“They don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty, Lewis. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference”
–Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), The American President
After a particularly distressing week of sports journalism, I thought I’d devote this morning’s effort to a clinical and hopefully dispassionate examination of a few of the stories that caught my eye. This is not meant as an “epic takedown” and I won’t be spraying F-bombs all over the yard or personally insulting the authors (okay, maybe one).
Let’s begin with this piece from Monday (it was April Fool’s Day, so perhaps I failed to get the joke) by Sean Keeley of Awful Announcing. It is titled, “College basketball writers can’t stop carrying water for the NCAA against the evil scourge of the one-and-done.” A tad inflammatory, no?
The headline itself is intended to polarize, and implies, without any credible confirmation, that sportswriters who disagree with this writer’s point of view are inherently compromised. “Carrying water for” is code for promoting someone’s agenda, presumably someone more powerful. If you disagree with the author, who describes one-and-done as an “evil scourge,” you must be in Mark Emmert’s pocket, figuratively or literally.
The launch point for Keeley’s invective is that a number of writers noted, accurately, that this year’s Final Four is weighted with experienced squads (Virginia, Texas Tech and Michigan State, particularly) while the hot one-and-done programs, Duke and Kentucky, missed out. Regardless of what you may feel about the one-and-done rule, this is unassailably true. Pointing it out does not make you an NCAA water boy.
“... when writers and pundits are tripping over one another this week to claim victory over the one-and-done model, what their really doing is chastising players like Zion Williamson for ruining the integrity of the sport,” Keeley writes. Did I miss something? Did I just imagine all those columns and stories this winter lauding every last aspect, and rightfully so, of Zion Williamson? Should I even mention that Keeley used “their” instead of “they’re?”
Further down, Keeley writes, “Think of all the great teams of the 1990s who played for championships (UNLV, Duke, Arkansas, Michigan) and imagine how many of those players would have gone pro after one season had they been able.” They were all able. It was just an era in which few thought a player could go directly from high school to the NBA because only Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins had done so with any modicum of success. Soon, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett would shatter that misconception, which ultimately would lead to the one-and-done rule.
I looked up Keeley on Twitter and he seems to be fairly youthful; I’m presuming in his twenties. When I was in my twenties I wrote articles that, thankfully, veteran editors poked holes in long before they were published. And that’s just one problem with sports journalism in 2019: a paucity of older and more seasoned (notice how I did not type “wiser”; I would not want to “trigger” any avocado toast eaters) editors who are there as mentors and guides, as opposed to what we currently have, which is at most a copy editor and, if lucky, a “content producer” who may likely be the same age as someone like Keeley.
The errors are manifold: accusing another writer of being compromised simply for pointing out the truth; making declarations based on false assumptions (Michigan’s Fab Five were free to head to the NBA whenever they wanted). The accusation that even suggesting more seasoned teams have an advantage over unseasoned ones—maybe it’s just me, but I think the nucleus of this Duke squad could do serious damage in two years if they stayed together—translates to you being opposed to players being allowed to jump directly from high school to the NBA. Why can’t you be in favor of both?
And I don’t this is Keeley’s fault as much as it is the leadership at Awful Announcing, who are likely more concerned with how many clicks Keeley’s story got than its structural integrity. But it would be wrong to single out AA for this business approach. It is the way of internet media in 2019…
(To Be Cont.)
On Sunday, espn.com’s home page had, as its top story, “Browns see projected win total jump 3 games.”
On an afternoon featuring Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL and the Elite Eight, the TOP story on the home page of the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader of Sports” was about an NFL franchise that last won an NFL playoff game 25 year ago. But it wasn’t even about a player they traded for, or a coaching change, or any cataclysmic event. The reason for this top-of-the-menu story was because a licensed Las Vegas bookmaker, CG Technology, projects the Browns to win NINE games next season.
Last season the Browns went 7-8-1. ESPN staff writer Ben Fawkes notes that “Cleveland’s win total opened at nine” and the headline, which Fawkes likely did not write, notes that the projected win total will “jump 3 games.” I do not know when 7 + 3 = 9, but if this is true, that’s an even bigger story than the Browns’ projected improvement.
