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Friday, May 26, 2006 

Sports Media Culture Crisis

Those of you who follow our writing realize that most of the time we try to see the lighter side of things, write in a funny way, and generally have a good time with what we're doing. Occasionally we have to get serious, and this is one of those times. Psyche up, it's time for SEL to go on a rant...

As is my usual custom, I came home tonight and started reading almost every article on ESPN.com. Call me a loser, that's just how I roll.

I clicked on an article in the "voices" section of ESPN.com about the Duke Lacrosse team. Not surprisingly, I'm greated with the title "Lacrosse Culture Crisis: Play Hard, Party Hard."

Immediately, I'm upset. I realize that most readers of this article are already coming into it with a negative attitude towards the Duke Lacrosse team, and most likely the sport of Lacrosse in general. The title of the article is already reinforcing existing negative stereotypes.

The author, Greg Garber, is obviously trying to lure readers into his article by giving it a risque title, which leads the reader to think there will be some controversial material lying within. There are two things that REALLY piss me off here, and I'm going to address both of them. The first is the Lacrosse article itself, the second is Johnny Blowhards like Greg Garber and others of his ilk who are destroying the way we view sports.

Regarding the article: The author immediately puts the team in a negative light by saying that they "play hard, party hard." Can somebody please explain to me what the problem with this is? Why is it okay for a 30 year old to say they "work hard, party hard", but it's unnacceptable for a college athlete to "play hard, party hard"?

According to the article, Duke President Richard Brodhead (obviously packin heat) appointed Law Professor James Coleman to look into the history of the Lacrosse teams behavior. The President summarized the report thusly:
"The Coleman committee's report tells of a close-knit team that did well academically and excelled athletically but that was irresponsible in its repeated abuse of alcohol."
That sounds like a pretty accurate description of every single male varsity athletic team at the collegiate level in the country, guvna.

I can relate to this on a more personal level. I was a member of my schools soccer team for 4 years, and that description describes us very well. We were a very close-knit team that enjoyed great success on the field and off of it. We won numerous academic awards as a team, and carried a cumulative GPA over 3.3 for the entire 4 years I was in school. We were always one of the top teams in the country, and we busted our asses to get there. Most of us were also involved in a number of different extra-curricular activities.

When Saturday evening rolled around, it was time to let loose. We spent the entire week going to class, going to practice, doing homework, taking tests, training, playing matches, and maintaining personal relationships with our friends and significant others off the field. A lot of pressure builds up during all of this, and our way of coping with said stress was to party like fucking rockstars.

Admittedly, there were times when we became 'irresponsible with our repeated abuse of alcohol', but that usually ended with 5 AM public readings of Harry Potter novels and a trip to the 7-11 for a quick stoney treat. However, we all looked out for one another, and did our best to keep from doing too many stupid things that would get any of us, or our team in trouble (this could also be attributed to the differences between a DIII team at a small Christian school and a bigtime team at a prominent D1 University... who knows).

I'm sure there are hundreds of other athletic teams just like us at colleges all over America. This is not a culture crisis, this is the culture of Collegiate Athletics in America. These athletes aren't getting paid (with the obvious exception of athletes at THE Ohio State University), and most of them are busting their ass to receive a quality education that will further their careers. The gross majority of collegiate athletes aren't going on to play professional ball, so they take their time spent in college seriously.

I also realize that I have probably pissed off a number of readers. There will always be naysayers who believe that College Athletes cause too much trouble, and take away from the academic experience, and even those who feel school and sport should be mutually exclusive. I understand and respect this opinion.

However, I also recognize that there is something to be said about the type of college athlete described here. As an employer, would you rather hire somebody who excelled in the classroom, excelled on the athletic field, had extra-curricular activities, liked to tie on the occasional buzz, got in a little trouble, and managed to escape college in one piece... OR somebody who had an outstanding GPA but spent their free time studying and staying out of trouble? My guess is, unless you're an accountant or write computer code for a living, you would go with the former.

