I'm not sure why--because, I haven't in years--but I have watched every episode of ESPN's 2008 WSOP poker coverage this year. Last night's $5,000 Mixed Hold'em event was, for obvious reasons, the best yet.
I am not here, however, to applaud ESPN for good coverage. I'm here to applaud ESPN for finally presenting the game in a somewhat more journalistic fashion.
I nearly fell out of my chair (and it's a really comfortable chair) when the commentators offered full disclosure on the ZeeJustin cheating scandal. I nearly fell unconcious when the cheating scandal was given the harsh treatment it deserved.
You will remember, back in 2006 when Amy and Tim uncovered the $2 million chip conspiracy, ESPN treated it as an insignificant math error. I don't remember the exact quote, but it was something to the effect of "If you're good at math, you might notice a difference in the number of chips on the table--hey, look, it's Elvis! Hey, King!"
I am among the people who believe Justin Bonomo has paid his due penance and deserves another chance. He has always been a talented poker player. I think he has proven he has a newly mature respect for the game. I liked him before the scandal, I was disappointed when it happened, and I have since come to believe that ZeeJustin (unlike others who continued to flout the rules) doesn't deserve a lifetime ban.
This, however, is not about Bonomo. It's about ESPN.
Two years ago, Bonomo would've been described in nothing but glowing terms. Nothing negative about his past would've been mentioned. How can I be so sure of this? Because Dutch Boyd made a final table in 2006 inthe $2,500 short-handed no limit hold 'em event. Not a single word was ever uttered about Boyd's scandalous past at Poker Spot.
Another example from last night.
During a profile of Howard Lederer, it was fully disclosed that The Professor has spent less time working on his game because he is one of the founding members of Full Tilt Poker.
The farthest ESPN would go in the past when referring to something like FTP would be to say, "an online poker site." Now, it is outing Lederer for being one of the faces behind Full Tilt. It's not a secret. I know it. You know it. The government knows it. Lederer is an online poker operator.
ESPN, however, must have made a decision to change its policy when referring to poker site's by name. Why, exactly, is something I don't know. I do find it interesting.
I don't know how long it will be before poker is given the kind of legitimacy it deserves. These apparent changes in ESPN's stylebook, however, are a fine step toward putting poker on the same level with other televised games and sporting events. Obviously, there is still a long way to go and ESPN could easily drop the ball.
For now, however, I'm comfortable saying that I am impressed.