ESPN's Outside the Lines is the gold standard for sports investigative journalism, and that's why it's always so disappointing when the show runs a feature that not only seems like a waste of time, but worse, has an agenda. John Barr's piece Sunday was about athletes who tithe, which means give 10 percent of their earnings to their church. (One of the churches featured was Tampa's Without Walls, whose membership once included Winky Wright, Gary Sheffield, Derrick Brooks and Darryl Strawberry, among other local athletes.)
In a vague way, and with embarrassingly few details, the piece questioned the financial integrity of certain televangelists, which has nothing to do with sports. Then it questioned whether these televangelists targeted athletes, as if something is wrong with churches bringing attention to themselves by having high-profile members. Whether these churches did is beside the point. All the athletes who attend these churches are adults and donate their money of their own volition.
But here's the thing: What business is it of anyone how athletes spend their money? If they want to spend 10 percent of their salaries buying cars or blowing it in Las Vegas or giving it to a church, who cares? If the belief is that some of these churches or televangelists are shady or are doing something illegal, then they should be investigated. But Barr's piece tried to make it seem as if the athletes are either part of something wrong or are silly because of their beliefs.
If Kurt Warner or Evander Holyfield, below, feels like he is doing what God wants him to do by giving 10 percent of his money to his church, who is ESPN — or anyone else — to question it? If Warner or Holyfield wants to light 10 percent of his money on fire or use $100 bills to make paper airplanes, that's his business.
Outside the Lines produces outstanding shows week after week. Sunday's was not one of them because of a piece that should have never aired.
Good stuff during a Rays postgame show with Rays pitchers giving advice to young pitchers. Several, including Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir and J.P. Howell, expressed the importance of young kids not throwing curveballs. But go to your local youth ballfield this evening and I guarantee you that you will see 11- and 12-year-olds throwing curveballs. And half the time, their fathers are the ones calling the pitches. Shame on them.
Most surprising hire
There are published reports that ESPN will hire Matt Millen, below, to do pro and college football. Because NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol has such a high opinion of Millen, it seemed logical that Millen would replace Cris Collinsworth as a studio analyst on NBC's Sunday Night Football. (Collinsworth is moving to the booth to replace John Madden.)
Any network that hires Millen will take heat because of Millen's poor track record running the Lions. "Why the heck should we listen to anything that guy says?'' his critics will say. But Millen is an outstanding broadcaster, and any network that hires him will have the last laugh.
NBC hockey analyst Mike Milbury lit into the officials of Sunday's Pens-Flyers game during the second intermission, saying they were having a "brutal game.''
NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire is a good man and a good broadcaster, but you have to wince when he gets chummy with players and coaches during interviews. After a pregame interview with the Penguins' Sidney Crosby on Sunday, McGuire said, "Keep having fun, keep smiling, Sidney.''
What is that? If you want to thank the guy, that's fine. But he has coaches and teammates to give him pep talks.
Three things that popped into my head
1. Here's another example of the mark John Madden made on broadcasting: Can you think of any other broadcaster who could retire right now and have such a fuss made over it?
2. I get it, Bill Murray is funny and likes golf. Uncle, already.
3. ESPN's Jalen Rose is quickly becoming one of my favorite basketball analysts.
The St. Petersburg Times' Tom Jones looks back at the weekend's best and worst of televised sports.
Best use of rose-colored glasses
Kevin Kennedy knows baseball and was a good hire as the Rays' TV analyst. Most of the time his remarks have been interesting, informative and entertaining. But if his first two weeks with the Rays have had a flaw, it's how quickly he wants to paint everything, especially the bullpen, as fine when things are clearly not.
Yes, it's still early. The Rays have played only 13 games, hardly a blink of an eye in a baseball season. But over the past weekend, Kennedy, left, said things — and these are direct quotes — such as "the bullpen will be fine'' and "Grant (Balfour) is going to be fine'' and "the bullpen will iron out.'' And he didn't back them up with reasons why we should believe him. Last year, the bullpen, despite the third-best ERA in the American League, was constantly under scrutiny. It was the major concern this club had in the offseason and its biggest question mark coming into this season.
So as the bullpen underperforms so far this season, fans don't want to be patted on the head and told everything is going to be okay. We're smarter than that. We're not talking about a bullpen full of pitchers such as Mariano Rivera and Brad Lidge, who have proven year after year that they are reliable. We're talking about a bullpen that had one good season and even had issues then.
Kennedy is new here, and it can't be easy coming in and criticizing anyone. But to dismiss legitimate concerns with a verbal wave of the hand is doing smart fans a disservice, especially when those concerns have been realized so far.
After Sunday's game, partner Dewayne Staats said the Rays have things to work on but added that at this point in the season, "the worst thing you can do is overreact.'' With all due respect to the outstanding Staats, the worst thing a broadcaster can do is not react at all.
A week ago, some suggested Kenny Perry choked because he bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes at the Masters and then lost in a playoff. But on Sunday's Sports Reporters on ESPN, Mike Lupica pointed out that Tiger Woods, with a chance to move within a shot of the lead, also bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes. Now Lupica wasn't suggesting Woods is a choker, but he did bring up again that Woods still hasn't won a major when he has trailed going into the final round. "The guy is the greatest front-runner ever, trying to be the greatest player ever,'' Lupica said. "But one of these days he's got to come from back in the pack.''