Friday, April 20, 2007

Sports as a distraction, until it gets distracting

The Virginia Tech tragedy was hard to avoid this week and most people didn't want to avoid it. We were all drawn in by the terrible week in Blacksburg and we wanted to soak up every detail to answer "why" and "how."

I reached my personal breaking point mid-week when I grew exhausted of the tag "Massacre at Virginia Tech" and seeing image after image of devastated students. I had to abandon the around-the-clock coverage and tune into something else - sports.

Personally I was relieved to stop thinking about Virginia Tech because this week saw the NHL playoffs in their first full week, baseball getting going and the NBA wrapping up its regular season. I watched a bunch of the talking head shows on ESPN and on more than one occassion, the hosts said they hoped their half-hour of air time could make us forget about Virginia Tech for a few minutes. It was working for me.

The sports news really let me escape my thoughts for a while. But then I slowly began to realize how mind-numbing it can be. Perhaps ESPN has been consumed by the 24-hour news beast, but their news style is really stale and when it's not, it's all speculative.

I'm glad Greg Oden is going pro not only because I'm a Michigan fan, but because I get to stop hearing the SPECULATION of whether he would go pro after his first year of college or not. Along with the speculation surrounding Kevin Durant's future, this was the non-story of the century. Sports media made it a story, thought it had some buzz and wouldn't let go all year. It was as if everytime they mentioned "Oden" or "Durant" along with the words "who will be the number one pick" this year, they got a bonus. Now we only have to suffer a few more months of guessing who - Oden or Durant - will go number one because they are both foregoing the rest of their college years. Then we can forget about them for a few years while they wallow on some pro team's bench.

A story that is not being covered is the NHL playoffs. I'm not going to make a personal statement about how enjoyable hockey is, I will just say that ESPN's "coverage" is embarrassing - there is none! If Barry Melrose wasn't under contract, would ESPN ever talk about hockey? Instead of beefing up Sportscenter with more game highlights and playoff analysis, I get to hear more about Pacman Jones and more speculation about who will be the NFL's number one draft pick (anyone who's seen the nauseating "On the Clock" segment for NFL teams knows what I am talking about). The lack of attention hockey gets is frustrating and makes me wonder how ESPN makes its editorial decisions (see j?'s post a few weeks ago).

I'm watching ESPN right now and they are actually COUNTING DOWN to a game tonight between the Red Sox and Yankees. It's April! And after this game they'll only play EIGHTEEN more times this year. I don't know if this is "East Coast bias" or if ESPN really thinks we want the Sox-Yanks rivalry forced down our throats. It's fun when both teams are in the playoff but the only story here is that Alex Rodriguez is red hot. That could be discussed in a minute or two and the other 28 teams in the league might then get some attention. I'm a baseball fan, but it seems like ESPN has realized Sox-Yanks is an easy ticket to cover, but it is so uncreative. There is no justification for this type of coverage other than stirring up the hype machine (I must own up to the fact that I felt the Michigan-OSU football game countdown last fall was disgusting).

So much of sports journalism now seems driven by who has big endorsements, who is getting in trouble off the field and which experts are picking who for what. There is little analysis of games, little examination of player performance and too much hype.

We demand a lot from our "regular" news but what about sports journalism? I turned to sports especially this week to escape reality and instead I was driven crazy. When the news gets stale and repetitive, we don't seem to cry foul. Is it because we consider sports journalism "easier" or "softer"? Are we just looking for our favorite team to get some love? I may be making the accusation but I'm guilty of not changing the channel.


At Sunday, April 22, 2007, Blogger L.C. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Sunday, April 22, 2007, Blogger L.C. said...

L.C. said...
I have to say that I've never really been a huge sports fan, and I don't really watch ESPN. But, I did find myself looking for the same sort of release on television--a break from the news of tragedy that, while so gripping and lamentable, is still so hard to watch (especially after so many days of coverage and so much to grieve about).

I, too, found myself searching the channels for "mindless" progamming. It's interesting how we react to tragedy by both wanting to hear all the information available and, at the same time, by wanting to turn away from it; to turn away from the distress and atrocity that is ever present on cable and network news.

It's hard to explain what happens to the average Amercian during a tragedy, but I agree that there develops a need to find outlets for that grief that don't involve watching more tragedy unfold.

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