Decline of Sports Journalism, Part Deux

My friend Russell wrote this about sports media and I think it is brilliant. Even if you don’t like sports, you might find it interesting if you have had the sideline “bimbo” conversation with me.

Decline of Sports Journalism, Part Deux

As defined by the online journalism dictionary, Color commentator:”The color commentator provides expert analysis and background information, such as statistics, strategy and injury reports, on the teams and athletes…” From, Analysis: “A person who analyzes or who is skilled in analysis.”

A small apology: in a critique of sports journalism, I’m going to make a slight stretch and include sports commentators and analysts in the journalistic field, after all they are supposed to report information about the game, use coaches and players as resources, and provide the public with necessary information.

I know, I know.

I’ll admit I’m not the brightest cookie ever, and neither are most Americans. We just aren’t. Too much TV, too much beer, too many conversations on telephones that probably should have never happened, freaking out when Janet Jackson shows her breasts or the new Harry Potter comes out, but turning a blind eye to Darfur, Haiti, and a thousand other world crises. I’m not condemning America, for I too am guilty of bypassing world news for an entertainment sound bite and of watching a reality television show or three.

But come on. The sports know-it-alls have been phoning it in for a good four, five years now. The problem isn’t that we don’t want to hear them, it’s that they are continuing to say what we already know. It’s becoming the equivalent of going over addition and subtraction in a high school algebra class. The problem isn’t that America has gotten smarter, it’s that after telling us the same things five years running, hey, we’ve got it.

Here’s the kind of stuff that I mean. See if any of these sound familiar and I’ll just use football:

A certain team has bad running game: “The defense is going to sit back in coverage force them to throw underneath.”

Certain team has bad passing game: “It’s time to put eight or nine in the box, and force the weak quarterback to beat you.”

Certain team is good in all phases: “What makes it so tough is, you can’t defend these guys at all. You put eight in box, they go over the top with great wide receivers, if you sit back they’ll run in down your throat.”

Certain team sucks in all phases: “This team struggles in all phases of the game, and it starts with head coach. (or if head coach has unquestioned credentials, “It starts with the players.”)

My favorite, the pick for Super Bowl, or Bowl Game: Pick the two best teams from each conference, almost always, or pick a team that has won before. Though it seems obvious, the facts say otherwise: Since ’79 #1 seeds in college basketball have won the title just 55% of the time, since 2000 3 wild card teams have won the Super Bowl, same for baseball since 2002, of ten BCS champion games the #2 ranked team has won half the games. ). The point being playing it safe and going with the fav only gets it done about half the time.

When player says the wrong thing: “(Player’s name) is selfish and doesn’t care about the team.”

A athletic (certain cynical writers would throw race in here) quarterback is doing pretty well: “He’s a dual threat, uses athletic skills to buy time in pocket!” If he fails: “Relying too much on his athletic ability, needs to be more patient and make better throws.”

An un-athletic QB: “He goes through his 2nd and 3rd reads, and he is patient in pocket.” If he sucks: “He needs to move around in the pocket, he holds on to the ball too long.”

It drives me nuts if I keep going. (It’s a bit more fun translating these to common life, like say, the Researcher struggles with women: “He needs to be more aggressive and open up the offense a bit more.” Or on Obama: “This guy was the underdog at one point and he was counted out, but on the big stage, that’s when he demonstrated his heart and his leadership.”)

I put up with it for a while, I think we all did, because we were starved for sports highlights and information about our beloved teams. But with the inundation of sports shows and games, on like eight different networks, YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO SAY SOMETHING NEW.

Good thing they have a four-day camp put on by the NFLPA and NFL to teach ex-athletes a career in broadcasting. I’m surprised it lasts four days.

It’s frightening to me that ex-coaches and guys 15 years in the league who read playbooks 600 pages deep and know every nuance of the game can’t seem to give us anything but the same stuff I discuss with my dad at home. If anything, I could use the help beating him during our sports arguments.

