The Devolution of Internet-based Sports Media

Television is garbage.

My parents had been saying that for years, claiming that the Ninja Turtles had no real educational value.  I told them that was ridiculous — I learned more about ancient artists, Japanese culture, musical styles, and talking brain-things in mechanical suits because of TMNT.

Nevertheless, the slide of modern television is evident in the oft-held misnomer of MTV, which is less about music (and even less about music videos) and more about stupidity.  The Weather Channel now trots out reality shows instead of blue-screened weather forecasts backed by Muzak.  And cable news is just a litany of over-the-top talkers and pointless segments.

Sports is not beyond this, which is something that we covered back during THE DECISION!  SportsCenter has devolved into more of an entertainment show than a highlights show.  Interviews are now being conduct between quarters of basketball games.  Terrible shit.  Perhaps the catalyst for this was that anyone could get scores and whatnot off of the Internet; so SportsCenter in particular — and ESPN in general — needed something to maintain the attention on themselves.  But the gossip, “storylines” and other bullshit has made many of the programs on sports television unwatchable.

But, the Internet-based sports medium is not immunity to this slide towards gossip and other garbage.  Again, part of this has been covered here before with the fear reporters have of bloggers.  And perhaps that is why we are seeing more and more garbage come from “reputable” Internet sites.  And the site that is driving the trash-truck is Yahoo! Sports.

But it is not necessarily just gossip, as writers at Y! Sports have started taking to attacking other journalists, or being generally hypocritical.  There are numerous examples, but I will highlight just two that have occurred in recent months.

Short-term Memory

On 8 November 2012, Dan Wetzel wrote an article attacking one of my most hated things in reporting — anonymous quotes and polls that attack players.  It was a well-written piece that focused predominantly on attacks from an “anonymous” NFL general manager on Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola, as well as a “players’ poll” about the most overrated coach in the NFL.

Protecting witnesses and whistleblowers is understandable; protecting cowards is NOT.  I mean, when punter Chris Kluwe is displaying more manhood with his opinions and statements than the supposed “real men” [and, i mean that out of respect to Kluwe], then maybe it is not something that should even be published.  So, Wetzel was correct to attack this trend.  Awesome!  Way to take those to task!!

But wait!  What is this!?  Nearly a week later, Yahoo! Sports publishes an article drawing attention to “anonymous sources” criticizing backup QB Tim Tebow.  To be fair, Yahoo! did not conduct the survey or write the original, but by publishing it they became any accessory to the “crime” of publishing garbage.  Even Wetzel joined in by writing about the Tebow situation and referencing the New York Daily News article, though he did try to throw in a quick disclaimer and a link back to his “anonymous polls and comments are bad” article.

So, publishing anonymous quotes and polls are bad, but writing articles in order to draw in more reads is badass!

Kaepernick’s Tats Draw a Crowd

Colin Kaepernick is the shiz-nit!  He was a fave of mine during his days at Nevada when i though that he deserved more publicity for Heisman (when Denard Robinson was getting the same treatment for doing the same).  I am glad to see him getting a fair chance at QB, even if it did come due to an injury (and one that took the starting job from a player who was actually doing well).

And look at those tats!  Stunning!  What a beautiful man!

Well, tattoos are good for some, but not for others.  Writer David Whitley, writing for SportingNews and AOL’s Fanhouse, published a piece describing the “horrors” of a tatted-up QB — the “CEO” of the football team — ushering in a new trend that sullied that sacred image.  Drawing parallels between tattoos and prison culture, Whitley wonders about the messages it sends to have the face of a franchise carry some ink.  After all, the only QBs with excessively visible tattoos were the likes of Michael Vick and Terrelle Pryor (trying to hold back the laughter on labeling the latter one a QB) — you know, deviants!  Perfect for the “prison culture” of tattoos!

