On Wednesday’s edition of Pardon the Interruption, NBA analyst Doris Burke offered an insightful take on the Markelle Fultz situation. Fultz, who was recently diagnosed with Neurogenic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, has endured national ridicule for a hitch that has hampered the mechanics of his jump shot and free throw form.
Burke’s commentary is worth considering in full, and I have transcribed it below:
“You know, this is hard for me. I am the mother of a twenty-four year old son. And so the first prism through which I look at this, guys, is that of a mom. And if my son were going through this, it would be incredibly difficult to watch. We are evaluating a twenty year old in incredible scrutiny, under incredible performance pressure. It’s been over a year issue. It feels to me, personally, like if I were his mom I’d almost want him in a different organization, just to give him a fresh start. The reality is, this is a business decision for the Sixers. Brett Brown continues to be supportive. He keeps talking, saying I’m going to coach him like a son, not like the number 1 pick in the draft. I think Markelle’s inner circle has given him some interesting advice over time. I don’t know that there’s a positive outcome on either side. I’m just hopeful for the young man, that he can either (1) come back healthy in the timetable given- now 6 weeks- or (2) maybe somehow he moves to another place.”
Burke’s compassionate perspective stood out particularly because it was offered on an ESPN program. To say the network has leaned into the Fultz story would be an understatement. Earlier in the day on First Take, Stephen A. Smith had proclaimed Fultz “the biggest bust in NBA history,” and asserted in the same segment that “this man has some personal demons that are none of our business.” One month earlier, Fultz’s awkward free throw in a game against the Miami Heat was played for laughs and offered as fodder on a number of ESPN platforms, including First Take and The Jump.
ESPN is not alone among sports outlets in reveling in Fultz’s struggles; however, given the network’s venerable status and its broadcast partnership with the NBA, it is unquestionably a major amplifier. Armed with seemingly endless B-roll footage of Fultz lowlights and an impressive array of analysts, the network has considerable power in shaping the narrative around a player.
And, more than ever before, ESPN is in the storytelling business. SportsCenter long ago ceded its monopoly over the sports highlight market; in its place is a relentless brand construction and destruction machine masquerading as a highlights and analysis program. Continue Reading