Thursday, August 11, 2005

Shut up and read the scores

I can’t decide if sports writing would be dream job or if it would suck, mightily. It would be great to get a press pass to watch every game of the season AND get paid for it. Editors apparently give you a lot of latitude to write pretty much what ever you want in any style you want. If you have talent, that must be really liberating. On the downside, the necessity to go into the locker-room before and after games to compile the statements of someone who probably does not give much thought to what it is that they do and who do not have much of a vocabulary, and do that 160+ times a year, must be a real grind. I suppose sportswriting is like anything else, really cool looking from the outside, pretty routine on the inside.

What I do know about sportswriting is that it does not take any brains, insight or courage to do it. In fact, I would argue that brains, insight and courage would hamper your career. Sportswriters are the worst examples of “herd journalists.” They go in a pack to the same locations, talk to the same people about the same subjects, then socialize with each other, afterward. It is only natural that people who do the same thing in the presence of the same people all the time will tend to think alike. Everyone wants to be in the in crowd, so if all the cool kids are sympathetic to homosexuality, then everyone in the herd will be as well. What results elite sports media organizations in America, is a fealty to political correctness that would make a Harvard liberal arts professor weep with admiration.

The herd style of journalism is no where more in evidence than in the stories about Kenny Rogers, the outstanding left handed pitcher for the Texas Rangers. The story is actually pretty mundane. Rogers is having a really good year, but had a poor outing and was pulled by the manager. In frustration, he punched a wall in the dugout with his right (non-pitching) hand. As a consequence of this self-inflicted injury, Rogers missed one of his scheduled starts. Later, during a practice session on the field in Arlington TX, a cameraman for one of the local TV stations said something to Rogers about the injury and the pitcher’s inability to make a start. Here is where it gets a little murky. What exactly was said, and what words had been exchanged before between the two men, no one is saying. Regardless, Rogers walked over to the cameraman, knocked the video camera out of the man’s hand and off his shoulder. Once the cameraman retrieved the camera, Rogers tried to do it again until Rogers was led away by teammates. All this was caught on tape, but that was the extent of the confrontation. As a consequence, Baseball suspended Rogers for 20 games and fined him $50,000, although that penalty was reduced to 13 games. The cameraman was not hurt except for the indeterminate physical infirmity that develops whenever one is assaulted by a millionaire.

It is not that unusual for athletes to confront sportswriters. There is natural tension between the two groups. And there is no excuse for physical confrontations. Gentlemen should discuss their differences, peacefully. That I will grant you. But sportswriters, who ostensibly use their minds and their personal points of view to write stories, uniformly condemn Rogers actions without giving any of the context to his actions. It would seem that some writer might be a little curious about the backstory here. Is there personal animus between Rogers and that cameraman or the cameraman’s station? Had the cameraman blurted out an obscenity? What had happened immediately prior to the event caught on tape? I think these questions would be of interest but instead of asking questions, sportswriters have instead lined up to denounce Rogers and demand harsher punishments. 20 days is not enough! $50,000 is not enough money! How much is enough? I don’t know, just more more more!

Allow me to supply the context since the sportswriters won’t. Todd Bertuzzi, a hockey player for the Vancouver Canucks, 13 games before the end of the hockey season in 2003, rabbit punched an opposing player so hard that the other player blacked out, and hit his head so hard on the ice that he now has brain damage. Bertuzzi was suspended for the final 13 days, missed the next season as did every other player in hockey because of the lockout, and now will be returning to play. He received 13 days for violently ending the career and damaging the health of another player. Alex Rodriguez routinely cheats and plays dirty as the third baseman for the New York Yankees. His latest misfeasance occurred last week in a game against the Twins. There are actually some varying points of view on these two players, because sportswriters have looked for nuance and ways to understand. Why can’t they give the same consideration to Rogers?

I will tell you why. Because Rogers had the temerity to lay hands on a member of the media. Reporters love stories about themselves and they are incapable of offering context or objectivity when the story includes one of their own. The entire industry has lined up against the malefactor and beat the drum on this story. Hockey player almost kills an opponent? “Let’s try to understand.” Baseball player shoves a pushy reporter? “KICK HIM OUT OF BASEBALL!”

Whenever you have a herd, you also have similar points of view. Witness the series of reports on ESPN in the last couple of months. ESPN reported on Andrew Goldstein, the former goalie for the Dartmouth who is, according to ESPN “is the most accomplished male, team-sport athlete in North America to be openly gay during his playing career.” If you will forgive me for using this metaphor, that is quite a mouthful to describe Andrew. Later on ESPN, we learned about a college hockey player who introduced his mother and her girl friend at the Senior’s Parent’s night. In an on air editorial by Stuart Smith, he lectured anyone who question the style of tennis’ Williams sister. His clear implication was that anyone who does not share his worshipful fascination with those two tennis players is racist. Hold on while I stifle a yawn…

All this claptrap is pretty surprising given the demographic of sports media consumer and the format of the show in which these pieces ran. The dominant political category into which “young men interested in sports” falls would probably be called “dinosaur reactionary.” Their political views are pretty much pro-military, pro-violence as a solution to problems, and anti-gay. You doubt it? I have lived around this demographic my whole life. I was an athlete in high school, I was in a fraternity in college and I have been in the Marine Corps my adult life. I know how and what these young, aggressive sports loving men think. And I can assure you, they do not offer a lot of “understanding and acceptance” to homosexuals they pay to watch on the sports field, or much worse, have to shower with. But don’t take my word for it, listen to sports radio call in shows. The virulence of anti-gay comments is as shocking as it is pervasive.

Further, Sportscenter, the show in which these pieces run, is a highlights show. People like me tune in to see who won and to see any great or unusual plays that have transpired. The last thing I want to see someone’s political agenda masquerading as sports story. But it is almost as if these reporters can’t help themselves. They must disgorge their inner moral superiority on the bumpkins and rubes who make up their audience. The reason why is a harder question than the reason why the herd jumps on someone who assaults one of their own. I think the persuasive liberalism inherent in the stories I cited above goes back to the milieu in which these reports are trained. Although they are sports reporters, all of them have degrees in journalism. The degrees are awarded after sitting in classes taught by the biggest leftists in academia. These students are indoctrinated with liberal ideals, never challenged on these beliefs, and these inflict them on us, the unsuspecting public. Plea to ESPN, shut up and read the scores!