May has been an interesting month in the world of sports, and June is shaping up to be the same. Sure, the Stanley Cup Finals are going on, the NBA finals are just starting, and baseball is nearing midseason, but that’s not what’s making it all so interesting. The really compelling thing is the media coverage, which has trended towards sensationalism more than I’ve ever seen in the past. For me, May was a watershed month. For the first time in my adult life, I looked at SportsCenter as a television last resort instead of an integral part of my television day.
I’m at my wits’ end and I don’t think I can take this anymore. Sports reporting has had little or nothing to do with actual sports for over a month. Beat writers are finding stories about sluggers canoodling with ex-strippers, dugout fistfights, and the racial impact of black guys hard-fouling white guys. Oh sure, they throw a highlight in of an actual play on ESPN or make mention that a game was played in the papers. But I haven’t been able to sit down and watch a clean, “sport first” television show since sometime in April.
Well, if that’s the evolution of coverage in this over-saturated media of ours, so be it. I have to adapt with the times. And I think the first step towards that is taking stock of the top stories. I’ve picked six that have received most of the sports coverage over the past few days, and I’m going to score them in three categories: Coverage Level, Entertainment Factor, and Sports Value. Scale of 1 to 5.
Coverage Level: 5 (breaking news every ten minutes)
Entertainment Factor: 2 (if you want soap, watch soaps)
Sports Value: 2 (the great drug-free player of this era is grilled)
You’d think that covering the personal life and speculating on the upcoming career decisions of a baseball player would eventually grow stale. You’d be wrong. A-Rod has been covered non-stop since before the beginning of the season. Even during his torrid April, in which he was belting off homeruns at a near record-setting pace, his performance was spun into “he’s performing because he knows he’s not going to be here next year.” Now that he’s returned to Earth, stats-wise (though he did sock his 20th homer last night) the sights have been turned on his personal life. He’s spotted at a strip club with a blonde that isn’t his wife! Good God! A young, fabulously wealthy baseball player walking around town with someone that isn’t his wife?!?! Thank sweet Providence that there was a camera crew on hand to document this monumental event. Give the guy a break. Not for his sake, but for ours.
The Chicago Cubs Drama
Coverage Level: 3 (you’re going to see dirt-kicking highlights today)
Entertainment Factor: 4 (you’re going to see dirt-kicking highlights today!)
Sports Value: 2 (your kids are going to see dirt-kicking highlights today)
We all love to see a manager get all up in an umpire’s grill and tell them what’s what. It’s been a part of baseball for as long as tall socks and yelling “Mine!” have been. But the drama in Chicago isn’t just Sweet Lou Piniella doing the hat-kicking dance we’ve seen him do for years. He’s been fined and suspended, and when he returns, he’ll be returning to a dugout racked with dissension and under-performance. When you see aon a team that’s eight games below .500, that’s a sign of bad things. Thankfully, due to the constant replay of those events, we can see it every day. Like the Yankees, the Cubbies are getting far more coverage that they deserve. The off-the-field stories are apparently just too meaty to avoid.
The Crowning of LeBron James
Coverage Level: 3.5 (but really ought to be higher)
Entertainment Factor: 3 (until they come up with a synonym for ‘Jordanesque’)
Sports Value: 5 (a 22 year old carrying his team to the finals)
Off all of the headlining stories that are floating around this week, LeBron and the Cavs making it to the NBA Finals is the least sensational. And in a perfect media world, it’d be getting more attention than it is. A 22 year old that’s been suffering under a sport’s most intense set of expectations in a decade had a 48-point Game 5 through containment zones and absorbed enough double coverage in Game 6 to open up the lane to his teammates. A kid younger than almost everyone reading this outplayed the Detroit Pistons. Yet what we see, interwoven in the dramatic retellings of the feat, are stories about LeBron’s occasional lack of hustle. How he sometimes slips into a lower gear. Pundits leap back and forth between calling him “The Second Coming” and lamenting that he’s not an “All Heart All The Time” player. It’s as if the sports media just isn’t satisfied with a young phenom muscling his team into the the last series of the season.
Barry Bonds… As Always
Coverage Level: 3 (recently, anyway)
Entertainment Factor: 1 (does anyone enjoy the stories about this guy)
Sports Value: 1 (the shame of modern sports)
Everything that’s been said about Barry Bonds, and the media coverage of Barry Bonds, has already been said. I just hope the guy’s knee blows out and he quietly retires. Then again, I also hope that I discover a special soft drink that powers cars and cures cancer.
Billy Donovan’s Flip-Flop
Coverage Level: 2.5 (and on the rise fast)
Entertainment Factor: 4 (turning down millions to go back to college)
Sports Value: 4 (huge ramifications in the NBA and NCAA)
This is a new enough story that you might not have heard yet. Billy Donovan, the coach of the Florida Gators basketball team who just signed a 5 year contract to coach the Orlando Magic, is having second thoughts and thinking about returning to the college game. This is a huge deal. A guy is trying to break a contract he just signed either to follow his heart or heat up his cold feet (the jury is still out, since the story is new enough that the jury hasn’t formed yet). One of the most highly touted young coaches in the college game is awash in a sea of doubt and scrutiny. On one hand, he is bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country to the U of Florida. One the other, he’d be getting a multi-million dollar raise to coach a young and talented Magic team. Hell, I’d be conflicted to. The big fear here, as a fan of sports and business, is that the coverage of this will be so intensive that it will actually alter Donovan’s decision. The media will become a force to consider in determining a man’s livelihood. This story is so new, and I have no idea how it’s going to shake out.
A Man Named Roger Clemens
Coverage Level: 4.5 (just something about them Yanks)
Entertainment Factor: 2.5 (thought it was a 4 last year when he did the same thing)
Sports Value: 2.5 (though also a 4 last year when he did the same thing)
…And now his groin hurts. I still stand by my opinion that it was a good decision to pick him up (as it only cost the Yanks money), but I just want to see the guy on the hill. He’s going to help the team, and the “Countdown to Liftoff”-style coverage is finally going to stop. This is an important story in sports, in that it is setting precedents for older players to come back and play half seasons. But this journey through the Yankees farm system, with occasional stops for an MRI, is just not fun to watch.
I suppose, in the end, I’d rather have a feast than a famine in terms of media coverage. That said, a good and well-balanced news story about what actually happens between the lines would satisfy me far more than anything that has been fed to me over the past month.