Thursday, June 09, 2005

Wallowing in the Gutter of Sports Media

Sports journalism has hit new lows.

It's always been the bottom of the barrel in terms of journalism. As Woody Allen once joked:

If you can't do, then teach and if you can't teach, teach gym.

So in my mind, you could rewrite that to:

If you can't write, become a journalist and if you can't become a journalist, become a sports journalist.

I have a confession. I am a hopeless sports addict, I have been since the age of six, where I would rush to get the morning newspaper and read the latest hockey scores.

So its possible my standards are too high, but I am so often very dissapointed with sports writers, sports television hosts and most especially sports radio hosts.

In fact, sports radio, is a wasteland. Our own local sports radio station here in Seattle, is easily the worst sports radio station I've ever heard. I remember one day, there was a prominent NBA playoff game, several intriguing baseball games with marquee pitching matchups the same day. Did I get to hear any of that? No.

Instead, our stupid radio station choose to broadcast an inter-squad exhibition football match for the local university. The freakin' QBs were wearing red jerseys for Christ sake, marking them as unhittable. That's not a football game, that's a freakin' extended passing drill.

That is just beyond weak and relegates sports radio in this town, to not much more than gossip columns and loud mouths.

Our local sports writers, are also for the most part, a huge joke. They are often vain, egocentric and tend to cover up a lack of analysis or knowledge of the sports, with cheesy humor and sarcasm, the kind we all mastered and perfected back in Junior High.

They also tend to be spineless. Villifying players and coaches when the lose, but turning the tables quickly should they succeed. They never hold themselves accountable to what they said in the past. In fact if anything try to ride the current tide of popular opinion, as their gospel truth. They are beyond populists, they are often, trend sucking whores, who just echo whatever the popular opinion is and call it analysis.

They are also, very often racist. Yes, racism still exists in sports, in particular with sports writers. They are often give black and latino players much less rope and room to fail, than good old white boys. Toronto is a city especially guilty of that. I will one day talk about that at length. But, Toronto is a very racist city underneath its surface anyway, so that racism doesn't surprise me.

A new ugly trend in sports programming is the increase in gossip and celebrity infomercials. Sports shows that bring in some cheese actor to promote Deuce Bigalow II and then ending the conversation with, "who do you like in the NBA finals" to clumsily tie it back to sports. The truth is you just watched a 2 minute infomercial for a movie you never intended to watch in the first place. But the canned audience applauds anyway, because the sign tells them too and they cut to a commercial.

Gossip has begun to abound in these types of shows. Who Alex Rodriguex is dating? is it true there's an imminent break up of some b-grade actress and some Nascar driver with bad teeth? The similarities between ESPN's Sportscenter and Entertainment Tonight are frightening.

The packaged segments on Sportscenter are beyond embarassing these days. I stopped watching Sportscenter for nearly a year now because of them, and when you start putting athletes on a big monitor, and then ask him things like: what's the best accessory to help 'pimp your ride'? Well ESPN, at that point, enough is enough and I just refuse to watch anymore.

The 'serious' sports shows can often be so dissapointing. Outside the Lines and the Gumbel/Costas shows on HBO are promoted as 'insightful sports journalism'. Then you actually watch a show and you realize the journalism usually very light, very shallow and often cobbled together hastily.

When was the last time you saw any real level of research or statistical information? What you get is, Bob Costas and his one guest, telling you for twenty minutes that steroids are very bad? Nobody takes an alternate view (say for example the libertarian notion that regulating what people can and cannot take to help their careers, is no business of government). They instead, just echo what everyone wants to hear, as fast, as easily and as cheaply as possible.

In fact, the last sports interview/show I saw that had any real merit was when Charlie Rose brought in guests to discuss the Red Sox last year.

That's pretty lame when you think about it, we're saturated with more sports shows, radio, newspapers and magazines than ever before, but the best sports related journalism I saw last year, came from a low budget PBS show.

Maybe there just isn't a market for 'upscale' sports journalism. Maybe if someone did a real examination of the utter corruption in the Olympics, the outright bias of NBA referees, the rampant racism still dominant in baseball, the collaboration of the baseball union and ownership to allow steroids to run rampant, the outright chicanery of the NHL that has seen millions swindled into the pockets of an elite few, maybe if there was real examination of these events, journalism will have bitten the hand that feeds them too hard.

Maybe sports journalists can't really be journalists, because they very thing that provides them their jobs, are also the very thing they are paid to analyze and critique. Maybe someone needs to do a documentary on just how shallow, passive and symbiotic sports journalism really is, I bet the media's cooperation with big league sports has provided some shameful moments.

I *do* know that sports has a million ghosts in its closet that are never examined or talked about. College sports is seething with corruption and graft, as well extremely complicit in its use of steroids. Other than the occasional weak 5 minute rant about the playoff system in college football, the rampant criminal activity of the NCAA is never discussed or analyzed.

All the real warts of sports entertainment is swept under the rug and instead we wind up talking about Johnny Damon's facial hair, or the new uniforms of the Cincinnati Bengals. We will never get beyond that, because its apparently all that America wants.

Actually to be more accuarate, we'll never get beyond infomercials and childish editorials, because the secret 'sugar daddies' of sports media, are the very owners, leagues and associations that sports media should be confronting.

When you wallow in the gutter of sports media, you learn quickly who butters the bread. The rich black athlete, can be cast as 'selfish' and 'cocky' at the drop of a hat, especially if popular opinion is already turning against him. But the greedy corporation behind the sport, the one that just swindled 800 million in tax dollars? Well you leave those boys alone, otherwise, its no more free meals at the buffet during the 7th inning stretch.

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