Decaying State of Sports Journalism, Part 1

Earlier this year I started a group blog known as The Sports Proletariat. Little has actually transpired there since I started the blog, but every now and again, somebody lets slip something brilliant over there.

What lies below was written by Russell Kennerly. I liked it so much that I’m copying it over here so more people will get a chance to appreciate his genius.

Decaying State of Sports Journalism, Part 1

As I write this, a small fiasco has been made of Lou Holtz’s diatribe on the state of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez. His comment was “Ya know, Hitler was a great leader, too” when it was brought up that Michigan lacks leadership. I believe the point Lou was trying to make was that there are leaders who may be successful but go about it the wrong way.

Now, similar comments were made by ESPN’s own Jemelle Hill in July, when she commented that cheering “for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim…” As a Celtic fan, I take umbrage with the comment (but we did win a record 17th championship) but not Hill’s use of Hitler in context, only to say that references to him should probably not be used in a humorous setting.

ESPN suspended Hill for her comments and rightly they should, if that is their standing network policy. But they have done nothing to Lou Holtz. Say what you want about the racial overtones of that decision, but the hypocrisy is apparent. You don’t fine someone for saying the wrong thing, and then three months later shrug your shoulders for saying the wrong thing. If anything, it reinforces Lou’s impression of himself as a wise football commentator, and means the rest of us will be forced to listen to him while waiting for the highlights, at least until he screws up again. It is widely known that Lou had a long friendship with Jesse Helms, who filibustered Martin Luther King’s birthday for 16 days and argued against desegregation of schools (and social security, which is just plain weird). In fact, you can go online and read Jesse Helm’s praise of Lou’s book. You can’t call Lou a racist, I’m simply saying it’s not too long for the old guy says something dumb. I think half the motivation for keeping him on TV is the executives are afraid he will go back to coaching again, maybe at their alma maters.

The problem with the Hilter incidents, the Imus comments, and several other on-air incidents is that this is a track that we have laid ourselves. I mean, think about the sports talk radio shows or those little fan comments at the end of online sports articles.

(A small aside about the fan comments, wow. From a report on the Broncos-Pats Monday night in no particular order: sexual comments, comments about the Red Sox, drugs, and a comment by a Broncos fan that his team could have come back if the Pats stopped getting first downs all the time, for a total of 572 comments. This is the reason mankind is doomed to fail.)

The host conversations themselves are generally filled with vitriol and demented comments, only for the sake of garnering ratings. Jim Rome has practically made acerbic commentary a work of art.

But ninety percent of the guys who phone in to these shows have little or no facts with their opinions. It mostly consists of “Yeah, I’m Russ from Iowa State, I just wanted to say our running game is pathetic and I’m tired of Coach Chizik’s silly play-calling” or “Barack from Illinois, I think it’s really just time for a change, Dan, I’m sick of the status quo.” It’s absurd! You can spend three hours listening to people across the landscape whine and mope and not hear one decent statistic supporting anything. On the other hand, what’s good enough for our President…never mind.

And the hosts of these shows indulge our rage, which in my opinion, begins boiling whenever our team has misses an open shot or incompletes a pass with criticisms and speculation and talks of the old traditions and quarterback controversies a boiling. Remember the days when Troy Aikman could go 1-15 his first and Peyton Manning went 3-13 as starters? How many fans would call for their heads by game 8 of those seasons today, all the while the hosts leading the charge?

This brings me to the crucial part of the conversation, which for me seems to be the delicate balance between being controversial and opinionated, as TV ratings demand, and crossing the line. Isn’t the point of having four to five people on a sports morning TV show to breed dialogue, arguments, and new lines of thought? But when one of these people says the wrong word, or lets loose something the public deems offensive, why then these people lose their jobs?

I’m not sure I understand it all. Allowing people to have free-formed, spirited comments was I believe part of the 1st amendment. So I disagree when a network hires them for bold dialogue and then slaps them on the wrist when the public deems a comment inappropriate. TV started this fire, the public fanned it, but what is the sense in decrying the whole thing when people start getting burned?

This is not to say people should condone the Don Imuses of the world or be startled when someone mentions Hitler or Mussolini in a monologue, but there is always that little button at the top of your remote, called the off/on switch. You don’t like it, turn off the TV, or go toa sports site and write some fan comments.

I for one can’t wait for Part 2.