Thursday, May 1, 2008

HBO’s Costas Now: Sports Media Thoughts (CONTINUED)

***This is the second part of a recap of last night’s HBO show looking at how Americans consume their sports in our present media landscape.

Segment #3: Sports and TV, panelists- Joe Buck, Mike Tirico, Dan Patrick
Sports on television have changed greatly over the years, starting with the presence of Wide World of Sports on ABC to SportsCenter on ESPN. We have seen the adoption of color television, high-definition, and the movement from sports being carried on the three major networks (CBS, ABC & NBC) to multiple cable outlets (ESPN, TNT & VS.). The breadth of sports programming has seen TV ratings for sports plummet, with more playoff games being aired on cable, such as the NBA and NHL conference finals and one of the two LCS’s in baseball. “Costas Now” had a fascinating discussion on the ‘ESPN-ization’ of TV. With more highlights and homeruns being shown, the romanticism of sports is fading away. For instance, the appetite today is just for the highlight, not to appreciate the entire 3 hour baseball game. Costas mentioned how the famous Carlton Fisk homerun in the World Series seemed as if the TV viewer was eavesdropping on something that would happen even if they weren’t there. Yet, today, athletes acknowledge the presence of cameras by posing for the highlight after hitting a homerun or slamming home a dunk. While ESPN may be problematic (Kirk Herbstreit anyone?), it should be noted that it is the most profitable network in the history of entertainment. Some shows on TV are purposely confrontational, such as PTI, to help bridge the gap between sports and entertainment. Al Michaels described the participants on these shows as “gasbags on parade.” For instance, Monday Night Football has hired analysts, like Howard Cosell, Dennis Miller, and Tony Kornheiser, trying to draw younger and non-sports fans to the game, acknowledging that core fans will watch no matter what. Mike Tirico, an ESPN employee, put it best, calling the incredible amount of games and information on TV “excess” and “just too much.”

Segment #4: Media and Athletes, panelists- Selena Roberts (SI), Tiki Barber, John McEnroe
This was the least entertaining 15 minutes of the show. Frankly, it kind of dragged and I was flipping back and forth between this and the Mo Cheeks postgame press conference. The main point brought up was the growing disconnect that has emerged between the player and reporter. This “climate of confrontation” is mostly due to the increased salaries for athletes. Some reporters feel jealous and resentful that they are making a small percentage of what athletes receive financially, despite going to college and grad school. In the past, a generally friendship relationship existed between reporters and the athletes. Journalists were cheerleaders and had an intimate relationship with the team. For example, despite traveling on the train with Babe Ruth in the 1920s, little to nothing was written about the off-field escapades of the Great Bambino. When did the change in the relationship between reporter and athlete occur? Who knows? There is nothing more for me to say here. As I first said, if you only have 75 minutes, these would be the 15 minutes to skip.

Segment #5: Sports and Race, panelists- Michael Wilbon, Jason Whitlock, Cris Carter
The final topic of race was described rightly in the pre-taped video as “one of the most provocative topics in sports and beyond.” The subject of race in sports is often a rather uncomfortable conversation. Frequent examples of controversial racial issues being brought to the forefront include the likes of Don Imus, Kelly Tilghman, and Lebron’s appearance on the cover of Vogue. In 1988, CBS NFL Today analyst Jimmy ‘the Greek’ was fired for racially insensitive comments, centering around “slave owners breed[ing] his black…” Donovan McNabb got in trouble a few years back for stating that black quarterbacks are held to a higher standard in the NFL than whites. While this statement is likely true, McNabb got in trouble for simply discussing the subject. Presently, McNabb no longer comments on racial issues publicly. In addition, Carter said that “people don’t want to talk about race.” The HBO piece found that most people in a newsroom are white. In addition, the belief arose that reporters cannot win when discussing race. On the one hand, they will be ripped if they write a racial article. Yet, the reporter will be dissected if he or she does not write the article, with the belief that the topic is too uneasy of a topic to talk about. This could get me in trouble, but who is reading this anyway. I do not understand the general statement regarding NBA prospects that white players tend to be not athletic compared with African Americans draft prospects. For the sake of this discussion, let’s imagine that Michael Beasley is white and Tyler Hansbrough is black. Would Beasley still be the guaranteed #1 or #2 pick in the NBA draft? Wouldn’t Hansbrough have left early by now, knowing that he would be taken somewhere in the top 5? How is the hard-working 6’10” Hansbrough that can dunk not athletic? Some have made the argument that the last great white American player was Chris Mullin, twenty years ago. Yet, then nationality comes into the equation, as there have been many great white Europeans, like Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol. So, what matters more, nationality or race? I could keep going… but Cindy McCain is on Leno (must-watch).

***In the end, the show was probably more interesting to people in the media than the public as a whole. After all, it was simply the media talking about, well, the media. Nevertheless, I thought it was a fascinating discussion that kept my attention for nearly the full 90 minutes. In my opinion, despite the negativity surrounding sports increasing recently, sports is healthier now than it has ever been before. People cannot get enough of ESPN specialty channels, whether that is ESPN Classic or ESPNEWS. Revenues in sports are rising and attendance records are being shattered. While the methods through which we consume sports now and in the future are and will be different, sports as an entity has never been better off than it is today.

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