The Football Philosopher Takes on Sports Media

As none of you probably know, I was a philosophy major in college (go Bulldogs). While I love sports I also love philosophy (and quite frankly I’m sick of dissecting stats), so let’s bring the two together for a little exercise I’m calling football philosophy (not to be confused with the awful Phil Simms pun of the
same name). Admittedly what is about to follow is only tangentially about football, but just pretend.

This could go really well or it could be a complete and utter disaster (let me know which, without feedback I am lost), either way it’s going to be interesting – or at least different.

“It has always seemed strange to me… the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” – John Steinbeck

I’m just going to put this out there, there’s a lot, and I mean a lot, of bad information being spread through what passes for journalism generally and professional sports journalism specifically.

When you’re facing a news cycle that never lets up, that gives no quarter or respite, often your only recourse to stay relevant is to produce opinionated tripe at a rapid rate (Skip Bayless being perhaps the most prolific and visible example of this). The people demand it, and we as writers are, after all, a
service to the people.

I would love to stand on a soap box and denounce this reality as the pestilence of our time (journalistically speaking of course), the disease festering under the rotting surface of our collective sports media dermis, but the reality is that this fuel on the fire driving us down our descent into collective ignorance is perpetuated and even necessitated by the insatiable need for information that has become a requirement of the modern age. It’s not an invention of the writer but rather a survival response in an ever changing market of mass consumption.

Newspapers are dying because instant gratification is no longer a desire, it’s become a right, an expectation bordering on pathology, and even a single day between news updates feels burdensome. Without constant newness we fail to feel informed, and without constant information an Internet writer
is dead; stay current or find another job, thoroughness and fact checking be damned.

Ultimately though the bond between a writer and his readership should be a sacred one, not to be denigrated or discarded. Without the reader the writer has no voice, he is akin to the tree that falls noiselessly in an empty forest, a mad man shouting at the wind, the exercise an end in itself, nothing
gained but frustration and disillusionment. Regardless of any virtue the writing might possess, without an audience it’s tantamount to a diary, valuable perhaps as self-reflection, but worthless to the world.

So it is that we must cater to the wants and predilections of our readership, beholden to the standards they allow and expect, rather than the quality they should demand. It’s a timing game, everyone fighting for the scoop, that extra call to verify a fact the potential difference between first billing and just
another also-ran.

In the twitter age of instant news, expediency trumps integrity nearly every time; if you’re not first you’re as good as last. A story that’s 12 hours old might as well be a week. It’s been reported on multiple times, opinions have been formed and disseminated, and a new story has already taken its place. That doesn’t seem like a timetable that lends itself to the rigorous vetting of pertinent facts.

The real question is, do we care? Is it simply enough that we are entertained? Does the quality of the
information actually matter?

I am certainly not immune to this dilemma of content versus convenience. Even now I find myself hours past my deadline, fighting that inexorable internal struggle that tells me to simply put word to page, maintain the release schedule, content is secondary, page hits are king (I’ll be the first to admit I often
lose that battle).

While I’d love to see a world where sensationalist garbage is punished rather than rewarded, where sports media is more Pulitzer Prize than Daily Post, where celebrity gossip is an amusement not a religion, and where integrity and truth in news are valued over headlines and entertainment value, but I
am not naïve enough to believe that such a world is possible, the free market wants what it wants.

What I do believe is that in the right situation and with the right persuasion, a microcosm of that world can exist. There are still readers – and I number myself among them – who care about the important things, even if it means getting your news a day later.