Sorry to disappoint everyone, but I am back at BSR, fresh off of a nice four month hiatus that found me hitting up concerts, festivals, doing a lot of traveling, and trying to pay as little attention to the lockout as possible. Which one? Both, though the NBA one is actually more interesting. I love how the last few months have been filled with “Oh, it is almost agreed to!” “But wait, we should have a deal within the week!” and other nonsense that is swallowed up by the masses despite the clear posturing by both sides. And yet our thirst for sports goes far beyond sports itself- we want the drama, we want the Grey’s Anatomy version of sports. Forget the actual surgery, we want to know who is sleeping with who!
In fact, as sports fans we want far more than games, which is what keeps ESPN in business. Why should I care what Ochocinco said this time? Why does it matter what Brian Wilson did with his beard? And yet while we don’t tune in to watch the Bengals or Giants every week/night, we want to know. We absorb the drama, most of which has no impact whatsoever on the game itself and any actual impact is less than any of the more on-the-field factors at play. ESPN plays to our sense of fascination with storylines that go beyond the game, the TMZ aspect of sports that most fans would be loathe to admit to enjoying.
So why should anyone care about the lockout? Before I left, I wrote a couple of columns about various issues at play during the negotiations in order to help our readers (and myself) make sense of the reports that would be coming out and to interpret the resulting collective bargaining agreement. I did this because it would affect free agency, how long the seasons were, and the political science/fundraising side of me wanted to know about how compensation would be structured. The day-to-day ups and downs however are nothing more than a sideshow, but it’s one that has dominated the “lowest common denominator” targeted messaging of sports radio and television.
After the Ravens lost in the playoffs, I decided to conduct a bit of a personal experiment. No more SportsCenter, Around the Horn, or any other “analysis” show on the Worldwide Leader or anywhere else… at least until after the Super Bowl. I personally didn’t think I could do it, as ESPN had become my default option when nothing was on TV. I replaced it with reading insightful articles on SI.com, choosing the news I wanted to hear about, finding choice blogs with intelligent commentary that differentiated efficient offenses vs. yardage totals, etc. I can say now that I haven’t watched any ESPN analysis since January, and I don’t miss it. I can skip the articles that talk about “So-and-so might get talked to by Team X eventually if they feel like it or maybe not” stories that pass as news. When So-and-so actually signs, then I will soak up all the analysis I can, but not until then.
But that is what sports news is nowadays, with the ultra-competitive atmosphere and the need to fill 24 hours with sports on multiple channels and platforms, everyone competing for the breaking story. Now I don’t pretend to think that the mainstream media in political or other news isn’t the same way, and I will tune in to ESPN and other channels to watch an actual sporting event (remember those?). But the theatre of sport that so resembles mid-day soap operas or perhaps more accurately, prime time reality television, is something I will try to avoid.
Behind all of that overblown coverage, all of the posturing, labor negotiations, stupid athletes, fired coaches, recruiting battles, etc. is a game, one that is beautiful and complex and an intricate display of athletic prowess at its highest level, men, regardless of their personal makeup, who are incredibly talented at their craft. Perhaps it is time for fans- and media- to spend more time on the field than off of it.