When Keith Olbermann started his nightly sports program on ESPN2 one year ago I knew almost instantly that it was going to be the best sports show on television. I knew this based on the first segment of his very first show when he kicked things off with an old-fashioned monologue on the biggest topic of the day.
I don’t even remember what that very first monologue was about, but it signaled the beginning of an intelligent, witty and all-around impressive television show. It was, by a mile, the smartest sports show on television and I’ve loved every single second of it over the last year.
It’s Olbermann’s monologue at the beginning of every episode that proves to be my favorite aspect of the show and the one thing that truly sets it apart from every other sports show on ESPN or any other sports network. On this one-year anniversary of “Olbermann” I thought it appropriate to rank my five favorite monologues from his show.
If my memory serves me correctly Olbermann has only done one monologue in his first year of his show that wasn’t about sports – it was a tribute to late night television legend David Letterman right after Letterman announced he would be retiring as host of the “Late Show” in a year’s time. Olbermann, like myself, greatly respects and is a huge fan of Letterman and gives the legendary late night host one of his greatest tributes he’s done on his show. The thing that particularly interested me is how Olbermann said Letterman would travel to the ESPN studios in Bristol, Ct. on weekends in the early ‘90s when Olbermann was hosting “SportsCenter” to watch live Formula 1 races from around the world because it was the only way he could see them live.
Olbermann has gone on a crusade against the Washington Redskins’ team nickname many times in his first year back on ESPN. He’s probably done around a dozen monologues solely on the offensive name and while I’ve enjoyed most of them there are too many to choose just one. Olbermann also took a great stand recently when the NFL completely botched the Ray Rice suspension. Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was only suspended for two games by the NFL for knocking his fiancée unconscious, an incredibly vile act that was all but brushed under the rug by the NFL. Olbermann’s “Insufficient Punishment” monologue was the beginning of a few brilliant monologues on how the NFL’s policy of punishing players for criminal acts is ludicrous at best, for instance Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is suspended for the entire upcoming NFL season for smoking marijuana, but physically knocking out your soon to be wife basically gets you a slap on the wrist. Olbermann's monologue stating why NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should resign his position was also terrific television.
Last September on the 105th anniversary of “Merkle’s Boner,” Olbermann told the story of the famous New York Giants Fred Merkle and his baserunning mistake that cost his Giants a shot at the National League pennant in 1908. It was glorious moment for a baseball nerd like me to hear in full detail a story that I had known about, but not to this depth. Olbermann is easily one of the most knowledgeable baseball fans in sports media and it comes out on his show many times. The story behind Merkle’s “mistake” and the impact it had on such a great man was proof early on during Olbermann’s show that this man wasn’t just doing your typical sports show, but one for sports fans thoroughly thirsting for something more in depth.
Tony Gwynn’s shocking and tragic death at such an early age from throat cancer earlier this summer was something that hit all baseball fans rather hard, not just because Gwynn was one of the greatest hitters in baseball history or because of the entirely too young age in which he was taken from us, but because of the man Gwynn was. It was clear by Olbermann’s monologue remembrance and numerous fantastic pieces written by so many journalists and others who knew Gwynn in person that he was an unusually great and rare man inside and out. Olbermann’s monologues are at their best when the subject is close to him and you can see the love and respect that Olbermann felt for Gwynn in his reading of this monologue. Olbermann does a fantastic job of getting through the great man and batter that Gwynn was by sharing stories of the baseball hall of famer’s life and career. His description of Gwynn’s laugh is probably the best part of this piece.
The Olbermann monologue that seemingly touched me the most was earlier this winter when he brilliantly and passionately came out against the ruthless slaughter of stray dogs in Sochi, Russia in preparation for the Winter Olympics. Olbermann starts his piece out with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and how beloved and well treated those dogs are before turning to the disgusting act of Sochi officials killing harmless dogs simply because they are trying to clean things up for the big games and don’t want to be embarrassed in front of the world for a problem they created by tearing up the habitats of many of these dogs. Olbermann’s passionate stance on the horrific actions of Sochi officials drew much attention, much of it good, but some negative from viewers who simply didn’t view it as a big deal to massacre dogs or felt that Olbermann was being a little too dramatic. Knowing Olbermann from his show I know that this isn’t one of those things he was simply being “dramatic” about, but was definitely close to his heart. Words truly can’t even put into context how beautiful and sad this monologue was all at the same time.
I believe that Olbermann’s finest monologue came in his very first week of his show and proved to fans like me exactly what the show was going to be and that it was going to be unlike anything we’d ever seen on ESPN or any sports networks before. It was going to be intelligent, passionate and journalistically literary. Olbermann managed to accomplish this by recalling the story of a little known New York Giants running back named Doug Kotar who played in the NFL during the ‘80s and died at a young age from a brain tumor due to all of the massive trauma he’d faced in the NFL during a time when Olbermann explains the NFL didn’t care too much about the athletes that made their sport the most popular in the world. The heartbreaking story left me in awe of what broadcast sports journalism could and should be and made me feel disgust toward a professional sports league that never seemed to really give a damn.