Kobe Bryant called it “silly.” Lamar Odom didn’t bother to watch it because he didn’t want to give credence to the topic. Personally, I’m surprised it took over a week for the “controversy” to start. But when your game is the biggest entertainment launch in the history of everything, programmers are going to look for a way to get themselves in the conversation (I know I’m guilty of that at times). So when somebody at ESPN read about Call Of Duty: Black Ops and/or saw the Black Mamba shooting a gun in the TV commercial that has aired on ESPN, it was an inevitability.
It started with Tim Keown, or as most people would refer to him, “one of the thousands of writers on ESPN.com that isn’t Bill Simmons.” He interprets the ad as a disservice to the hard working men and women who serve and sacrifice for our country. Keown includes quotes from a youth football coach – who also works in a funeral home – that is disappointed in Bryant’s involvement in the ad, stating that it promotes gun culture. While I might disagree with the sentiments of Keown, I can at least respect his position because it was articulated in a way that wasn’t malicious. Looking for hits, maybe, but not malicious.
Bomani Jones and Skip Bayless, on the other hand, were just gross in their hyperbole. Speaking with Dana Jacobsen on “1st and Ten” (remember when ESPN used to show sports on ESPN?), the pair just tear into the ad and making it sound like the end of civilization. While I am unfamiliar with Jones as any kind of personality, Skip Bayless is the king of overstatement. From his days as a regular guest on Jim Rome’s radio show to his mind-numbingly painful arguments with Woody Hayes on television, Bayless is not above talking about things he has no clue in. So after a few indecipherable comments, he lets loose with this blast:
“[Kobe’s participation in the ad] qualifies as the all-time WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!”
I’ll admit to being a Kobe Bryant fan, but I can think of ten things off the top of my head that were way worse than Kobe being in an ad for Black Ops. Give me some time and I can come up with a hundred things, and they all would be worse than Kobe being in an ad for Black Ops. Bayless then uses the same argument that Keown has about this being an insult to our troops but is blindsided and quieted by Jacobsen’s retort of whether the game should be taken off the shelf because of Kobe. This is probably because that would be a knock against free speech, and if there were was ever an argument against free speech, it’s Skip Bayless.
As for Bomani Jones, he seemed to have a hard time separating video games and real life. The following day, Jones was again part of the Bryant “debate” on Outside The Lines (another “show” on ESPN). While others were making salient points about Bryant being just a small part of the ad and that the game is aimed at adults who can separate real violence and fictional violence, Jones wanted to keep blurring the lines and calling to question Bryant’s participation. He constantly asks where NBA commissioner David Stern is in all of this and cites the scrutiny that Allen Iverson got for trying to release a gangsta rap album over ten years ago. There are times when Jones sounds like he is perfectly fine with Kobe being the ad and then turns his back on it when he remembers that he went to a relative’s house and saw them kill Fidel Castro in the game (spoiler?). “Violence is violence is violence,” as he would say. “Bomani Jones wants a job in the NBA,” is what I would say.
The problem here is that for some reason, the general population has this expectation that athletes are supposed to be wholesome folks who only endorse stuff like Wheaties and McDonalds. Jones expects athletes to only pitch wholesome products. When an athlete steps out of that zone, it went against what Jones knew. Is Jones upset that the Kobe Bryant that he thought he knew is not the same Kobe Bryant that would star in an ad for a violent video game? Why is Bryant held to a higher standard? The direction that this non-story is taking is even more disturbing than any gun Kobe could ever shoot in Black Ops. Is Kobe Bryant wrong in not living up to the expectations that others have for him, or is he right in doing what he wants to do? He did show up in a Black Ops-branded Jeep and no one raised an eyebrow about that. Maybe it was a big sports news day and nobody noticed.
I would embed a video of the Black Ops ad, but I figure you can watch it on ESPN late at night if you really want to see it.