Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sportswriters and Bad Things Happening to Good Athletes

College Football Resource has a post up linking to this article addressed to athletes, urging them to stay out of trouble. As the article puts it:

Contrary to what many people in sports and sports fans are deluded into believing, sportswriters and sportscasters and Web masters don’t want to write about your off-the-field problems (the bloggers I’m not so sure about).

We want to write about your triumphs, on and off the court. The last thing we want is to write are stories about your trials — or your obituaries.

I'm not fully convinced. I believe that no sportswriter wants to write about the death of an athlete. I may even be willing to agree that writers don't want to see athletes getting in serious trouble. These may not be true assumptions in every case, but they only require you to believe that sportswriters are decent people, an assumption that's reasonable, all joking aside. But I don't believe that the guys who wrote Game of Shadows would have preferred to write Barry Bonds: the Guy Who Hit a Lot of Home Runs. Tales of athletes breaking the rules sell, especially if you're first with the story. Those authors made a lot of money off the fact that Barry Bonds broke the rules. Yahoo! Sports went from fairly insignificant to mentioned all over when they broke the story of Reggie Bush's family and their housing arrangement. I don't believe the Game of Shadows authors would trade their fame and fortune for an opportunity to write a book gushing about Barry Bonds, just as Yahoo! Sports wouldn't trade all the hits they received for a chance to write something about Reggie Bush's highlight reels.

I think that sportswriters (and writers in general) have two goals: to write the first story on a topic, or to write the best story on a topic. Aside from the basic human desire to not see bad things happen to good/young people, they don't really care what the topic is. I'm not necessarily saying that's a bad thing; they have bills to pay and families to feed, just like everyone else, and the better their story, the more money they can make.

CFR uses the article to make the point that he doesn't really enjoy writing about college athletes in trouble, and I believe him. What I don't believe is that all sportswriters want to see all athletes stay out of all sorts of trouble all the time. If that happened, what would Lupica and Albom have to be condescending about on Sports Reporters?

I've decided to ignore the shot against bloggers, but feel free to craft your own responses to it, should you so desire.


JD said...

I also think there's a difference between the home town writer and the national writer. The National Writer isn't going to give a shit about the player, while the hometown paper guy probably would rather see the local athletes. The distinction between local and national is important with this kind of discussion.

Around the Oval

Maize n Brew Dave said...

Yes and no. Jackasses like Skip Bayless all started off as home-town guys.

I agree the local beat writer will generally be more positive, but the "it bleeds it leads" mentality of national journalism certainly trickles down into the local papers and stations.

Sean's got a point. Agressive writers do not make names for themselves penning nice feel good stories. It seems the preferred method of building a reputation as a writer is to tear down someone else.

The stories that sell the most don't seem to be stories of triumph. Rather they are stories of cataclysmic disaster following that athlete's summitting of Olympus.

Just look at OJ, Mike Tyson, Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Bill romanowksi. How many pieces on Ken Caminiti did we all have to suffer through?

Triumph will sell a paper. Triumph mixed with tragedy, well, that'll sell a book.

Great site.