Somewhere between watching my beloved New England Patriots get shellacked on national TV and drowning my sorrows in a tri-combo platter at Lakeside Latenite, I had an epiphany, a sudden and rare moment of clarity, a hammer-shot to the gut that forced me to re-evaluate how I consume sports and sports news today.
Has our sporting news cycle compressed itself too far?
Us elderlings, the seniors (FIF-TEEN!) and juniors (SIX-TEEN!), might remember the bad old days, when ESPN was just a TV network, not a do-everything website and content provider; when the only source of opinion columns was in whatever daily newspaper you subscribed to; when even the most ardent of fans couldn’t feasibly follow more than the local teams because of the paucity of coverage allotted to the national sporting landscape. This paragraph could serve as a summary of news in general before the advent of modern communication devices, but in reality, this situation was reality even in my own lifetime!
Picking up the Monday morning newspaper and skimming the NFL roundups was one of the great pleasures of my old morning routine. We’d get weekly stat summaries for all of baseball and look to see where Pedro Martinez was in terms of wins (Moneyball wasn’t yet a thing), or where Nomar Garciaparra fell in the batting average race, or even look at the national scene and see how many games out of the wild card the Red Sox were (usually, a lot). And there was an aura, a mystique, a veil around our favorite athletes. We wondered where they lived, what they did in their free time, what they were like.
Today, the scene has shifted so as to almost be unrecognizable. We’ve globalized sports to the n-th degree, such that every sporting website reports on every sport, be it Pakistani cricket or South African rugby. The rise of Twitter has changed how we consume all news in general, but specific to sports, we have all kinds of juicy information and gossip and rumors, served up in convenient byte-sized (teehee) 140-character morsels, perfect for a rapidly declining attention span. We’ve perfected the art of the highlight reel, the two-minute drill done Chris Berman style and the news-conference-snippet-taken-out-of-context.
In short, we’ve taken the sporting news cycle, which used to be a day long at the minimum, and shortened it to just seconds. The instant something happens, we know all about it through social media, through ever-larger networks dedicated to the dissemination of sporting news and through our friends, who text us with updates like “Stephen Curry is especially spicy today!”
There are a number of advantages to this new environment in which us fans live. For one, we find out when things happen immediately; there is no turnaround cycle from when an event happens to when people start writing and talking about it. Additionally, nothing is above scrutiny any more; there is no hiding from the bright lights of the media. If you are underperforming, no longer are you only answerable to local fans; everyone knows about your struggles worldwide. And for the truly diehard, this new quickly-moving news cycle gives us fresh information to ponder and react to in a near-continuous loop.
There is always something to read, something to follow, something to research, something to learn. It truly doesn’t matter if you follow curling or cross-country skiing; somewhere, there is coverage for that sport.
However, there are also a number of terrible side effects of this abridged format, chief among them the lack of what I like to call “simmer-down time.” Today, we are so quick to judge, to anger, to castigate, to crown, to condemn and in general, to react viscerally. We see oh so many articles and rapid reaction written off the cuff and in the heat of the moment, many of them sensationalist and, when looking at them in retrospect, quite silly. We tend to speak only in absolutes or extremes, to determine that something or someone is the best or worst ever, with no middle ground possible. Most troublingly, we’ve adopted a follow-the-leader mentality, talking ourselves into and out of specific judgments.
Somehow, it has been ingrained in our collective minds that Tom Brady is a clutch quarterback, and that Peyton Manning is great but cannot perform in big games. We at one point determined that LeBron James was not a good player in crunch time and vacillated back and forth for a while on this determination before now eventually coming to the conclusion that he is in fact quite good when the game is on the line.
We are full of snap judgments and heinously slow to change them, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. To an extent, I would argue that we’ve taken some of the enjoyability out of digesting sports news; every TV segment has an agenda, every writer a hardcore and super-opinionated stance on every issue, and a desire for extra clicks and higher PageRank values outweighs good sports coverage.
Change begets change, and in the case of sports coverage, this is overwhelmingly true. There are good and bad trends as a result of this shortened news cycle, and although the benefits are truly game-changing, the bad trends that I am seeing are worrisome, to say the least.
I hope that we can reverse some of this change and take a small, but significant, step backwards. Future generations should all be able to experience the joys of cracking open that newspaper in the morning and reading it with relish.
When opening up the people to the sports section every morning, Vignesh Venkataraman loathed not being able to track his favorite players’ OPS+ and WAR, and his favorite pitchers’ FIP and xFIP. Tell him to #killthewin at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.