Book Review: "ESPN: Those Guys Have All The Fun"

The new book from James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, ESPN: Those Guys Have All The Fun, is an interesting romp through the history of the worldwide leader in sports and where the network could perceivably move to in the future. While I found most of the early chapters rather strenuous and downright tasking to get through (thanks to vividly remembered meeting conversations from a bunch of men I had never heard of before), my interest was piqued as familiar names like Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, and others enter the storyline towards the middle of the work. The result of the author's efforts - and hours upon hours of interviews - is a thorough retelling of the birth of a media and cultural juggernaut. Every sports fan - young and old - knows the name of "ESPN".  However, not every sports fan is aware of this network's origins and how close the idea of ESPN (once simply known as "ESN") almost came to a screeching halt. What started as a mere $9,000 investment in the late 1970's would ultimately rise to a multi-billion dollar enterprise that continues to grow on a daily basis. As the book details quite thoroughly in its 700+ pages is what could only be described as a perfect storm of luck, betrayal, and risk coming together and actually "working out".

While the book itself barely touches on the topic of golf - which would make some sense being reviewed on this blog - many of the storylines found within its pages can translate over into any sport or any area of life, both professional and personal. In my opinion, many of the interviews could have been shortened considerably (if not left out of the book altogether) and the story would not have suffered one bit.  Make no mistakes about it, however; Those Guys is meant for the historian and serious sports geek and less for the casual fan.

Some highlights in the book include the hijinks and legal mishaps experienced by many of the networks employees throughout the years, especially those best discussed on a tabloid. The inner conflicts between ownership past and present are also expressed in great detail, often to the point where the reader can become bored with an argument that took place decades earlier. What is somewhat humorous, however, is the way many current ESPN employees spoke candidly about ex-coworkers.  For example, when discussion the mean-spirited departure of Olbermann in 1997 from the network, long-time anchor Bob Ley stated: "We felt not so much relief when Keith left as unrestrained [expletive] joy".

To suggest that the early years of ESPN was nothing more than a "glorified frat party" would be an understatement. Producers and executives were all in the early-to-mid twenties, drank a ton of alcohol, smoked a lot of dope, and basically tried to sleep with every female in sight. As the book's subjects recall, this hectic lifestyle was the direct result of long work hours, testosterone-fueled excitement, and a sincere sense that nobody knew what the hell they were doing.

So is the basis of Miller and Shales massive biography. Present the reader with word-for-word accounts of the inner-workings of ESPN, both good and bad, without any regard for who might be caught in the crossfire. In some instances this approach makes for incredibly entertaining reading; in others, I often found myself embarrassed for the subjects being discussed.

Those Guys Have All The Fun: The Inside World Of ESPN By James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales ISBN: 978-0-316-04300-7 $27.99 763 pages (8 pages of black and white photos)