If you are a fan of Keith Olbermann, best get over to ESPN 2 and watch his show because I can’t imagine it is going to last too long. As the wonderful folks over at Awful Announcing make clear, Olbermann has a lot of demons in his past that just aren’t going to remain quiet for very long. As Will Leitch also pointed out, Olbermann is all about taking on the big guy, the institutions that are often corrupt, bloated and tone deaf in turns. The great problem for Olbermann is that, as Leitch also points out, ESPN is an institution of the sporting world now and it often falls into the same behaviors that Olbermann has often glared a spotlight on and brought into our view.
We can already see the problem surfacing. As Olbermann took down the New York Daily News beat reporter for inventing a story, then reporting on the story in a vicious self-referential loop, It appeared on Deadspin (the former David to ESPN’s Goliath) that ESPN engaged in the exact same thing. Last night, Keith skewered the absurdity of the NCAA and the investigation of Johnny Manziel. The NCAA probably wasn’t too happy about the story, but ultimately, Olbermann wasn’t talking about taking down college football, but making it clear that it has nothing to do with education, call it truth in labeling. A sticky criticism, a bit unsavory perhaps, but it doesn’t accuse the NCAA of being anything more than an inept, outdated institution whose time has passed.
The problem comes, however, as the major corporate partner of ESPN, the NFL, comes under scrutiny. It has been widely reported that the NFL basically told ESPN to back off with regards to a documentary coming out in October. How is Olbermann going to handle this? The story is surfacing that the NFL had much more knowledge of the true risks and consequences of football than they had previously admitted. People are already comparing the NFL to big tobacco and its decades long cover up regarding the risks of smoking. Is Olbermann going to be able to keep quiet when the documentary airs and all the dirt comes out? More importantly, for his sake, will Olbermann be able to look into the mirror if he doesn’t sound off on the issue? If the past is any indication, Olbermann will either go against the suits at ESPN (live tv!) or he will swallow his pride, principles, hell his very soul, and not mention it. Along the same lines, he may call in sick that entire week in hopes of the issue going away and pray that his conscience doesn’t eat him alive. Either course doesn’t bode well for Olbermann staying on the network he helped to launch. So enjoy the pure broadcasting genius that is Keith Olbermann while you can because he is probably going to be off air by Christmas.