, her magazine, her Internet site -- had become a stalker hiding in my shadows.

"Do you think I can obtain a restraining order against a television network?" I asked a lawyer friend.

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