Friday, June 22, 2007

Bloggolalia: Is Blog Athlete Coverage Better than the Mainstream?

I wanted to give you an open question to discuss that has been irritating me lately. The topic is how athletes are covered on blogs. Frankly, I think the blog world isn't doing any better than the much-maligned ESPN at covering athletes and understanding their positives and negatives.

There are some blogs that make their living from mocking athletes for being stupid. This is irritating because too often, their inferiority or nerd complex is showing. The idea is "Well, I'll never has as much money or girls as Athlete X, but hey, I can form complete sentences better, and I know not to put up my most embarrassing pictures on Myspace!" Congratulations; you have that in common with the majority of the population. Really, grow out of your leftover high school angst already.

It annoys me the most in two ways. One is when this type of attitude is used towards young athletes; some guy suddenly becomes famous when before no one cared who he was, still has some embarrassing pictures up somewhere doing what most 20-somethings do, and voila! Let's make fun of the 21-year-old for being young and dumb or ogle the babes on his page. The second is when this type of attitude has a certain flavor of racism. So a black athlete uses some slang that makes no sense to us country folk, or a foreign player makes an analogy that sounds really silly to us, or an athlete may not spell well. What does it look like when we mock them for those things? Not classy, I can tell you that. Mainstream media usually isn't allowed to get away with this athlete-hating behavior overtly, but the blogs are worse, in my opinion. I'm not saying there's no room for mockery; but targets have to be chosen carefully.

The other side of blogging is bloggers who'll defend any athlete, any time, for anything. Now look, we know that any media likes to set up heroes and villains to make stories more interesting. That's unfortunately part of the game. But worse than having some antagonists is having zero antagonists. Every athlete is a great guy! or hot! or something! It's just the media or his posse who makes him look bad! You'd like Charles Manson if only you'd spent some time with him and got to see the side the media isn't talking about! Ok, maybe not the last part. But you get my point. One can enjoy music or cinema or whatever while still realizing that not all musicians are gods or all actresses are angels or what not. Sometimes the media is calling someone a jerk because they ARE a jerk.

My question to you is, am I exaggerating the state of affairs? Is it my Friday grouchiness coming out? Or is it really that bad out there?


  1. I think the blogosphere is far too negative in portraying athletes. Many blogs focus on making fun of athletes' mistakes, crimes, comments, or foibles. Like a lot of our fan culture, people seem to focus on the on-the-field and off-the-field mistakes more than the successes of athletes; we see a lot more blog coverage making fun of players' or teams' failures than players' or teams' successes.

    Frankly, I don't follow sports to check the crime blotter or to pile on the losing team; I don't get off making fun of athletes (as some blogs clearly do). I like to watch the best of the best; I like to understand why the good players and teams are so good. I follow to see the successes, to see the memorable moments, to enjoy the great players' performances (the symbolism of my sports focus is that I still collect sports cards--I love getting aesthetically pleasing cards of players I like).

    So, no, I don't think blogs are doing a great job covering individual athletes. Too many online sites only want to talk about the bad in sports and not the good; it's something we should work to improve.

    I'm not being a hypocrite; I recognize I have also been critical of athletes. I don't want sunshine and lollipops coverage: real coverage is going to involve some negative takes. But the glee that many bloggers (and newspaper columnists) take in making fun of losing teams or erring athletes is a little sickening. I want to enjoy the good, not cynically sit around mocking the bad.

  2. Not only is this true of athletes, but of celebrities in general. Scandals sell, and when there is no scandal, any sarcastic or snide comment regarding athlete "X" always is good for raising the number of views a blog gets. Snarkiness can be a blogger's stock in trade, but it shouldn't be the only skill a blogger should have.

    A lot of this, I believe comes as part of a change in journalism. Years ago, when athletes would drink and carouse into the wee hours, it was seldom reported. If something happens to an athlete today after hours, it becomes fodder for the sports pages. I'm not necessarily saying which approach is correct, but it's what I see.

    PV, you are correct in saying that a lot of blogs take pleasure in writing about the bad; it should be even handed. Not everything or every athlete is all bad or all good. Not to quote from Fox News, but a fair and balanced take on sports serves the audience far more than going for the cynical approach.

  3. Good comments, guys. I just want blogs to make me MORE excited about sports, not LESS excited; is that really too much to ask? Blogs are not ESPN; we don't have the pressure of getting out a story every hour. I would hope that would lead to more variety in coverage, instead of the same mainstream sportswriter hijinks on a smaller stage.

    PV, your second paragraph is great; I completely completely agree. Now I want to go out and buy a wax pack of sportscards, ha.

