Monthly Archives: August 2012

Sports journalism: An Oxymoron?

Tears poured down Brett Favre’s face. His 15 plus year career with the Green Bay Packers was finished. With a Super Bowl and years of Lambeau leaps behind him he was positioned perfectly to ride off into the sunset.

Then it happened. In front of a packed Lambeau Field press room he uttered the words that would change his legacy forever.

“As they say, all good things must come to an end,” Favre said.

In the moment, it seemed a fitting end to a majestic career. It became a punch line, and the ensuing coverage caused many to question the merit of sports journalism.

Sports journalism is a term used to describe the industry that covers sports in a non-biased manner. Satuaration of coverage in certain situations leads some to believe the term sports journalism is oxymoronic.

Not only did Favre play again after retiring, but he didn’t miss a season. A few months later he reported to training camp. He was still wearing green, New York Jet green.

His public debate about endinging his short retirement played out daily on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” North America watched as reporters staked out Favre’s Mississippi residence, and speculated his career status at the top of each hour.

A similar routine was repeated the following off-season. A premature retirement was followed by Adam Schefter and the “NFL Live” crew discussing Favre’s best option should he return. Meanwhile, viewers were treated to arial shots of Favre’s SUV.

After the 2010-’11 season, Favre retired for good as a Minnesota Viking.

ESPN’s relentless coverage of the Favre saga started a lot of conversations among sports fan. Most of them were negative, and not all of them were about Favre. It was frequently the work of the people covering him that was brought into question. The coverage, most fans agreed, seemed more like reality television than journalism.

Critics claimed serious journalists would not have given the Favre story as much coverage as it received. For a few months “SportsCenter” began to resemble “TMZ.” A MLB pennant race and NFL training camps were lost two straight summers as ESPN devoted every spare second to Favre coverage.

Situations like the Favre coverage are the primary reason skeptics say that sports coverage is not real news, but in fairness, network news stations are known to ride the ratings wave when it suits them.

Admittedly, sports journalism falls short at times. It inflates stories it should not. Journalist are people. They make mistakes.

People say sports journalism has to chase down the Favres of the world to get a story. That is not a fair assesment. Sports journalism frequently is more light-hearted than hard news, but at times sports become hard news.

The winter of 1980 was one of those times. As the Cold War simmered, the Lake Placid [N.Y.] Winter Olympics took on a significance beyond athletics.

A group of college aged Americans beat the U.S.S.R., one of the greatest hockey teams ever assembled. Worldwide people took notice. America made a statement not only about hockey, but political ideologies. It was a victory for capitalism and freedom, and there was not a thing about its importance that was sensationalized. Hockey played a real role in real life diplomacy.

The argument can be made that Lake Placid is only looked upon as a great moral victory because the U.S. won. That is a fair statement. If the Soviets had won, no one in North America would have been dismayed. Americans still would have considered western culture superior. Deep down inside, defeat would have undoubtably hurt though.

If the 1980 Olympics was misrepresented by journalists surely Magic Johnson’s story wasn’t. At one time, the world considered him a dead man walking.

Journalists chronicled his battle against HIV. Magic’s story proved being HIV positive wasn’t a death sentence, and the world was inspired to redefine the way it viewed people with HIV and AIDS.

Is sports journalism an oxymoron? The answer is no, at least, no more than a crime beat is. Sports coverage can turn into reality TV. That is the truth, but so can hard news. Any event can turn into reality TV. It is a reality world. When CNN reporters start showing up outside the homes of suspected killers the template is the same as ESPN’s Favre coverage.

Sports journalism is real journalism, practiced by real people. People mess up. They can can make poor decisions and sacrifice integrity for readers and viewers.

The process isn’t perfect, but the good news is there is a process. It brings us news, be it sports, politics or crime.