I am quite familiar with sports reporting. I watch sports programs and read sports news stories every day.
Of course, this means I appreciate play-by-play and color announcers (for the most part), debates over sports matters, opinion panels, and most opinion pieces by journalists. This is especially true when the journalists and analysts are fair, factual, honest, and unafraid to criticize even the franchises and players they love and admire (ex.: Mike Wilbon).
What I don’t care for is the sports reporting that glances over important information or commentary that is rooted too deeply in bias, unsubstantiated speculation, and is conducive to mean-spirited discussion and fawning. ESPN in particular is criticized for this, along with the oversaturation of certain storylines. The criticism comes with the territory, but the complaints are totally valid.
Male Athletes Are Ridden Hard for Their [Perceived] Lack of Talent …
While successful male athletes are praised ad nausem, provided they fit a certain mold. Sports commentary is built on the narratives I talked about in the previous post. What annoys me the most is this “need” to stick to persistent narratives for certain athletes, good or bad, because it takes away from the entire experience.
If a male athlete has a rough few years to start any sport, he may never live it down. Since that player is not being coddled to, I may hear something like, “This players is boring,” or “That player cannot do this, this, or that.” And it doesn’t matter if the “limited” athlete goes on to disprove his critics, they will always have something to say to discredit him, which ESPN and others will feed on.
What’s worse is when that disdain for the player is transferred to whatever team he may play for. I don’t care to see certain players or teams denigrated for not being “elite,” not being flashy, or not being in a larger market. Even if a sports news outfit uses humor in discussing certain items, there is no excuse for insulting athletes or the teams they play for — unless they are bona fide cheaters in their respective sports and the athletes are serious criminals (and awful human beings).
All the while, we’re told to root for the successful guys and practically ridiculed for liking others for their understated talents and overall character. I do not like to see coaches and players who are severely overrated and possibly built up so they could be torn down later. The analysts should critique these guys on their merits, considering their circumstances and the eras they are playing in.
Talent Might Not Be Enough for Some Female Athletes …
Or it might not be a requirement, if they’re pretty. Beautiful women are promoted even if other athletes in their sports are more talented or consistent winners.
At one point, tennis player Anna Kournikova was given so much attention because of the way she looked, and she only won one tournament before her early retirement. Fellow Russian Maria Sharapova — albeit a far more successful tennis player — has been given endorsement deals mainly due to her looks. In fact, she has been the highest-earning female tennis player for 11 straight years.
In NASCAR, Danica Patrick is grabbing headlines, although she has never finished above 7th place in any Sprint Cup race. While she is the most successful woman in the Indy Car Series (winning the Indy Japan 300 in 2008), most of the attention she grabbed since 2005 was due to her looks. There were other women there before her, but they had trouble finding sponsors.
Women who aren’t largely considered beautiful are given demerits.
Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova has been largely ignored her whole WTA career.
Serena Williams has been insulted primarily due to her looks.
In 2013, Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli won the Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles Tournament. She was chastised because of her looks, particularly in comparison to her blond opponent, Sabine Lisicki.
All this does a disservice to the sports in general. It’s bad enough that women’s sports hardly register a blip on the radar in most cases. They should at least get some mentions when there are a group of good female athletes and on those occasions when the women’s side is more entertaining than the men’s side — which is sometimes the case with tennis.
While on the Subject of the Williams Sisters …
Let’s not forget about the racist element. It’s there and we can see it by how black athletes are often covered and questioned.
I mentioned above that Serena Williams is hated due to her looks, but more importantly, it’s due to her (and her sister, Venus’) dark skin. They have been called every name in the book and disrespected by some opponents, but that behavior was never really called out until long after the sisters obtained success professionally.
It doesn’t end there.
Black quarterbacks like Cam Newton aren’t expected to succeed and they are judged more harshly due for their celebrations.
Black athletes like Richard Sherman are taken to task for being boastful and generally talkative.
Athletes like Marshawn Lynch are criticized for not being very talkative — to the press — and are thus rooted against.
You’ll hear coded terms like “thug” or “primadonna” to describe these guys while nutjobs in the mold of Bill Romanowski are allowed to get away with so much more.
An Asian athlete might run into trouble, too, especially if that person has some success in a sport where Asians are more rarely seen.
Look at the case of Jeremy Lin. In 2013, he stood out on the New York Knicks when Carmelo Anthony was out with an injury. During Linsanity, we were “treated” to all kinds of Chinese puns until one poor, unfortunate soul finally came upon one that could be construed as racist.
Sports Analysts Like to Stir up Even More Controversy …
There are also times when players are pitted against each other, even in the absence of any back-and-forth initiated by the players themselves.
More successful athletes are compared to those who struggle. At one point, Peyton Manning was used as a stick to beat Ryan Leaf with — although the latter would need no help doing himself in.
