As my brief tenure as sports editor at the Campus Times comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on sports journalism. It’s a unique genre, full of some incredible — and some incredibly dumb — stories.
Sometimes you get the pieces that blow you away. Other times you get cheap tweets of people’s theories masquerading as reporting.
Most sports reporting follows the Donald Trump school of public relations: Tweet early and often.
Big names like Adam Schefter and Adrian Wojnarowski are a little less Trump-esque, bringing real news with comprehensible language. They provide more concrete news than the hot takes from guys like Stephen A. Smith. Despite the fact that I find the use of Twitter as a news platform absurd, I know that this is how the world works and I accept it.
There is still great sports journalism going on elsewhere, like in ESPN’s docuseries “30 for 30” (which has won an Emmy and an Oscar in the last decade), and Jon Bois’ work writing about obscure statistics in the most compelling way possible.
But then you get events like the NFL draft. I won’t discuss the actual picks — you can go elsewhere for that. I’m more interested in the reporting.
It seems like every single player was receiving the tragic backstory treatment on ESPN’s broadcast. I am uncomfortable with the fact that the media company just played on several dozen family tragedies for ratings, but I am enraged by the fact that they did so during one of the happiest moments of these young men’s lives.
For years, they’ve worked day in and day out to try and make a living playing football, and they just received the news that they will be making, at worst, several hundred thousand dollars a year, and at best they could make tens of millions. The first thing we ask them doesn’t have to be about a family tragedy.
But more than rage or discomfort, I feel disappointment.
I’m disappointed that ESPN failed at the basic function of news media: to inform the public. I watch the draft to learn about the players my team, and others, have drafted, and how that will affect the teams next year. Sure, personal stories are interesting, but those aren’t the most important parts when you’re watching the draft. If I wanted those stories I’d watch a documentary, or a Disney sports drama. I wanted to see the skills of these athletes on display in highlights from college, training videos highlighting strengths and weaknesses, and discussions with scouts and analysts. Instead I got photos of deceased family members.
I agree that these stories can be powerful and are important. But those stories aren’t going away. You can tell me about the story of the homeless boy who became a millionaire through football another day. These guys are being drafted for how they play football, so when they get drafted, I’d like to see how they play football.
There is certainly good sports journalism going on, but there is too much noise that has very little to do with sports. There’s a place for pieces about athletes’ lives and stories, but that can’t come at the expense of actual news from the sports world that directly impacts the events occurring on the field. And it should be out of an honest desire to share an incredible story, not because tragedy gets views.