    And yes, tws392000, thanks for providing a shot of logic to the mix. 70 years ago, we would have been complaining that the coverage around athletes was way too positive. Balance is tough to achieve.

  4. This is very much on point, mc bias. I would only add that sadly, the blogosphere in general has followed the lead of ESPN (and Deadspin, too), which is to focus on negative incidents both off and on the field.

    So is my sports viewing enhanced by the fact that it has been beaten into me that the Cincinnati Bengals are the most thuggish team of all time? That Terrell Owens (who has never committed a crime, nor ever failed to give 100% in a game) is the biggest jerk in the NFL? After all, he holds his team hostage every season with his behavior (meanwhile, somewhere Brett Favre is getting head from another sportswriter)....

    The blogosphere has not done a good job of providing an alternative to the constant negative coverage of athletes, but in fact actually served to strengthen it....

  5. Some people obviously enjoy sports more when they're able to wisecrack about the peccadilloes of players. But as I said, I enjoy sports more when I'm watching really good players play really well. It gets tiring seeing off-the-field activities as the most widely discussed stories--give me the stuff on the field, man!

    SML, many people, including some of his own teammates, have questioned whether TO is always giving %100 (TO's negative ideas about Jeff Garcia are reciprocated). Actually, TO himself has said sometimes he's just not that into it on the field--I wrote about this, but not to rip TO about it:

    But that's tangential to your real point, which I generally agree with.

  6. To use SML's other example, the Bengals' arrest record means NOTHING to me. When I think about the Bengals, I think about Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson, and a fun offense to watch with up and coming players.

    If your enjoyment of the Bengals comes from making fun of their arrests rather than the exciting players (and personalities) they have on the field, then I really don't know: you may as well not watch the games, but just read PFT. I get immense pleasure thinking about and watching the Bengals because of those very good players, and think utterly nothing about their off-the-field stuff. I think, anyway, that I'm enjoying sports more that way, and I think others would too.

  7. PV, I read your link, and highly recommend others read it too. Good stuff!

    Jason Whitlock had a great perspective on the Bengals a while ago. He said, look, the players in that locker room don't see Chris Henry as a monster. They see him as the guy who comes to practice, works hard, and does his best for the team, because he's a good teammate.

    Some of those guys are troublemakers off the field, but good employees between the yard lines. Others are squeaky clean off the field, but terrible workers on the field. We have to be careful not to overreact on certain players just because of the 15% of them we know based on media reports.

  8. SML-good comment. The Brett Favre remark-I tend to agree with also. Brett Favre has been "slurped," if you will, by many a journalist and commentator, but he certainly has had his share of non-football related issues. And was there a great cry of criticism when he stuck his nose in his teammates' contract business? I don't remember much of one.

    These have been some great comments. As far as whether my sports viewing is enhanced by knowing what athlete "X" was doing in a strip club making it rain and asking for refunds? Not so much. That's why in some ways, what sports was like before non-stop 24-hour coverage was better in that all an impressionable youngster (such as myself) knew about his favorite player was his vital stats and whether or not his team won the game that day. Whether or not he was seen with a woman who was not his wife at a strip club would not be discussed during the broadcast or in the morning papers.

    And MCBias, you are right in that we don't really get a 360 degree view of an athlete. We get the between the lines stuff, and when or if said athlete engages in behavior that is deemed negative by the mainstream media and/or bloggers.

  9. I always feel like you are targeting me. I love Terrell Owens and I am not ashamed!

    There are blogs that traffic in mockery and crime blotters and sexism. And there are blogs that do a good job of finding underreported stories and/or reporting on a niche. And there are blogs who give the analysis and viewpoints that the mainstream media just misses. But, so far, I think if a reader is engaged with the blogosphere, I think there's a good chance that the reader is getting a little bit of everything. Who just reads 1 blog? The blogosphere is not perfect, but I think it offers more perspectives than the mainstream. And its up to the individual reader to decide whether to partake. That's fair, right?

  10. Sometimes I think that the only difference between journalists and bloggers is that they have access and we have more fun at the games.

    The issue you are discussing is something that I've thought and struggled a lot about. I think what drives a lot of the sensationalism, not just in sports writing but news writing in general, is traffic. Sensationalism = traffic.

    I use to write for a newspaper blog and the only time they promoed what I wrote is if I was writing about something that was a sensationalized topic. Even now, I write about things that I think people might be interested in or might educate folks, but at the end of the day, the posts that get the most traffic are the ones that are a little ugly, even if I didn't hype the ugliness.

    This is just the beginning. The TMZing of the news is going to be everywhere in 5 to 10 years. Check out what the most clicked on posts for are and you realize that for non-sensationalized, non-superficial news, you are going to have to search very long and hard for it.