And why not? This potential employee shows that he can perform well under pressure in multiple facets of his life. It shows that he can multi-task, and budget his time wisely. It shows that he can set goals and bust his ass to achieve those goals. It shows the ability to play within a team setting, and work with your teammates towards achieving excellence (Note: this isn't gender specific. To save time, I referred to the athlete as "he", but it could just as easily have been a "she". Title IX baby!).

The people that criticize the lifestyle of the "college athlete" are the same people (usually broads) who spent their entire college life inside their dorm room, reading and studying and checking out their myspace page. These are the same people who, when the weekend would come around, would feel depressed because they realize the highlight of their weekend was trying to find a partner to play board games with. These are the same people who are now in their late 20's/early 30's who live in the suburbs and realize that up to this point they have lived a meaningless existance, and the prospect of turning things around doesn't look to great. These are the same kind of people who spend their time sitting around eating bon-bons and watching Oprah, lamenting the fact that the "College Athlete" they despised so much during college is now living a much better, much more successful life. These are the kind of people who get pissed off at those thoughts, and are starving for attention, so they try to get back at the current collegiate athletes by saying that there is a "culture crisis" and start crying for immediate and harsh reform and punishment. I hate these people. Fuck these people.

Deep breath. Okay, I'm better now.

I'd like to take this time to point out that I'm not defending the Duke Lacrosse team here. I don't know what happened at the party, I wasn't there. If any rape or racism occurred, I don't support that at all. It is reprehensible, and it is my sincere wish that the violators be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. However, this is America, and we're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. So, until this whole situation is resolved, I'm going to wait to pass my judgment. I want to reiterate that I do not condone any violent action towards women, or any type of racism whatsoever towards any minorities (For the record, racism towards anglos are fine. Kill all the white man!).

Moving on.

I think we're dealing with a much larger problem here than college athletes and people who hate them. The bigger problem is the Sports Media Culture we find ourselves surrounded by these days.

I was talking to my buddy Loomis tonight, and we were both commenting on the shocking decline of "Sportscenter" over recent years. I've been entertaining many thoughts on this subject for a long time, and I know I'm not alone in this.

It's tough for me to hate on Sportscenter. After all, I was raised on this show. I used to wake up every morning before school, turn on sportscenter, go huddle inside my super-huge sleepshirt over the heating vent in the floor (because my house was always balls cold in the morning), and just soak in the sports. This was back in the good ole days, back when Sportscenter consisted of highlights from many different games, many different sports, good statistics, funny commentary, and occasional good insight.

Now? I turn on Sportscenter and find myself not caring about Barroids latest 0-4 game in his pursuit to pass The Babe. I see a show trying to create entertainment by bringing in "experts" to debate issues where there aren't issues to debate at all. I find myself getting dumber as I listen to A.J. Pierzynski blather on about God knows what on the "Budweiser Hot Seat." I get pissed off when that fat-ass Chris Berman, who obviously doesn't care anymore, goes through the highlights screwing up scores, stats, and peoples names... only to humor himself by giving another athlete another worthless nickname. I watch in horror as Barry Melrose and his mullet are getting less and less air time, because people apparently don't care about hockey anymore, and they would rather tell us about the NFL draft 3 weeks before it starts. By the time the "Coors Light Cold Hard Facts" rolls around, I'm rocking back and forth with a shiv in my hand muttering something about shanking Burt 'Be Home" Blyleven.

Don't get me wrong, there is still some hope for Sportscenter. Scott Van Pelt, Neil Everett (Bartender... Jack... Solo!), and even John Anderson provide good coverage, speak eloquently, and don't try to make themselves the center of attention for every highlight. These guys are the future of the show, I only wish "the show" had a future as bright as the anchors.

Sportscenter isn't the worst of it either, it's just the beginning.

