Look, I understand there are bigger problems in this world than who wins an ESPY and who doesn’t, but something happened at the 2013 ESPY Awards that deserves, if nothing else, an angry rant.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, was voted by “the people” as the Best College Athlete. If the award was called “Most Popular College Athlete” or “Most Exciting College Athlete”, I wouldn’t be writing this. But the award was called “Best College Athlete.” Johnny Manziel should not have been in the conversation.
Cornell University wrestler Kyle Dake did something this year that may not ever be done again. He won his fourth NCAA Title in fours years in a fourth weight class. Only two other wrestlers in the history of the sport had won four NCAA titles before Dake, and neither of them did it at four different weight classes. Making Dake’s accomplishment even more impressive was the fact that he had to defeat Penn State’s David Taylor in this year’s 165 lb championship match to win his fourth title. Not only was Taylor the defending champion at the weight class, but he won the 2012 Hodge Trophy — basically college wrestling’s Heisman — awarded to the best collegiate wrestler in the sport. Quite simply, to be the best, Kyle Dake had to beat the best.
Yes, I’m biased. I’m a lifelong wrestler and I feel a special connection to anyone who participates in the sport. It is a bit of a brotherhood and we find ourselves defending each other and our sport with the biggest of chips on our shoulders. That said, I run a football website. I get paid by a second to offer fantasy football advice to the masses. It’s not like I hate football. I understand that it is the sport of choice for most Americans.
I’m just shocked that…well wait a minute. Maybe I’m not shocked that a nationwide internet vote decided that Johnny Manziel is a better college athlete than Kyle Dake. I suppose that’s what happens when you open up an awards show to the general public. The end result is something along the lines of the Kids Choice Awards, where Justin Bieber beats the Foo Fighters. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
Perhaps perplexed is a better word. I’m perplexed at the continued lack of respect and attention the sport of wrestling gets from both the public and media. Mixed Martial Arts is currently the fastest growing sport on the planet in terms of popularity. The UFC is the flagship organization of the sport. Of the eight current men who hold UFC Championship belts, six are wrestlers by trade. A seventh trains with the Canadian national team. Wrestling is the foundation for the fastest growing sport on the planet, yet it is continuously ignored by the masses.
At the root of all of this is the nature of how the ESPYs are decided. An open, national vote is no way to lend credibility to any award show looking for it. Maybe they’re not. Maybe ESPN just wants an entertaining couple of hours on the most boring sports day every year to collect some advertising dollars and keep their customers — aka — their viewers happy with an award show that they had a say in. Well, even if that is the case, this time the customer was wrong.
Going forward, I’d like to see the ESPYs evolve to a point where the people have little or no vote or say. I’d like to see ESPN employees do the voting. I’d like to see an award show with a bit more integrity vs. just another popularity contest.
I’d like to see ESPN cover the sport of wrestling more than they do. I’d like to see a lot of things that probably won’t happen. Maybe what I’d like to see most this morning is Kyle Dake knocking on the door of every football groupie who didn’t vote for him and ask them to explain why.
BY J.P. SCOTT ON JULY 18, 2013
Follow @JPScottSports on Twitter.