Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Long Presser

Longtime readers of this blog know that I am not exactly a huge fan of sports reporting. Most of it is perfectly fine, but there’s a particularly strong vein of sports reporter that actually somehow makes sports less fun. Sports fans don’t help, either, but there’s something particularly jarring about people who get paid to make something that is purely entertainment less so.

A reminder of this was the recent piece of local sports columnist Chris Bradford, calling out on the carpet one Evgeni Malkin for not taking time out to speak with reporters after flying in from Russia. His argument, in a nutshell: if you have time for a three hour practice, you have time to speak to reporters for a few minutes.

One can certainly forgive Bradford; the NHL lockout has left hockey writers with painfully little material, especially since neither owners nor players are really allowed to speak freely to reporters without dozens of lawyers getting involved. So when the dry spell gets busted, reporters are thirsty for information, and people like Branford could be justified when that is withheld.

Still, this entire episode is one of the glaring issues with sports reporting. Instead of it being about sports, it’s about reporting. Sure, it’s probably not cool when one of the biggest stars on your team finks out on you, but it’s not like there weren’t any other players there to speak with. Plus there’s no doubt that Malkin will be available pretty much every other day. These players have less than a week to get ready for their first game; maybe they should be focused on the game and not figuring out the logistics of pleasing newspapers. 

Sports have basically become part of the 24-hour news cycle now. This really isn’t good for sports. You have ESPN, of course, but you also have any number of local stations and radio programs that run constant programming about sports. Commentators rehash the same arguments hour after hour, using piss-poor cocktail-napkin stats and rely on anecdotal proofs. Stories are generated out of vague statements from coaches. Minor criticisms and botched handshakes are front-page news. Some ill-perceived slight six seasons ago are drug out of the closet and presented as Exhibit A for some argument or another.

I can’t stand any of it. Anecdotally I don’t know anyone else who does, either. There’s some value in the headline-style programs, where they cover all four sports at a national level, so it’s truly surface-level summaries that are informative. And, obviously, there is a place for both player interviews and in-depth reporting; these provide true information to fans, and can be mined for details later. 

But too many sports columnists and reporters have taken sports and turned it on its head. They have made the entire venue not about the game itself, but the bits and pieces of information that compose the fallout from these games, and then scrape them together and claim they control it. When that control is taken from their hands—such as the apparently criminal act of not taking five minutes for one day out of the season when you’ve just gotten back from a long plan ride from Russia and need to get to practice—these information jockeys suck all the life out of the game. And--let's just come out and say it--a worryingly large percentage of these reporters are just sad sacks who thought they would grow up to be football stars but now have to schlub around funky-smelling locker rooms badgering the millionaires they thought they would be and scraping for snips of info to toss together a column by deadline. not all are like that, but a sad number of them certainly give off that vibe.

Of course, in the end, the marketplace will determine it, and clearly at least a certain fanatic base of viewers love this sort of thing. I, personally, think it's slowly destroying professional sports, but only time will tell. 

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