Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The changing face of the sports media

Please bear with me on this - I will get to the sports side of things.

It's more than the sports media. There has been a trickle down effect.

News has become entertainment.

It is why a couple of reporters did something for the Washington Post in the 1970's that could never happen now. It is why the press has failed in its responsibility as a watchdog over politics and industry over the last decade. We read about some nut-job woman from Atlanta who bails on her fiance and runs to Vegas for almost two months, but watch the press treat the current administration largely with kids gloves in spite of the myriad of Constitutional offenses that the current group appears to be guilty of.

The closest we've seen to Woodward and Bernstein in the last 30 years has been Fainaru-Wada and Williams in the case of Barry Bonds.

Hard hitting reporting is a dying breed in favor of the Fox Newsettes, the pretty faces that have taken the place of your Walter Cronkites and Charles Kuralts. The sons of Walter Winchell, the preachers of the gossip column have taken control.

An unfortunate and fortunate side-effect of the overall impact of the Washington Post's Watergate reporting has been that public figures' private lives have become public. It has become more important for the media to cover things like Tony Romo spending a weekend with Jessica Simpson, or the fact that Bill Belichick wears a hoodie on the sideline, than what's happening between the hashmarks. It's more important that we know that Jenna Bush is getting married or publishing a children's book than it is that our vice president may have been directly involved in the dismissal of federal District Attorneys for nothing more than political reasons.

And the reason is that we, as a news consuming public, eat it up. We demand the fluff stories, writing off the important news of the day as boring.

It runs from the hard news through to the sports news.

We call for changes to the games, to the leagues...as long as the team we root for is kept out of it. We revel in the embarrassment of the other teams, and more often than we should, act as though our teams are innocent of wrong-doing. As fans, we have the arrogance to believe that we root for people that are clean.

And when our teams our caught, our favorite players nailed, we circle the wagons. Bonds apologists will claim that steroids have no real impact on the sport, but be unable to explain why, then, players use them.

Fans of other teams go on the attack, in spite of the fact that everything in the history of sport shows us that at the worst possible time that those same teams that people are fans of will have some scandal of their own - multiple criminals like the Bengals, a pleasure cruise gone awry in Minnesota, a number of different baseball players representing almost every team in the majors on a list of steroid and HGH users, a boxer's name being linked to an illegal HGH ring shortly before a title bout.

Sometimes the players are caught in off-field shenanigans like Alex Rodriguez, or going on an innocent vacation with their girl-friend in what should be non-stories for the sports page, but they take on a life of their own because we dig in like jackalls.

People complain about the press, but we keep coming back, because what they give us is what we (as a society) want. It's what sells the papers. The irrelevant. The stupid and innocuous.

Reporting about sports was once about great feats on the field of play, and the occasional trade. Now it's as much about business and gossip as anything else.

Is it jealousy? Possibly. Great resentment festers in the light of great success. It's why in the 1970's there were people who hated the Dallas Cowboys, and, more recently, the Yankees of the 1990's, and right now, the Boston professional sport scene.

I have no problem with the resentment. I just wish we would focus on the sports, on the facts, and tell the press we're done with unsubstantiated rumor and innuendo.


David Sullivan said...

I am a purist. I love the games for the games and the hype and hoopla don't mean a frickin' thing. Bandwagoners abound all over New England and people who don't know what "The Coffin Corner" is or "defensive indifference" are the majority of the yahoos who represent the Boston fan base. The media feeds the soap opera mentality of the average fan, thus cheapening the actual games. I long for the days of TWIB and NFL films being the main source of info because they focused on the positive aspects of the sports and made heroes of the men that played the game. Now the name of the media game is "seek and destroy". The purity of the games we love are trumped by the sins of the players.

Kevin Smith said...

Sadly, it's the tabloid society we live in. The media feeds the beast because it's what the beast eats. The purists like us, we're not who buys the papers.

We're the ones that know that coffin corner punting is a dead art. We know the meaning of the terms Texas Leaguer and Baltimore Chop.

I had the good fortune in my career to have interviewed Steve Sabol. I interviewed him for over an hour and then we just spent another hour talking about the game. That was just a pleasant afternoon.

I've talked gymnastics with Bela Karolyi and Shannon Miller, soccer with former Boston Breaker and World Cup soccer player Kate Sobrero, as well as Kristine Lilly.

And it was always about the game.

Yeah, I miss Mel Allen and the voice of John Facenda. I miss sports being about...well...sports.

I get the PED thing. I can see the reasoning for the governmental involvement there with the trickle down to high school athletics. But really, why should I care if A-Rod is cheating on his wife, or Tony Romo is going to Cabo on a bye-weekend with his girlfriend? I mean, really, why do people care about this stuff?

soxfaninny said...

I couldn't agree more. Trying to find real sports stories on ESPN these days is like trying to find a music video on MTV.

Suldog said...

The great test as to whether or not you're talking to a true baseball fan (at least of a certain age) is to whistle the theme song from TWIB. If he smiles, shake his hand and enjoy the conversation. If he has no idea, don't try talking baseball with him. You'll only get mad.

(To a lesser extent, the "duh-duh-dut duh-duh-dut" from Sports Center can be used, but that will only weed out the basest of neophytes.)