photo credit: Twitter
by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail
Good morning sports media fans. This will be my last post before Xmas, so let me take this opportunity to wish all of you Happy Holidays. Thank you for reading and commenting and for helping make this place a lively and interesting forum for discussion. I’ll do a proper thank you next week before we close out 2014.
Athletes & Social Protest
Two statements defined the previous era in the NBA when it came to social activism. Charles Barkley famously told people that he was “not a role model” for their children and Michael Jordan explained his silence on political issues by saying that “Republicans buy shoes too.”
These statements stand in stark relief with the comportment of many of today’s stars. The high profile killings of blacks at the hands of mostly white police officers who were subsequently not indicted has ignited a fire of social commentary on race relations in America. Rather than shying away from being part of the conversation many athletes are using their standing as public figures to convey their opinions, either through their words or by their deeds.
Personally, I think this is a good thing. Sports is a great unifier because it builds bridges across even the widest of chasms. Shared fandom washes out differences in wealth, class, race, education, and to a lesser extent gender. The most meaningful social and political change black athletes can effectuate is to speak to their fans about the obstacles they face in society. These obstacles are invisible to most of their white fans because these people never face them. As with most political matters it is not until you or someone you know experiences injustice that one is motivated to do something about it.
Things are mostly better in Canada compared to the U.S. where being poor and black is equivalent to a life sentence. The incarceration and high school graduation rates are shocking, as is the lack of access to decent schools and social services. Most of us don’t experience these flaws in the system, and this is where high profile athletes have a role to play. It’s one thing when a politician stands up and says that we need to do something about racial inequality. It’s another when your favourite player talks about his life experiences.
Bruce Springsteen alienated lots of his fans by campaigning for Obama. Many people complained along the lines of “I don’t see why he needs to talk about his political views … I listen to him for his music, not his politics.” My suspicion is that Springsteen lost very few fans over his activism. The same will be true of sports. People are fans first, and it would take a lot for them to stop cheering.
All of that said, social activism is a minefield. Most of these issues are complex and it’s easy to make missteps, especially if you are trying to rush to Twitter to deliver a hot take. I’m sure we will see high profile athletes get the facts wrong, support someone who turns out to be very guilty, or just generally embarrass themselves when trying to make things political. But hopefully that won’t dissuade others from speaking out. It’s risky, but it’s a risk worth taking. Few people have the kind of reach that star athletes do. I’m glad some of them are realizing the kind of power they wield on and off the field of play.
If you have time for one article on this issue try out Vice Sports. They are quickly emerging as the mainstream alternative. If you have time for a second article, The Star’s Raju Mudhar wrote well about it last week.
Howard Berger lobbed some bombs at the hockey media over their treatment of Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier who apparently thought that Nelson Mandela was a pro-athlete. Howard writes: “Given that Bernier was so far off the mark in his comments about the late South African anti–apartheid leader, it would have been uncomfortable to steer him in the proper direction. But, any reporter with a shred of credibility and compassion could easily have done so and spared Bernier the ignominy of his recorded gaffe.”
Awful Announcing has a review of the highs and lows of the year in sports media. I found Ken Fang’s comments on sports radio interesting: “[T]he sports radio genre which had so much potential when it began in the 1980’s is fast becoming a vast wasteland of hosts who say the absolute dumbest things. Either thinking what they’re saying is guy radio or the hosts aren’t thinking at all, sports radio has become absolutely unlistenable. There are some exceptions and there are good hosts across the country if you know where to listen, however, those hosts who say the dumbest things in order to go viral or to think they’re funny sully the entire industry and that’s too bad.”
Rick Westhead delivers some more excellent sports journalism on the state of sports gambling and potential changes to the law. One of the arguments he considers is whether legalizing sports gambling would help curb match fixing and point shaving, since it would be easier to see unusual betting activity on a game. I’m curious if there is data to support this hypothesis. If there is, leagues might actually have a reason to back legal gambling, namely that it would help them uphold the integrity of their games.
The Airing of the Grievances
At this time of year many people are preparing to celebrate Festivus, which as you know rests on two core pillars: 1) the feats of strength, and 2) the airing of the grievances. In this space we will focus on the second of these tenets. In Frank Costanza’s immortal words, “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people …” but I have forced myself to pick my top two grievances from the past year.
1) PTS — I’m not sure what is going on with the leadership of the FAN’s signature show but it is unlistenable on far too many days. The guests continue to be topnotch on a week to week basis, but the host and co-hosts seem to treat the show as a social club more than a radio program far too often. I know the competition over at TSN has failed to register an audience but the comparison is night and day. One show features real journalists talking about sports while the other is a mess of television and Twitter personalities trying to top each other’s jokes. The good news is that it would take very little to fix what is wrong with the show. But that will require standards, and Bob has not imposed those on PTS for a long time now.
2) Cathal Kelly — At a time when the talent pool in sports writing at the papers is so thin good writing really stands out. I had high hopes that he would fill Stephen Brunt’s shoes and become the intellectual voice of the nation on sports issues. But far too often his columns are lazy click bait, half-baked premises, or just straight up trolling. Every now and then he delivers some thoughtful pieces but that’s the exception to the rule. I’m not sure what the people at the Globe were hoping for when they chose him instead of, say Bruce Arthur, but the results have been very disappointing. The Globe is squandering an opportunity here.
Those are my grievances, what are yours?
Low Hanging Fruit
- Kate Beirness returned to TSN Drive as a co-host and did a nice job. One piece of constructive criticism: radio segments are much longer than TV ones so it’s just fine to slow down. There is no need to speak a mile a minute. There is also no need to try to make all your sentences into sound bytes.
- Steve Simmons guest hosted for Naylor. He’s a natural. The host role suits him well. I’ll never cease to be amazed at how his radio personality is so radically different from his Twitter life.
- I can’t for the life of me understand people who are upset that AA didn’t make trades at the winter meetings. That prompted endless boring call-in segments this week. There are still several weeks before spring training and relievers are the easiest commodity to acquire.
- I’m going to try to listen to radio this week but I suspect all the stations will be mailing it in. Doug Farraway used to do these “year in review” taped programs which were OK the first time around but would end up being repeated endlessly over the holidays.
- The fall ratings book is out. TSM and I are working on getting the complete results for you.
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)