Are they afraid if they educate us too much they’ll be out of the job? As if Joe Six-Pack (when he’s not plumbing) is going to rise off the couch, quit his job and take over a head coaching gig (insert your Raiders joke here)? But seriously, can this really be all they took from the game?

I have literally seen more than a few games when a commentator, doesn’t matter the sport, begins literally drawing a picture or writing words on the screen. Come on. That’s all you’ve got? I mean, show us why the deep post route freed up the crossing route, why his 3rd read was outside of the 2 second window a QB has to throw the ball, why the matchup zone slows a point guards passing skills, why drawing an infield in effects a pitcher’s selection of throws, something that makes the average fan feel like…oh, I don’t know…he’s getting only a slightly lesser quality experience than someone attending the game. That’s really what television is for. You’ve got cameras everywhere but up the quarterback’s you know what, HD quality pictures, and then you’ve got some huge guy in a suit saying “They really need to step it up here, Al. This is an important play.” Thirty seconds on the clock in a playoff game, ya think? Stuff like that makes me put on the mute button and cry, and when sports shows come on, I now watch only the highlights and then turn away.

If I want I can get similar analysis from drunk fans at the game. For instance “That coach is douche bag!” (Analyst: “I really just don’t like that call, Dan, post-play, of course) or “Come on Defense, get a stop!” (They need to buckle down here, John and get a stop.”) “Your mother looks like George Foreman!” (“He’s got to stay focused and stop letting his emotions get the best of him.”)

I also have an issue with these sideline reporter people, aka Something we found the pretty girl to do because what if they’re as good at us men at sports?

So-and-so is injured. Awesome. If it’s not a major player, we don’t care. If you don’t have information, we don’t care. Don’t tell us the hurt player is being evaluated in the locker room. We know, because it’s why he went in the locker room. (Unless it’s Manny Ramirez.) If the team is depressed or the coaches are trying to get people fired up, guess what? America could give a crap.

America would like to know, sideline girl, what adjustments are being made, to a specificity, if someone is being kept out of a game and why, or maybe if two players get into a fight. Truthfully, most guys really just like watching Erin Andrews smile because the information (which she has said she’s worked on all week) amounts to diddly-poo.

I don’t understand the great fear of giving America too much information. I have yet to hear a sports show labeled “too intelligent for me.” I have yet to hear a sports fan say, “I’d just like four guys who laugh a lot and speak in general, simplistic terms.” In an age where people have access to more information than any point in history, why is the sports shows and TV producers prefer we have the opposite? From Peter King of Sports Illustrated:”..I don’t mean to harp on ESPN for burying the State Farm NFL Matchup Show, but here’s an example of what I’m talking about when I say it’s the one pregame show that should be essential viewing for the real fan, and how ESPN is foolish for putting it on…at 3 a.m. and 7: 30 am ET. ”

Now, I’ve seen the show, and I’ll admit I found it a bit nerdish. The two commentators are a bit too eager to break down, of all things, tons of game film. It’s kind of like being in a film session. But I got stats, in depth video replays and a host of terms I had never heard before. Some might call that expert analysis.

There are good commentators out there, and I’ve heard excellent analysis of the NBA by at least two female commentators (who seem to be intentionally stepping up their game because people are waiting for them to screw up). And certain commentators bring a homey feel to television, John Madden, Dick Vitale, Bill Raftery: guys who don’t have too much to say but seriously appear to enjoy the game, the idea of optimism being contagious. No major beef with them.

I read a quote recently and since I’m not a quote guy I’ll paraphrase horrifically: the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. In saying that, you might think I’m alright with another player whose done enough drugs and alcohol to fill the Atlantic Ocean giving me simple tidbits.

But I’m not. In my quest for more information and better viewing pleasure I may find nothing but misery, but there’s not a damn thing wrong with letting America feel smart. And if they do try and it fails miserably, I’ll be the first to eat crow and go right back to watching Erin Andrews.

From Russell Kennerly AKA The Researcher