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Where Were We?

February 3, 2013

By Ross Mitchell

292 days.  Hello friends.  It’s been a while.

Lots has happened in the past (almost) year.  Babies were born, couples were married, elections were held.  It hasn’t all been positive however, loved ones were lost, strings of mass murder and shootings erupted throughout the country, the same country which some (most) would argue is as divided as it has been since the 1950’s.  Gun debates rage, global warming lingers, the world keeps spinning (revolving technically).  We’ve always been plagued by our own shortcomings, our own fragilities and fears.  It’s our nature.  But it’s also our nature to band together, to rise from the ashes, to heal.

Throughout our country’s history (and world history) a common cure for what ails us is sports.  Competition, athletics, games.  An avenue.  In my experience the hurdles set in my path have always seemed easier to clear after a Bears touchdown, a Blackhawks goal, a thunderous Bulls slam, or a Cubs routine single (I have low expectations).  Not just because it makes me happy, but I’m attuned to the fact that the majority of those who I cherish are likely experiencing the same joy.  A collective euphoria if you will.  Even a good discussion about sports can brighten my day.  I love them, chances are you do too.  Only, for the past (almost) year, that sentiment has wavered.  And thus, so has my desire to channel my thoughts, emotions, and opinions into this blog.

There are a multitude of factors attributing to my absence.  Most of my angst however is centered around the media.

The Lost Art of Sports Journalism

Tebow.   Tebow.   Tebow.  Tebow.  Tebow.  Tebow.  Tebow.  Tebow.  Tebow.  Steroids.  Steroids.  Steroids.  Steroids.  Steroids.  Steroids.  Steroids.  Steroids.  Steroids.  Steroids.  Steroids.  LeBron James, not clutch.  LeBron James, not clutch.  LeBron James, not clutch.  LeBron James, not clutch.  Patriots.  Patriots.  Patriots.  Patriots.  Patriots.  Sawx.  Sawx.  Sawx.  Sawx. Eagles.  Eagles.  Eagles.  Eagles.  Eagles.  Eagles.  Eagles.  Eagles.  Eagles. Jets, Jets, Jets!  Lance Armstrong.  Lance Armstrong.  Lance Armstrong.  Lance Armstrong.  Lance Armstrong.  Manti Te’o.  Manti Te’o. Manti Te’o. Manti Te’o. Manti Te’o. Manti Te’o.  Cowboys.  Cowboys.  Cowboys.  Cowboys.  Cowboys.  Cowboys.  Cowboys.  Cowboys.  Cowboys.  Cowboys.  SEC.  SEC.  SEC.  SEC.  SEC.

THIS IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE IT’S HAPPENING NOW!  THIS MATTERS BECAUSE IT’S A RED BOX THAT SAYS “BREAKING NEWS”!  THIS GUY IS THE GREATEST EVER!  INCREDIBLE PLAY!  AMAZING, THE BEST, THE BEST I’VE EVER SEEN!  UNBELIEVEABLE, UNREAL, WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT!

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.  Stop me if you heard this on every national NFL, NBA, and MLB telecast for the past five years.  The horse is dead guys, let it rest in peace.  Not every highlight-worthy play is a watershed moment.  Too commonly are broadcasters getting trapped in the “now”.  Things can be “good” without having to be “great”, they can be “vital” without having to be “historic” or “memorable”.  Overkill and hyperbole are not required, nor are they appreciated.

Not to sound like an old curmudgeon but I remember when the national networks used to provide valued insight and objective analysis and not prosaic punditry.  There was a day when two reporters, or a group of reporters, could sit and discuss a game or a team or a player and not write the book on their career during the middle of said career.  When they could take “it” for what “it” was, and not fabricate a potential future.