We live in a time now where many Americans get their sports news from watching talking heads on Around The Horn and reading crazy, controversy sparking articles written by Johnny Blowhards like Greg Garber and Jay Marriotti. These shows and articles are much less about sport, and much more about entertainment. They try to create a controversy, try to make a story out of nothing, and they try to make everybody on there have a strong, over-the-top and ludacris opinion on the 'hot topics' in sport (these opinions easily swing from one end of the spectrum to the other from day to day, and of course there is no accountability for anything said on the shows). I understand why the networks and the authors of these articles do it: it generates ratings, the more people that watch/read it the more interested advertisers are in advertising, the more interested advertisers are the more money is generated. In the words of Wu Tang Financial: "Nowadays we all know that money is everything. Green, get the money, dolla dolla bill y'all."

(For the record, I love Around The Horn. I just don't let it shape my opinions about the sports world, and I make a conscious effort to dig a little deeper and examine the sports and stories that I'm personally interested in).

These shows and these articles have started to change sports culture... in my opinion for the worse. Now, if the Mavericks lose game 1 at home, all of a sudden everybody is talking about "Can the Suns sweep?" "Are the Mavericks overrated?" "Do the Mavericks have an answer for Steve Nash?" "Are the Suns the greatest team of all time?"

Our sports world has digressed into coming up with a top 10 list for every occasion (apologies if I'm being too Simmons-ish here). We are force-fed bullshit questions like "is this the greatest NBA playoffs of all-time?" We have to sit there and take the newest "Here is the list of the 10 best buzzer beaters of all-time." As soon as a game ends, all the analysts and experts inevetably get into shouting matches over whether this was the greatest of all-time, or worst of all-time, or biggest choke job of all-time, or if this team was overrated, or if that team is playing the worst they've played all season.

Quite frankly, I'm sick of a lot of it. I don't want my sports delivered to me in 'extremes'. I don't want to waste my time watching two men argue about who was the greatest home run hitter of all time. I would love it if I could get my sports scores, with some highlights, with some stats, with a little analysis and a dash of commentator wit. I'd love to read more articles where the author goes in depth and uncovers some great truths about the sports and the athletes, and doesn't try to spark controversy, jump to immediate and life-changing conclusions, and get people all excited over nothing.

For some reason, I don't think I'm alone when I say any of this...

I've had similar thoughts for a while now. Very well said.

This is a good article, and you are not alone in your thoughts; I have read others talking about the same issue on other websites. But which article is the best???

This a very well written article and I agree with your thoughts. Sportscenter is going down hill for the most part, Skip Bayless is duesch bag and should be taken off the air. This website is a good for sports and I enjoy reading new articles on here every day. Keep up the good work Steve.

I thought you weren't allowed to drink as a college athlete at Hope College. I'm very saddened by this news. Trevor is getting stoned...Nance isn't satisfied...Cully ate the dog...and now I learn this.....

I agree with you for the most part. But, I don't think its only college athletes who represent the ethos of "play hard, party hard." I know plenty of college students who weren't athletes who worked hard and excelled in many things including academics, extracurriculars and the such who would blow off steam by partying hard. Sometimes that partying can cause problems but generally not. Moreover, I think that any time you find people who excel at what they do, you will find people who are under great stress (self-imposed or not) and need to relieve that pressure. So, it's not limited to the athletic realm. I realize this is the specific area you are writing about but I think it should be noted that it extends beyond this arena.

I completely agree with your points on ESPN and sports media that have become obsessed with "sports entertaiment." I enjoy it but it is not my only source of sports info. Moreover, I liken this development to that of the tabloids/gossip rags that cover the hollywood scene. Sports has always been, in my mind, the male version of celebrity gossip--something that we can all talk about and relate to (for the most part). However, sports has become such big business and people follow it so closely, it was inevitable that it would evolve into something similar to the media that covers hollywood.

Good Stuff!

I agree. I chicks from the suburbs.

insert hate into the last post.

Well said Lep. I couldn't agree more with both points you made. Now if only we could teach those D1 athletes at UM to relieve their stress by drinking excessively instead of slapping around their girlfriends, stealing shit, and jerking off on the porches of sorority girls houses we could finally get another national football championship or a decent shot at the Big 10 basketball title.

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