James Leroy Wilson's blog

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Cable Generation

Yesterday I saw Redskins great Darrell Green interviewed. Owner of a couple of Super Bowl rings and just inducted into the Hall of Fame, he was asked if his childhood dreams came true. He said not really, because the NFL wasn't really a part of his life growing up; born in 1960, he just wasn't exposed to professional athletes like kids are today.

Today on ESPN Radio, Colin Cowherd talked about basketball coach Bob Knight's resignation from Texas Tech. He said, sure, a lot of guys love Knight and would want their kids playing for him. But, Cowherd said, that means their kids can't play. Athletic, talented, heavily-recruited kids don't like Bobby Knight and won't play for him.

Cowherd later noted that yes, Knight did have considerable success in the 1970's and 80's, but that was before kids grew up dreaming of being on the highlight reel on ESPN's Sportscenter. As Green said, there just wasn't as much exposure to big-time sports back then. As Cowherd said, all the top athletes in those days could choose from about seven schools if they wanted to be on tv.

Today, of course, college and pro football and basketball are on everywhere, all the time. This shifted the balance of power from the coaches to the recruits. Coaches who hit players or threw chairs on the court would be seen doing it that same night on Sportscenter. Coaches who came off as not just charismatic (as Knight undoubtedly is) but also likable and classy, would have the upper hand in recruiting. This is why, after several seasons now at Texas Tech, Knight still hasn't elevated the program into the top tier of the Big 12, let alone a Top Ten program. Perhaps this is why he resigned.

Although he has by no means been a failure, Knight hasn't reached the Elite Eight in the last 15 seasons, and made the Sweet 16 just once in the past 14 seasons. Talented kids just don't want to play for him. Knight's career was done in by ESPN. Why play for a tyrant if there are other coaches just as good?

Just as ESPN changed sports, MTV changed music. Why did Tom Petty perform at the Super Bowl? It's because, unlike other American bands at the time, he had the foresight to make videos of his singles in the early 80's, and continue to make superior videos at least through the mid-1990's. If not the King of MTV, he was at least the King of VH1. That won him legions of fans who are now 25-50 years old, the ideal target market for advertisers. Today, neither channel shows videos anymore. That's partly why I'm out of touch with the whole music scene. I wonder how kids - the Internet Generation - learn about music these days. Word of mouth on MySpace?

The other great transformation of the Cable Generation was in politics. I think CNN started out with news, and then it moved to having shows, yapfests like Crossfire. And now the news shows and blended with punditry, like Olbermann and Dobbs. In any case, there was a lot more for the junkie. Thirty years ago all they had was the opinion pages of the local newspaper and Donahue. Now, with the Internet, there is tons more.

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