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ESPN Earns Staring Role in SI's Year-end Sports Media Roundup

We mentioned Sports Illustrated‘s end of the year issue yesterday, but we didn’t talk about the sports media angle.

In the middle of a smart section on the year’s biggest sports media stories – Ken BurnsThe Tenth Inning, Onion SportsDome, the rise of watching sports online, Laura Hillenbrand‘s Unbroken – are two tributes to SI‘s rival. The issue calls out the 30 for 30 series as some of ESPN’s “finest content since the network’s inception in 1979,” while promoting Those Guys Have All The Fun.

We’re of two minds. It’s a bit surprising to see the Worldwide Leader featured so prominently in SI, although deservedly so since 30 for 30 was one of the biggest stories of 2010 and Those Guys will be in 2011.

At the same time, both mentions could be read as backhanded compliments. In the section, we have the “best content since inception” (translation: the rest of your content is fluff) and the highlighting of a tell-all book that’s sure to shake the very foundation of the Bristol, CT powerhouse. We see what you did there. Very subtle. No one ever said those SI guys couldn’t turn a phrase.

To see SI’s other selections for the year in sports media, click on through to the jump.

MOVIES – Mark Wahlberg and his co-star from The Fighter, Christian Bale, grace the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 2010 Year in Sports Media issue, on newsstands tomorrow. Wahlberg and Bale join an exclusive group of nonathletes and noncoaches to be so honored – a list that includes Stephen Colbert, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steve McQueen, Bob Hope and Ed Sullivan in addition to former presidents John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Other call outs for 2010 include After The Cup, a film about the Israeli Premier League soccer team Bnei Sakhnin F.C. – made up of nine Arab Israelis, seven Jewish Israelis and five non Israelis – shows how sports gave the Arab players identities beyond politics. There is an interview with Secretariat’s Mark Ciardi about upcoming projects and a note about tampering with sports history in The Hot Tub Time Machine.

Looking ahead to 2011, Reel Steel director Shawn Levy asks readers to look past the robots in his upcoming boxing flick – “[This] is less a descendant of Transformers than it is of Rocky.”

TELEVISION – The 23 documentaries that ESPN aired this year as part of its 30 for 30 series represented some of its finest content since the network’s inception in 1979. Media writer Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) spoke with Jonathan Hock, who directed The Best That Never Was and told Deitsch: “I think the main legacy of the 30 for 30 project [will be] the affirmation that there is still meaning to be found in sports, beyond the clatter of sports radio and argument-based talk shows. There’s an audience grateful for programming representing a deeper level of thinking and feeling about sports.”

Ken Burns’s PBS documentary The Tenth Inning and HBO’s Hard Knocks are also highlighted along with an interview with Longtime English announcer Ian Darke, who provided US TV audiences with the call of the year for Landon Donovan’s goal in the 2010 World Cup and now has become the voice of soccer on ESPN.

In 2011 look for Onion SportsDome a new comedic, scripted and satirical sports show.

DIGITAL MEDIA – Staff writer Ben Reiter (@SI_BenReiter) recaps a year in which watching live sports online was swept up by, among others, CBS Sports (March Madness On Demand), ESPN (the World Cup), NBC (the Olympics and Sunday Night Football), DirecTV (Sunday Ticket To-Go) and MLB (MLB.tv).

A look at Fitflopflyball.com, artist Craig Robinson’s quirky anthology of baseball charts and graphs and the twitter thoughts of @OldHossRadbourn. Steve Porter, whose YouTube mix videos featuring everyone from Ray lewis to the boys of NASCAR, is interviewed.

The Nintendo 3DS is highlighted in “Looking Ahead to 2011″ and EA senior director Ryan Stradling says Madden NFL for the 3DS will have 3-D graphics and a new interface that will allow players to sketch out pass routes on the bottom screen, and execute them on the top screen.

BOOKS – Laura Hillenbrand, who suffers from extreme chronic fatigue syndrome, fills her books – including her most current one, Unbroken – with a physical energy that she lacks. As she told senior writer Tim Layden (@SITimLayden): “I move very little, almost never leave my home and sit in silence alone, most of the time. I love to write about individuals who lived lives full of motion because this illness leaves me trapped in stillness. In my mind I’m with my subjects, whether it is aboard Seabiscuit’s back as he puts away War Admiral or aboard a raft lost on the Pacific as a Japanese bomber strafes it with bullets and sharks circle ­alongside.”

Jim Miller and Tom Shales insider look at ESPN in Those Guys Have All the Fun comes out in May 2011 and is 650-pages culled from more than 550 interviews with current and past employees.

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