By Jay Young
It doesn't take much time watching ESPN to figure out that a significant portion of the channel's coverage is monotonous, self-recycling entertainment news masquerading as sports journalism.
The analogy that I hear people use most often is that ESPN has gradually become the sports equivalent of TMZ, Hollywood's most notorious video tabloid.
The reason that media sources like TMZ are ridiculed without remorse is because they are the engines driving and profiting from America's out-of-control celebrity culture.
The tabloid pictures, headline-generating police reports and widespread mind-numbing celebrity news that our airwaves and Internet pages are flooded with can be traced back to companies like TMZ - and increasingly ESPN.
A great example of this toxic blend of news and entertainment is the recent scandal involving Ravens running back Ray Rice. The initial video showing Rice dragging his unconscious fiancee Janay Palmer from an elevator was released by TMZ.
From that point on, the story hit every newspaper from New York to Los Angeles and ESPN commenced their campaign to make the incident the only headline fit to run for the next 48 hours.
Within a few hours we had a perfect meld of tabloid entertainment and "sports news."
And Rice's public shaming is far from an isolated incident.
Tabloid garbage, cult-like celebrity worship and general gossip have become hallmarks of ESPN for some time.
Look no further than the overblown, manipulative coverage of Donald Sterling's fall from grace for more recent evidence.
Given these facts, you can imagine how shocked I was to hear longtime Around the Horn panelist Bob Ryan throw a wrench into the ESPN tabloid engine during Friday night's show.
Ryan, who has a long and impressive career as a sportswriter working in Boston, has always been a bit on the surly side.
He doesn't speak with the eloquence and the panache of many of his younger colleagues, but has a definite blue-collar appeal. He's not a guy who pulls many punches.
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So when a question was thrown to the panel concerning yet another non-issue concerning Johnny Manziel, you could almost see Ryan's face turn from it's usual deep ruby color to a sour purple.
The question - What do you all make of Johnny Football (and other unnamed rookies) showing up late to a five-minute team meeting?
While the other members of the panel were generally dismissive of the issue, throwing in their 2 cents that the Browns shouldn't care about tardiness from their rookie QB, Ryan was clearly downright angry.
"Oh come on, if it was anybody else!," Ryan grumbled into the camera, clearly disgusted that the question had even been thought up, let alone actually posed on a prime-time show.
Ryan spent all of his allotted time shaming the sportswriting community and his colleagues for making a question like that even possible.
This is just another ridiculous reason to mention Johnny Football, he cried.
Being from Boston, I can only imagine what a curmudgeon Ryan would have liked to say to the person asking that question if he had been anywhere but on national television.
My guess is that there may have been some words not safe for TV.
Following the outcry against ESPN's focus on entertainment and not news, interim host Pablo Torre conceded that indeed, "We are all guilty of letting this happen."
If you had been watching Around the Horn while doing something else, chances are you would not have paid much attention to Ryan's short speech - but it was important.
It became even more important following Torre's admittance to being a guilty party, which was nothing more than backpedaling.
Sure, most of the people on that panel including Torre have probably had a hand in blowing Manziel's indiscretions out of proportion and helping to establish his media-driven cult of personality.
But the chance to undo some of that damage, to inject a little honesty into the conversation, was sitting right at their fingertips. Each and everyone of them could have said exactly what Bob Ryan said - and surely a few of them wanted too.
But Ryan was the only one with the guts, or perhaps the short temper, to call ESPN out for their gross pandering.
If we had more sportswriters like him, who are sick and tired of watching tabloid videos and rumors garner all the attention, then we wouldn't have to deal with the incessant media frenzies that surround personalities like Lebron James, Manziel, Tiger Woods and Richard Sherman.