A Tip of the Prospector Helmet: Dan Le Batard

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December 29, 2020 4:15 AM

It's not very often that this blog is going to get serious, or even close to it. In fact, I pride myself on making sure that I don’t. In a world where sports media has got wrapped up in self-absorbed talking heads and prioritizing social issues over actual games, turning on ESPN can be almost as stressful as turning on the news.

Hell, I remember waking up for Sports Center as a kid when all I got was game after game of highlights, almost to the point where it was too much. Did you want to watch a breakdown of the 1-0 snooze-fest between the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks? Probably fucking not, but you were going to get it anyway.

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But all too often these days, the content you get from ESPN or Fox Sports is a group of pundits sitting around and sharing their opinion in a very serious manner on something that doesn’t relate to an actual game or performance. Is LeBron the greatest player of all time? What will happen in the NFL Draft three months from now? Which athletes are doing the most to address racial injustice or police reform?

That’s not to say that those aren’t meaningful conversations to have – They certainly are. In particular, the idea that sports can be a useful tool for addressing societal problems is pretty well grounded. European soccer leagues were publicly tackling racism long before these issues came to the forefront of sports in America, and to good effect.

But none of that acknowledges the most important fact about sports media, and sports in general; this is meant to be fun. And what we get these days from major media outlets just isn’t. Every time I tune in to sports talk shows my head starts to throb from the stress of an “expert” going on some foolish rant to highlight how smart or woke they are.

While it makes great headline fodder, it just isn’t enjoyable.

But in this paradigm where sports media takes itself way too seriously, Dan Le Batard has done everything to push back against that. He’s not the only personality that has done so, but nobody comes even close to how well he (and his team) does it. “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz,” as it's formally named, is focused on sports as a baseline. They talk about the important games and meaningful headlines like any other sports show would. But other than that, it’s absolutely nothing like anything else on sports radio or TV. How do they do it? Well, to start, the show’s most obvious theme is to never take anything too seriously, most importantly itself.

They spend the time to talk about anything sports related that pops into their heads, and can follow a meaningless argument or rabbit hole for an entire 3 hour show just because it's enjoyable. They openly and actively engage with fans over social media, because they want listeners to feel like a part of the show, rather than being spoken down to. They incorporate funny and weird segments like a weekly call with a local Miami zoo keeper just because it’s an enjoyable break from time to time. Basically, they prioritize making the show interesting rather than discussing things in the same way that every other sports show does.

Sure, they are also willing to tackle more serious topics when it's necessary. Dan himself has a habit of sharing his political stances when he thinks they are appropriate, and at times it can be preachy. But rather than coming off as arrogant and combative, the show’s general atmosphere makes those moments feel genuine and thoughtful. When the individuals speaking have proven to you that they don’t hold themselves above anyone else (even if they have a network TV show), you don’t feel like they’re condescending.

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Those moments also don’t feel forced towards any type of viewpoint, which often happens with other pundits. It's no secret that ESPN’s social takes are predominantly liberal, which can alienate conservative listeners who have valid, but differing, beliefs. But when Dan shares his thoughts it doesn’t feel like part of a bigger agenda, because the show just doesn’t follow anyone else’s rules or conform to corporate desires. Hell, Dan has been suspended or fined by ESPN multiple times for doing things that were funny but didn’t meet the company’s “standards.”

That transitions us nicely to why this blog is being written today. After many years, ESPN and Le Batard are cutting ties. More accurately, it's most likely that neither side could deal with the other any more after ESPN allegedly decided to fire one of the show’s producers without telling him and Dan spit back by rehiring that employee as a “personal assistant”. And so, in their time of transition, I thought it would be appropriate to take a second to recognize Dan and his team. Specifically, I want to highlight what a truly important impact they have on the sports world in general, and on this insignificant blogger in particular.

I don’t tend to fashion myself after, or follow the lead of, anyone in my work. Partially due to stubbornness, and partially because it's just more fun, I try to write and think about sports my own way. I blog about things that I find funny, mock sports or myself when it makes sense, and spew my thoughts with very little regard for a greater agenda. That approach is how I ended up with Dimers, and I think it lends itself to what the common sports fan and gambler want. We watch sports and bet on them because it's emotional and enjoyable. Because we grew up wanting to be Tom Brady or Tiger Woods but at some point realized genetics just weren’t going to let that happen so we turned to full time viewers.

Because we all work tough jobs and need a break from the stress and seriousness of the real world. And there is nobody who embodies those sentiments better than Dan. Anyone who tunes in to his show for 30 minutes feels that similar passion, and it’s a breath of fresh air for me whenever I can make time to listen.

Right now, everything in the world, from Covid to elections, causes people to worry. There is just no reason why sports should add on to that. And, if nothing else, you cannot help but smile and laugh when you listen or watch Dan and the rest of the team. You genuinely feel like they are having fun doing what they do, and its infectious for fans who have the same types of conversations in their apartment or on the golf course with their buddies.

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So for those of you who already follow him, I strongly recommend doing so wherever they end up after ESPN. They deserve to succeed and thrive wherever they go. For those who haven’t, take a shot and check them out. If you’re here reading my lowly blog, it's unlikely that you haven’t heard of or listened to their show, but its worth trying or revisiting if you aren’t a regular consumer.

Most importantly for me, I just want to take a second to applaud and appreciate somebody who I genuinely respect. Hell, the man left his multi-million dollar job because he reportedly refused to let an employee get fired during a recession. How can you not admire that. And as a new entrant into the sports media world myself, it's important to recognize those who inspired and taught me.

While I’m not sure he would want to claim me if he ever read my work, I owe Dan a genuine thank you for helping to create and mold my writing and approach to sports. So here’s to you Dan: a tip of my Prospector helmet in respect. Even if ESPN or the institutional world of sports and media don’t appreciate you, there are many who do. And you are having a positive impact on regular people like me who just enjoy sports and gambling. At the end of the day, that’s really what matters the most anyway.

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