The pre-release hype for Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN led me to believe that it would make a typical Kitty Kelley biography look tame. Led partly by blogs like Deadspin, followers of the Worldwide Leader in Sports wondered aloud just how many skeletons would come dancing out of the closets in Bristol, Conn., the network’s home since it was founded in 1979.
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After all, we’ve heard so many lascivious stories in recent years—most involving sexual indiscretions of one kind or another—that the prospect of even more dirt had ESPN’s detractors sharpening their claws. Unfortunately, relatively few of the more than 700 pages of interview transcripts compiled by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales reveal things we didn’t already know.
In fact, very little of Those Guys Have All the Fun should come as revelatory to anyone who’s spent more than a few years working for any large American business. Not because of the sex scandals—although it’s clear that ESPN was anything but a friendly environment for women for most of its early history—but because it’s chock full of anecdotes about office politics, corporate bickering and power plays, and just plain white-collar skullduggery.
Still, I found the early sections of the book full of fascinating glimpses into ESPN’s almost daily struggle for survival in the late ’70s and early ’80s. It’s hard now to imagine ESPN as anything but an omnipresent part of the sports and TV landscapes, but it took several years before the network launched by the father and son team of Bill and Scott Rasmussen (with financial backing from Getty Oil executive Stu Evey) found financial security and shed its image as more than the home for “obscure” TV events like Australian rules football and slow-pitch softball.
Once Miller and Shales get past describing ESPN’s days as a plucky upstart, their interviews pretty much cover one of three topics: corporate maneuvering and personality conflicts, sexual dalliances, and behind-the-scenes glimpses into contact negotiations with big-time sports entities such as NASCAR, the NCAA, the NBA, and most importantly, the NFL.
Peppered throughout the voluminous transcripts are short bits of narrative presumably meant to frame the overall narrative, which is that ESPN is a really big deal and everything they did is really important. Each milestone in the network’s history is described as another step “in ESPN’s rise to world dominance.” This is where I tended to check out a little bit.
Thanks to Those Guys Have All the Fun, I gained respect for some people and cemented my opinions on others. Charley Steiner and Tony Kornheiser, for instance, are awesome. It’s abundantly clear that they don’t give a crap what anyone thinks of them, and they’re perfectly happy to speak their minds about ESPN, where Kornheiser is amazingly still employed, despite numerous public run-ins with network management.
On the other hand, Chris Berman seems to be every bit the blowhard I’ve assumed he is all these years. Mike Tirico, no stranger to sexual scandals, comes off as weirdly out of touch and the very definition of an empty suit.
Most of the book’s subjects are decidedly tight-lipped about their bosses and coworkers, although the occasional barb slips through. This is to be expected, as many of the people interviewed by Miller and Shales are still ESPN/Disney employees and aren’t about to ruin their meal ticket.
As a source of blog-friendly bombshells, Those Guys Have All the Fun is a relative dud. As an oral history of the most successful network of the last quarter century, it’s a thorough (albeit flawed) work.
Chris Holmes used to run a website about former football great Howie Long, but otherwise thinks celebrities are just people like us. He lives in New Jersey and is a staff writer for Popdose.com.