There are times when one thoughtless comment by one athlete is repeated to another due to speculation that it was aimed at that person in particular in order to drum up more controversy. (See the 2013 dustup between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.)
When one athlete really is talking down another, one of two things will happen: Either a clip will be played repeatedly in the news or the first athlete will be ostracized because he is “spitting in the face of a god!!!” (See golfers’ reaction to the Tiger Woods scandal and DeAngelo Williams talking about Peyton Manning.)
The opposite is largely ignored.
For example, Ronda Rousey suffered her first UFC loss to Holly Holm in 2015. Up to that point, Rousey made disparaging remarks about Floyd Mayweather. After her loss, he surprisingly took the high road and refrained from belittling Rousey after that loss, but that didn’t garner much attention.
Also, it looks like Serena Williams took a gentle approach with Sharapova. (As of March 8, 2016, Sharapova was under investigation for the use of Meldonium, a banned substance in professional tennis. She says she used it for medical purposes. Unless she can prove this, she faces suspension. In the meantime, her endorsement deal with Nike is on hold until the investigation is completed.) I wonder how much attention that will garner for Williams’ part.
… While Ignoring Real Stories with Real Concerns …
Take the case with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014. Near the end of the 2013-2014 NBA season, a recording emerged in which then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling was talking to his mistress, V. Stiviano. In that recording, Sterling told Stiviano, who is part black, that he didn’t want to see her hanging around black people.
In the past, Sterling also made disparaging remarks about his black players and his then-wife, Shelly, took part in housing discrimination. However, this important information was never really talked about much until 2014.
What we were shown was a team “distraught” with the revelations from the tape. Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and the others were dealing with a “morally delicate” situation although Sterling’s prejudice was known in NBA circles for years. Give me a break. It would have sent a powerful message if black players had protested playing for Sterling. Moving on…
Here’s My Biggest Complaint about Sports Reporting
Many sports analysts try to govern thought and they succeed. Add up everything and this becomes obvious.
When I think about it, it appears The Powers That Be don’t like REAL underdogs. They don’t or they wouldn’t do so much to promote only a few stars across leagues.
It’s too obvious at times. One can tell by the way certain games are packaged and promoted. One can tell by the questions some athletes are asked in comparison to others.
And these analysts even have the nerve to treat the advantaged athletes and teams like underdogs when that couldn’t be further from the truth! Members of the press are governed by this and then they tell all their viewers what to think. People fall for this more than they’ll admit.
How do these analysts get away with this? There are at least three reasons.
Reason 1: Money
Of course, money is the main issue here and sports leagues are heavily financed by TV deals (which are funded by sponsors) and dedicated fans.
The thing about TV deals is there seems to be a correlation between which stars are pushed by the leagues and the stars who have the most sponsorship deals.
The dedicated fans fund leagues by buying much of the merchandise and season tickets. What’s more is a die-hard fan will likely convince others (often, children) to follow a sport and team. Those children will grow up and may have children of their own.
As long as the former isn’t questioned and the latter stays put, the sports leagues will have a steady stream of revenue.
Reason 2: League Executives and Types of Media
Leagues may influence members of the media to push certain narratives and make the leagues themselves look good. On top of that, television is a powerful tool and people are easily influenced by what they hear and see simultaneously. This is also true of the Internet, which utilizes video and audio files and can thus serve as an echo chamber with the presence of forums and social sites like Facebook.
Reason 3: Bandwagoners
Look at it this way:
People can abandon a team or sport, but there will be more people to replace them. Even if some of those aforementioned children grow up and move on, chances are they had already convinced even more people to follow that sport and most of them will stick around, even if they eventually change their allegiances. Sports and winning are addictive, and executives know that many people will continue watching the most popular sports and teams regardless of controversy.
Teams, leagues, and other businesses have realized that they can get more money by squeezing it out of the people who like to follow winners and winners only. That, plus the bandwagoners will naturally outnumber the die-hard fans, so far more money will come from the bandwagoners.
That Said …
I just don’t care to be told who or what to root for. Even if my team sucks, it’s my team.
Rick Garcia once made a thoughtless comment when the Niners were having an awful season. “They’re dreadful … go root for the Sharks.” You know how I responded: I have hated that anchor and the San Jose Sharks ever since and I don’t even watch hockey.
I like certain athletes and teams for various reasons, character being among the most important. I will appreciate the talents of the best in their profession, but I don’t have to be a fan.
It bothers me when some analysts insist — even tacitly — that I must like a Lebron James, or a Tom Brady, or a Peyton Manning, or that it would be wrong and evil to have a dissenting opinion. Please.
Next in the series is the final post dealing with sports, but it deals with on-air personalities I don’t particularly like.