Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pre/Misconceptions

I have had 399 blog posts leading up to this.

The first was on December 12, 2004...It has been three years and four months since I started this blog. Sometime this year, I expect that I will write my 500th post.

Some posts were merely photos, others were practically treatises. Almost all dealt with sports.

Over the years, sometimes as a paid journalist and sportswriter, sometimes in other arms of the Fourth Estate, and even while I worked as an educator I dealt a lot in pre- and misconceptions. Sometimes it had to do with a thick manila file that followed the student around like a shadow from year to year. Sometimes it had to do with sorting out truth from rumor in regards to an athlete, coach, or organization.

Sometimes the portrayal of a person was as much an exaggeration by the media as it was anything else.

As a reporter I covered the untimely death of an 17-year old athlete who had been shot to death, the memorial basketball game that commemorated a different athlete, and everything from gymnastics and women's football to the X-Games and Red Sox. It's easy to walk into something with preconceptions and, in the end, deal with misconception...or at least distortions of reality.

When death is involved, no one wants to remember the bad about a person. That doesn't mean that the good stuff that is talked about isn't completely true, but people have a tendency to appear saints when memorialized.

When I covered the Red Sox for the Boston Chronicle back in 1996, the Sox had come off a first-place finish in a strike shortened 144 game 1995 season. After finishing with 86 wins in 1995, I went to work on a season preview for 1996. Based on the Sox strong 1995 finish, I predicted the Sox would repeat as AL champs. They finished in third, one game short of their 1995 total.

During the course of last season, after a particularly embarrassing weekend of losses for the denizens of the NFC East, I said that it was a division of frauds and pretenders. I was, admittedly, wrong.

I bring all this up because of something that caught my attention today. Dan Patrick said on his radio show that the media is lazy. They love the easy story.

I will admit this is true.

When I wrote for community newspapers in Bucks County, PA, there were certain coaches that I loved to interview because I knew that their answers would practically allow the stories to write themselves. There were other coaches I dreaded having to deal with. To get a usable quote was like pulling the teeth of a pit bull.

We are given to hyperbole and have short memories.

The media regularly anoints the most recent hot thing the best player ever. Michael Jordan had to be the greatest because he won all those championships, forgetting that no player in any sport in the United States has led his team to more championships than Bill Russell. We successively name quarterbacks as the greatest ever, only marginally acknowledging that the way the position is played is significantly different than it was in other eras, but the guy slinging the ball over the last decade is freshest in our head.

We hear a lot of talk about how Roger Clemens might be the greatest pitcher of all time, but statistics don't even come close to bearing that out. Steroids not withstanding, he fails to have better numbers than a number of pitchers have either better, or at least comparable numbers while pitching almost their entire careers on four days rest rather than the five that Clemens typically enjoyed - Walter "Big Train" Johnson, Steve Carlton, Cy Young, Bob Gibson. But writers have been watching Clemens for the last 20 years. They haven't even seen any of those others for well over 20. That doesn't diminish the skills of the others, it skews our view of the most recent.

This was all really inspired by some questions that Patrick posed in a piece he was doing on Tyler Hansbrough and how he is perceived.

One thing that caught my attention that he mentioned was the term blue collar. A lot of players are called blue collar, lunch pail types. It was pointed out that the term is commonly used for white players, but not black. I tried to think about black players that have been described that way and I came up with Kevin Faulk, and I think I remember Troy Brown getting the label on occasion.

In football it seems to be reserved for linemen. In other sports, the scrappy, hard-working player. But in both, there is a tendency to reserve the label for the white guys.

I don't know that this is completely accurate, but I have to admit to a difficulty in thinking of cases where this isn't true...The blue collar guys on the 2004 Red Sox? Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, and Trot Nixon. Orlando Cabrera played the game the same way, but didn't really get the same label. Why?

I can't really answer that, except to say that it goes back to preconceptions of what people are supposed to be on the major league level.

Maybe my observations on all of this are right...maybe it's all just one of my misconceptions.

2 comments:

Suldog said...

Pretty much true. And when you hear someone say that a team needs more "athletes", that's fairly much code for speedy black guys.

the blue state blogger said...

"One thing that caught my attention that he mentioned was the term blue collar. A lot of players are called blue collar, lunch pail types. It was pointed out that the term is commonly used for white players, but not black."

I think that's probably because we don't have a frame of reference for it. Black people historically have not been welcome in these types of occupations by those who do hold them.

As to your other point, the media is not only lazy, but sometimes vicious and more interested in BEING the story than REPORTING the story. This is true in all areas, not just sports. Politics is another prime example.