Banned by ESPN, a Skate Team Responds: ‘Whatevs’ - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Banned by ESPN, a Skate Team Responds: ‘Whatevs’

Banned by ESPN, a Skate Team Responds: ‘Whatevs’

By Kevin Grant


Because careerist notions only matter when you care about careers.

By Kevin Grant

The phone in our hallway rang. I heard Sam answer it.  

“Yep … OK. When? All right, we can make it happen.” Sam hung up and laughed out loud. “Hey, Kev, check this out.” 

I slowly got up from the futon in my room, the only bedroom in the apartment. Sam’s room was the living room and had a hanging sheet demarcating it. I had a hernia and my scheduled repair surgery was a month away. I limped through the cigarette smoke to hear Sam’s news. 

“Ha, well, ESPN is doing something called the Excellent Games and they want skating in it. There’s going to be a contest later this year with, like, a bunch of other made-up sports. They’re having an expo first to drum up local interest for the actual event. They want all the big teams from the Northeast to come and skate a ramp inside the Rhode Island Convention Center. There’ll be a bunch of vendors there from, like, yo-yo and Frisbee companies. Since there aren’t any big teams up here, we’re going to make one up, and since you have a hernia, congratulations on your new position as team manager for Team East. Me, you and Merk are going.” 

“We’re on the list!” Sam announced to the horrified family of four trapped between us on the escalator. “Team East! Don’t worry, we’re on the list.”

This was awesome yet weird news. It was the spring of 1995. No major network of any kind had paid much attention to skateboarding so far (with the possible exception of Nickelodeon’s painfully goofy Sk8 TV, which had only lasted for a year). The skateboard industry was in bad shape, and had been for quite a while. A lot of pros had been forced into early retirement; skate parks and skate companies were closing left and right. The few brand names left were pandering to an ever-shrinking consumer base, which left little room for variety: Decks all had the same shape and wheels were minuscule. The future looked bleak. 

None of that stuff mattered to us though. There comes a point when you are so entrenched in an activity that things like the financial outlook of the activity or the trends that affect it couldn’t be less important. But it certainly made ESPN’s interest baffling.  

“All we have to do is show up,” Sam said. “If anyone gives us any trouble, we just tell them we’re Team East. We’re on the list, and it will be all good.”  

Team East was the obvious choice for a name. Merk had been stenciling “East” on ramps all over the place, a reference to the fact that, at that time, any talented skater trying to get sponsored would make the inevitable move to California, while the East Coast had already developed its own style: big, aggressive, not as technical, fast, fearless. Not to mention that East Coaster skaters had to deal with harsh winters and pavements with potholes, rock salt and sand. The West was for careerists who had it easy; the East was for lifers who had to fight for it. At least, that was our mindset. 

We headed down to Providence in Sam’s Volvo, with Black Flag’s The First Four Years cassette hissing away, skateboards, Winston Selects, Jägermeister and Black Label beer at the ready.

We were on the list.

To be clear, this was the expo for the Extreme Games, soon to be rebranded as the X Games. Skateboarding was to be featured alongside such revered activities as barefoot water-ski jumping, snow shovel racing, bungee jumping and, of course, skysurfing. I had no idea what to make of it all. Was it cool? Insulting? Funny? All three?

“We’re on the list!” Sam announced to the horrified family of four trapped between us on the escalator. “Team East! Don’t worry, we’re on the list.” 

The convention center was set up like any expo, with rows and rows of vendor tables: in-line skating companies, sweatband companies, sunscreen companies. We made a beeline to the large, American Gladiators–style jousting foam pit, complete with two towers for competitors to battle on using gigantic Q-tip-shaped clubs. Merk demolished Sam, and I took on the winner. I got flattened within seconds. My hernia was definitely feeling the extreme nature of the games by this point.

We went over to the ramp, where some other guys we knew were skating, including the Water Brothers crew from Newport. Oddly, nobody had checked yet to see whether we were on the list. A letdown, but not for long. 

“Team East, Team East! Where are your helmets? Didn’t you bring helmets?”


Team East’s Sam after having “found” a helmet.

This was our first interaction of the day with an ESPN rep.  

“No, I’m sorry, no helmets today,” I said. 

“It’s OK, it’s all right,” Sam added. “We’re on the list.” 

The rep had turned his attention to the ramp, where Merk was applying his sizable stencil with black spray paint. The rep walked off, exasperated.

Ten minutes later, he was back. “Team East! Team East! We need you to change the music. There are families here … the language … we could get complaints.” I regret to inform the reader that the music in question was Biohazard. It was the mid-’90s — enough said. Sam reminded the rep that we were on the list, which seemed to have some sort of effect as he vanished again.

Frustrated by my hernia, I decided there was no way I was going the whole day without at least a little skating, so I started cruising between vendor tables and cutting underneath them to exit the next aisle over. By the time I made it back to the ramp, there was a new commotion. The ESPN staff had discovered the Jägermeister, which was vanishing by the minute as it was passed around.

“Team East! I need Team East here now!”

We went to meet with the rep, who by now was flushed red and trembling. A young, crestfallen-looking woman stood beside him.

“This is the end for you, today and going forward! Team East is banned from all ESPN events and competition from here on out! The end!”

“Ah,” said Sam, “so, we’re on the list?” 

“Get out!”

We got our things and exited via the elevator to the top floor of the parking garage and skated the spiraling cement, down to Sam’s car. Cigarette smoke and Black Flag filled the air all the way back to Boston.

I went in for my surgery. “Six dissolving sutures after this is done,” the surgeon explained, “and you’ll be good as new.” 

His tone had changed considerably by the time I came out of surgery, with nine metal staples and a nylon mesh implant holding my abdomen together. “I’m not sure what happened,” the surgeon said. “This was a considerably larger hernia than we had planned for.”

“It’s fine,” I told him through the morphine. “We’re on the list.”   

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