Good Sports, Bad Sports is a regular feature from League of Fans highlighting recent, often underreported, news stories that positively or negatively impact sports & society.

By Shawn McCarthy

In this edition, 19 U.S. states/territories are Good Sports for lowering obesity rates among preschoolers for the first time in decades. Keith Olbermann is a Good Sport for returning to ESPN(2) to tackle substantive issues. But ESPN is a Bad Sport for moves that will slash viewership of Outside the Lines, the network’s most important and respected program.

Good Sports – Obesity rates among preschoolers show improvement

League of Fans has long advocated for collective efforts to prevent childhood obesity. And for the first time in decades, childhood obesity rates in some U.S. states are beginning to decline. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among low-income preschoolers (ages 2-4 years) studied in 43 US states and territories:

– Obesity rates from 2008-2011 decreased slightly in 19;
– Obesity rates from 2008-2011 increased slightly in 3;
– Obesity rates from 2008-2011 did not change in 21.

SOURCE: Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, 2008-2011. *Represents statistically significant annual decrease or increase in obesity.

Why is this so critical? According to the CDC, children who are overweight or obese as preschoolers are 5 times as likely as other children to be overweight or obese as adults and suffer lifelong physical and mental health problems.

However modest the success, 19 states/territories have decreased obesity rates among preschoolers and thereby likely improved their health and well-being into adulthood. It’s so much easier today for kids to be sedentary and regularly consume junk foods and drinks high in added sugar and fat. So reversing the obesity epidemic means widespread proactive efforts to educate and change lifestyles toward getting our children moving and eating well are working. Now we need to get some momentum behind this. Cheers to the following states/territories:

California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, South Dakota, Virgin Islands and Washington

Good Sports – Olbermann back at ESPN(2)

Tonight at 11pm EST, Keith Olbermann makes his return to ESPN to host a nightly, hour-long show on ESPN2 called, simply, Olbermann. Let’s hope management at ESPN gives him the freedom to tackle substantive issues in sports, even if they frequently intersect with culture and politics. The sports world needs his unrestrained voice.

In the 1996 book Mad as Hell: how sports got away from the fans and how we get it back, author Mike Lupica (sportswriter for the NY Daily News and frequent commentator on ESPN) asked some of his “smart friends from sports” how they would make the sports world better if they had the power to change it all. Keith Olbermann’s [excerpted] response:

“From January 1 in the year after the approval of this amendment to the Constitution of the United States, any official of any government, state, or city who pays, suggests his government should pay, or promises a sports franchise or any single voter that it will pay, money towards building the franchise a stadium or remodeling an existing one, that official will be sentenced to a life at hard labor in a federal penitentiary.”

We would love to hear him repeat that on ESPN2 some 17 years later and with publicly subsidized stadium dealmaking still going strong. Olbermann continued:

“Instantaneously, we would see blessed relief from the ethics-resistant business mutation to which owners euphemistically refer to as ‘franchise free agency’ but is in fact franchise blackmail….

“Want to move? Pay for it yourself. Want to replace a bad facility? Pay for it yourself.

“There would also be [other] benefits, foremost would be the chance to preserve our historical ballparks rather than taking the easy route of replacing them with publicly financed soulless dumps.

“… Oh, and by the way, the fan would benefit from this, because his or her city might just spend that sports subsidy money on, well, real life.”

We still haven’t heard it said better. Cheers to Keith Olbermann.

Bad Sports – ESPN demotes Outside the Lines

The closest program we have to a 60 Minutes for sports is the investigative sports news program Outside the Lines from ESPN (with a tip of the cap to HBO’s Real Sports). From a journalistic standpoint, OTL has been ESPN’s most respected program since it began airing in 1990. Unfortunately, ESPN has bumped both the Sunday edition of OTL and its daily program from ESPN to ESPN2, and to less favorable time slots. Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch referred to this move as “a de facto burying of the show.”

While ESPN will still point to OTL to show its commitment to journalism, the network has just diminished the show’s impact. Deitsch points out that the move has already had a substantial effect on its viewership. “Outside The Lines averaged 160,000 viewers last Tuesday, the first day the daily program had moved from ESPN to ESPN2. Prior to the move, the show had averaged 336,000 viewers when it appeared on ESPN. (Viewership courtesy of the TVSportsRatings Twitter feed.)”

Expect a similar slashing of viewers in September when OTL Sunday moves from 9am on ESPN to 8am on ESPN2, replaced by yet more football talk on the flagship.

Some of OTL’s best days may be behind it. For years it was a single episode per week, 90 minute format that allowed for greater depth and insight on real life issues surrounding American sports. But even at its current 30 minutes OTL is surrounded by such good reporters, and its content is often so important, that the show should be vigorously defended. It will be a shame if the inevitable ratings decline from moving OTL also results in fewer resources from ESPN to support its most respected program. Boos to ESPN.

See League of Fans’ sports policy director Ken Reed as a guest panelist on Outside the Lines from 2 years ago. The episode focused on college football scandal and penalties, but Reed argued that the bigger issue is the ill-conceived sports model at the foundation of college athletics and said radical change is needed.


Shawn McCarthy is a librarian & archivist in Washington DC. He is editor of, and was formerly project director of League of Fans, which he started in 2001 with founder Ralph Nader.


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