Thursday, January 22, 2004

Paging Page 3 introduced a new section, Page 3, this week, and at first glance it's difficult to tell why. After all, the site's freewheeling and fun Page 2 already seemed to ply the combined waters of sports and entertainment very effectively.

Let's go to the source. According to the news release announcing the creation: "With roots in Page 2, the new Page 3 will differentiate itself by focusing exclusively on the two often-overlapping spheres of sports and scene. Page 2 will remain as the place that turns an edgy, humorous eye towards the world of sports. Page 3, incorporating some of the pop-culture-centered elements originally found on Page 2, will also now be on deck to talk to the Cavaliers' Darius Miles about his upcoming movie debut, or to give the low-down on a new CD featuring an athlete as a guest performer."

The whole thing leaves Salon's King Kaufman scratching his head: has a new site, Page 3, which, a press release says, "focuses on the crossover of sports and pop culture." You may have thought that the popular Page 2 focused on the crossover of sports and pop culture, but that just goes to show how you don't know anything, and neither do I. ...

If you don't understand how the CD changer of dreamy actor Gary Dourdan is about the crossover of sports and pop culture, not to mention how photos of Britney and Pink in gladiator bikinis are sports-related, you're not very smart. Neither am I.

Page 3 appears to be a marriage of front-of-the-book People magazine photo features with Maxim dude snarkiness, with a nod, when convenient, to sports personalities. Bottom line: Call it "The Jay-Z and Beyonce Take in a Knicks Game Page." If it's your bag of doughnuts, enjoy.

What I'm wondering is how far ESPN can spin off this sports-pop culture thing. "While Page 2 will continue to turn an edgy, humorous eye towards the world of sports, and Page 3 will keep focusing on the crossover of sports and pop culture, and Page 4 will go right on probing the intersection between extreme sports and porn, and Page 5 will persist in examining the nexus of athletes who make bad hip-hop albums and hip-hop stars who are jock wannabes, and Page 6 will persevere in delving into the convergence of fashion and sports in the oeuvre of Nelly, Page 7 will survey the confluence of PDAs and MP3 players in the lives of developmental-league basketball players named Andre."

My gut reaction was to agree with Kaufman. I love watching Jim Thome play, but I sure as hell don't care what's in his Netflix queue. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a service Page 3 will be to readers like me. By weeding out Page 2's completely irrelevant, if occasionally amusing, entertainment content and ushering it to a section of its own, ESPN can return to what should have been Page 2's mission all along -- a smart, sharp look at sports that is devoid of sportswriting's all-too-typical breathless reverence. The 19-year-olds who care that Carolina Panther Jarrod Cooper is dating Christina Aguilera can bookmark Page 3 and read it all through the night while they chug their Red Bulls.

Full disclosure: Readers of Shallow Center may notice that it is a blog containing a smart, sharp look at both sports and pop culture (he wrote modestly). If anyone in Bristol, Connecticut, is reading this: Yes, I would love to write for Page 2. Just e-mail me.


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