BRISTOL, CT—Citing the increasingly frenetic pace at which SportsCenter anchors and correspondents are forced to report the same shallow feature items, gushing personality profiles, and artificially inflated news stories, media analysts announced Friday that ESPN was at great risk of seeing one of its hosts die of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a live broadcast.
"Even a casual viewer, say someone who watches SportsCenter three or four times a week, can see that the warning signs have been there for a while," Dr. Susan Scheub of Syracuse University said. "The strained faces of the presenters as they read yet another Tim Tebow story late last year, their tortured voices as they tried to pass off the statistical anomaly of 'Linsanity' as some sort of magical phenomenon—classic evidence of stress and trauma. Given what I've seen on the show this week, I'd be surprised if we get through the Peyton Manning free-agency tour without a tragic incident, let alone March Madness."
Scheub was most likely referring to an incident earlier this week in which obviously upset SportsCenter anchor Kevin Negandhi discussed Manning's visit to the Tennessee Titans for the 11th time while absentmindedly brandishing a large-caliber handgun, his voice pitching higher and higher as he spoke more and more quickly, often using the firearm to rub his temple, support his chin, or gesture at guest commentator Adam Schefter.
"What we see on ESPN is a classic example of talented, ambitious people pushed to the breaking point by being forced to work extremely hard on repetitive, meaningless tasks," said Matthew Koening, a media-suicide-prevention expert brought into the study as a consultant in early February when bottles of vodka and sleeping pills began appearing on the NFL Live anchor desks during the excruciating run-up to the Super Bowl. "We are talking about a cable network that can overhype the championship game of the most popular sport in America. As terrible as it is to watch, just imagine what it must be like to work in that environment."
Koening's assessment of the working conditions at the self-styled Worldwide Leader in Sports would seem to be borne out by recent anchor behavior.
"Tiger Woods: Are 18 majors victories possible? How bad is his recent injury? Should he retire? Are these questions leading to anything? Haven't we done this before? Is this news? Am I even a journalist? This is SportsCenter, and I'm Chris McKendry," the veteran anchor said during the show's introduction Monday night. "I'm not a bad person. I'm just doing my job, which is to talk about Tiger Woods even though he isn't very good and isn't really news. Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods. There, I did it! I was top in my class in college. I was passionate about sports. Oh, God. Oh, God. Here's Scott Van Pelt."
Van Pelt then watched, unblinking, as McKendry broke her coffee mug on the edge of the desk and the directors and cameramen attempted to wrest the sharp porcelain shards away from her.
"It does get to me, of course," said John Buccigross, who has been a SportsCenter anchor since the mid-1990s. "I went through a really bad time there for a while. I had some really dark thoughts, drank too much, hated myself when I should have been hating what this cheap, loud, blaring, stupid network has done to my love of sports. I was afraid for my career. God help me, I was afraid for me. But as bad as it got, I never gave in to the impulse to jump up on my stool and use the noose I tied up there in the studio’s lighting rig. See it? Right there."
"Anyway, this was a long, long time ago, about the time the NCAA Tournament was starting and Sidney Crosby finally returned to the ice," Buccigross confirmed. "I'm much better now."
"This cannot be allowed to continue," said Dr. Scheub, who told reporters she would be sharing her findings with ESPN management as well as the Federal Communications Commission. "Sure, there are some anchors whose psychological damage and self-loathing are well-deserved and, some would say, only fitting punishment. But for every Chris Berman or Stephen A. Smith there is a Linda Cohn or…or someone like that, someone not completely beyond saving. And right now, many of these poor anchors are only one long, drawn-out, utterly contrived and overreported steroid controversy away from a complete suicidal breakdown."