Of course, that article led to criticism of Whitley making racist insinuations about having tattoos meaning one is a criminal; that only blacks (and only black quarterbacks) have tattoos.  And, since the connection is made early on about prisons, the Great Leap Forward is that Whitley believes blacks are criminals…since criminals have tattoos.  And…wait, huh?

colin-kaepernick-16x9Whatever was trying to be argued, Yahoo! Sports quickly jumped up to be the savior of the day; to shit on another website’s work; to be the torchbearer of civil rights in sports!  Blogger — ERRRRR, columnist — Doug Farrar wrote an article about how Kaepernick’s parents were “mad as heck” and not gonna take it anymore!  Farrar goes on and on, lecturing about how Whitley is irresponsible and a joke and incoherent.

But, after reading Whitley’s article and comparing it to Farrar’s response, I wonder if the latter even took a moment to absorb what the former was writing.  I mean, Whitley’s article was certainly not the most eloquent article written, but let’s not pretend that any sports writer is publishing Shakespeare-esque prose.  Nevertheless, his point made no attempt to draw parallels between tattoos and race.  Farrar even quoted Whitley giving examples of “white” QBs with tattoos.  The only difference beyond race between Roethlisberger and Vick is that Big Ben’s tats are more hidden.  Well, that…and Big Ben has actually played in and won a couple of Super Bowls.

Could it be that the only examples of other quarterbacks with such visible tattoos are black QBs?  What other comparison could be made?  I’ve studied issues of “race” (it is obvious that Farrar has not) enough to know that there is hidden racism in subtle statements.  But I do not think this one qualifies because of the general references prison and motorcycle gangs (thinking Hell’s Angels).  You have to wonder if, vicariously, it is Farrar is making the “racist” connection by inserting his assumption into Whitley’s article.

But, the bigger picture is that Whitley’s article seems to be almost satirical in nature.  In a way, it is self-deprecating because he has inserted himself into the role of the old fogey, dreaming of the days of Johnny Unitas.  It almost reminded of one of The Simpsons episodes where Grandpa Simpson was kvetching about Joe Namath’s crazy hair compared to real man Unitas.

I took Whitley’s article as tongue-in-cheek.  It was as if he was playing off of the “horrors” of tattoos and the past stereotypes of those tats and flipping into a piece that displayed the absurdity of the arguments against tatted QBs and embracing the change.  Even if Whitley has some acute fear of tattoos, as he expressed in his article, I took his article as not seriously admonishing the tattoos but embracing it and the change in mentality.

Still, that did not stop Farrar from ripping him and Fanhouse.  Farrar’s piece came off as a potshot at a rival Internet publisher.  He even insinuated that Whitley thought that the tattooed Kaepernick was some sort of “apocalypse for the 49ers franchise”…I could never find where Whitley even came close to suggesting that.  Yeah…nice going Farrar.

In the end, I think it was a satirical piece where Whitley used his own preference against tattoos to draw out the stereotypes of tattoos and note that things are changing…for the better.  And, especially given Sporting News‘ editor Garry Howard publishing a response to the criticism, I am more inclined to side with Whitley (even if his justification is a retroactive one).

Farrar criticized Whitley for apparently not “have time for stuff like interviewing, homework, or film study,” but maybe Farrar should have taken more than five minutes to, you know, speak to Whitley and understand where he was coming from before publishing this drivel.  Yeah, working sucks.  It goes both ways.

Maybe Whitley was being racist and judgmental, maybe he wasn’t.  Farrar doesn’t know because he did not bother to find out.  Instead, he decided to attack a journalist from a competing sports site.  How judgmental!

Putting the “Yahoo!” in Yahoo! Sports…um…

There are other examples that are less controversial, including recently attacking Steve Czaban (somewhat justifiable in the criticism, but Czaban has always pushed the envelope and called it as he saw it; why kvetch now?) and Rob Parker (who was asking for it, but Yahoo! then went out of its way to delivery shots at ESPN).  But these two are tame compared to the Tebow story and the Kaepernick story.

Or, non-stories, as it should be.

Yahoo! Sports still has a great fantasy sports interface going for it.  But that their sports “reporting” has drifted into gossip and attacks on other media outlets and journalists is started to erode the site’s appeal as a reputable sports news site.