I don’t fault Fawkes for doing his job. Sports media sites know that the NFL and gambling drive traffic, and driving traffic is incumbent for survival in a wasteland where no one pays for their news any more. But if you were to ask an editor who had the luxury of not whoring for clicks what the importance of a Vegas sports book, on the final day of March, forsoothing that an NFL team that has been irrelevant for a quarter-century will improve by two games (not three) next season, I imagine they’d be honest and reply, “Not much.”
And we all know, all of us, that the Browns will be an improved team next year. None of us need CG Technology to tell us that. Moreover, when and if the Browns improve by more or less than two games, a result we will all know in just nine (or is it ten?) months, is anyone going to go back and remind espn.com how useless this story was? No.
Think of the better things ESPN could’ve been doing with that space, like posting a huge feature on LeBron James’ first shoe deal 16 years ago (a story from 2018 that was re-posted this week, after the Lakers had been eliminated from the playoffs and James had been shut down for the season).
(TO BE CONT.)
Then on Tuesday, a headline on CNN’s home page noted that a new book details how Donald Trump allegedly cheats at golf (italics are mine). When you click on the story, you realize that it is not a CNN original piece but a story from Bleacher Report. This, in the biz, is hailed as cross-site synergy, but what it allows for is a degree of separation in terms of an established brand actually holding itself accountable for the poor journalism it hosts.
In the piece, author Scott Polacek does no original reporting. Zero. What he does is a book report on AP writer Zeke Miller’s story about author Rick Reilly’s new book, Commander In Cheat. Again, CNN’s site is hosting a piece written by a writer from another site who poached the work of a writer from yet a third publication.
Moreover, it would have taken Polacek no more than a minute to contact Reilly on Twitter, ask him for a follow for a DM, and per chance actually SPEAK to Reilly himself. I know Reilly well. The odds are Reilly would have gladly accepted Polacek’s follow request and have been happy to speak with him (granted, there is a chance that Polacek reached out to Reilly, but I’m going to wager that he did not).
I’m well aware that sites do not have money for travel expenses. I just spent $2,000 of my own money to report a story and I know that even after I am paid, I cannot hope to recoup more than a third of my investment. It’s literally costing me money to pursue journalism. Meanwhile, all Polacek needed to do was reach out to Reilly (easy) or better yet read the book himself (also easy) and that way he would have actually been practicing journalism, as opposed to turning yesterday’s Wendy’s hamburger into today’s Wendy’s chili, which is the literary equivalent of what transpired here.
But again, his editors/bosses don’t care. How many clicks did the story receive? This is all that matters to them. And increasingly, from some scary experiences I had at Newsweek earlier this decade, this is how far too many millennials in the business measure their own worth as journalists. By the number of clicks.
(TO BE CONT.)
Is it, though? Leitch leads off by using former Seattle Mariner pitcher Jamie Moyer, who retired at age 49, as his paragon of a bygone age when athletes stuck around longer. He refers to Moyer as “beloved,” which let’s be honest, he never was. No one despised Moyer, but Jamie Moyer (Digger Phelps’ son-in-law, by the way), never held fans in thrall in the manner that Gaylord Perry, who retired at age 45, or Nolan Ryan (46) did. Moyer was an aloof ballplayer who at best inspired indifference.
But that’s beside the point. Moyer, who started every five days and played most of his career with the Seattle Mariners, is the example of what once was. Where ever might someone find a counterpoint to Leitch’s example? Like, imagine if an everyday player had continued to produce on the diamond well into his forties? Imagine if such a player had even once been a teammate of Moyer’s? Imagine if that player, destined for the Hall of Fame and truly beloved as a player (on two continents) had retired only last week?
That might blow up Leitch’s premise. Which is why he never mentioned Ichiro Suzuki.
I won’t even do more than name-drop Tom Brady and Vince Carter but guess what? Their names are not found in Leitch’s story, either.
Leitch does make one truly salient point: pro golf is getting younger as there are dozens of players on tour who can drive a tee shot 300 yards whereas in 2002 there was only one: Tiger Woods. This is an excellent argument in favor of golf getting younger (younger players hit for more power) but not in favor of sports in general getting younger.
How do I know that? Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams are all still winning grand slam events well into their thirties, which used to be ancient in tennis.
Are these obvious holes in his argument something that his editor at NYmag.com cared about? Probably not. Leitch has a high degree of visibility on the web, which is one reason why SI Now hired him to host his own web show (even though he does not actually write for SI). His stories are going to get clicks, no matter whether they are based on a flawed premise.
Nobody cares any more.
(TO BE CONT.)