There was a time when “experts” did not blather on in absolutes, when they did not exclaim an athlete will never win their sport’s respective championship or speculate on an athlete’s supposed mental fragility because they were unable to find a tangible reason for that athlete was defeated by an inferior opponent (ignoring the notion of “team sports” altogether).  Or because that respective journalist bet on the wrong proverbial horse and would rather tarnish a man or woman’s reputation rather than admit they were wrong or ill-informed.

There was an era when opinions were consistent and analysts had the integrity to use fact over bullshit speculation, and didn’t contradict themselves on a day-to-day, topic-to-topic basis.  When journalists tried to be journalists, not pop-culture phenomenon figure-heads or celebrities.  When they realized their platform was more than just an entitlement, and how much effect their words had on the masses.

But those days are over.  Now it’s a ratings battle.  Now we the consumer are forced to listen to gross-speculation and half-cocked theories.  Vince, the other administrator to this site, put it very bluntly, “(The Networks) don’t care about you.  They don’t care what you have to think.”  They care about ratings and advertisement sales.  They care about mass-production and style-over-substance.

It’s a shame really.  Growing up, reading the daily columns in Chicago Tribune or Chicago Sun-Times were as frequent a morning ritual for me as convincing my mom and dad I was sick and couldn’t go to school.  Now those very talented journalists are either on television serving as talking heads (a job for which they aren’t necessarily suited) or are more concerned with collecting a paycheck than educating their readers or doing their job.

Want proof?  What has been the most predominate storyline in athletics over the past decade?  The one topic which has transcended a single sport, to the point that Congressional hearings are now held on Capitol Hill?  The answer is steroids.  Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens all failed to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame based on speculation that they took performance enhancing drugs.  And while the Hall of Fame is presided over by a court of public opinion rather than a court of law, and the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWA) are a faction of pompous and arrogant elitists, the simple affiliation those players have with banned substances railroaded their careers, despite a handful of those aforementioned players never failing a drug test.

Yet during those players’ careers they were lauded and praised as loudly as anyone.  The same group of writers once attributed Sosa and McGuire’s legendary pursuit of Roger Maris’s single-season homerun record as an event which “saved baseball”.  And then steroids’ scandal came along and they were cheats and criminals.  Monsters and frauds.  Their conduct is considered both deplorable and a black-eye on the game.  They’ll never be let in.  Oh how the reporter who stumbled upon such a shocking revelation must forever be engraved in annuls of time, sculpted on the Mount Rushmore of sports journalists.  Who was this trail-blazer?

Jose Conseco.  The baseball player.  The steroid user.  The man who journalists and reporters and pundits mocked when he first broke the news.  There was no way this kind of culture was ongoing in the locker rooms.  They would surely know about it.  Only they didn’t.  The story of the decade and they missed it.  Scooped by a man who once allowed a ball bounce off his head and land for a homerun.

And because they have missed the boat, were blind to the flashing red light, whatever analogy you care to use, because they have missed the elephant in the phone booth, because they have failed, were bad at their job, now the simplest accusation, whether it be steroids, sexual assault, assault, DUI, failure to pay child support, snowballs into “fact”.  Everybody is guilty until proven innocent.  By act or by association.  The truth is fluid.  And what is viewed from affair or heard through the grapevine translates to accurate perception.

(While we’re talking about people who are bad at the game and the Baseball Hall of Fame, can we take Joe Morgan out of the Hall?  He was a stud as a player and totally earned his spot there, but…well put in a tape of Sunday Night Baseball from 1990-2010)

There have been some bright spots.  The local Chicago broadcasters have been stellar (sans the Cubs and White Sox radio booths).  Gus Johnson can make grocery shopping play-by-play heart palpitating.  Around The Horn, Pardon The Interruption, and ESPN and TNT’s basketball coverage has been phenomenal.  And NFL Redzone is so addictive its progressively working its way onto the government’s banned substance list.  There are plenty of rising stars in the industry.  But their opportunities are being wasted in favor of less talented, less qualified, more familiar faces.  Hindered because the other options are safer.  Because the networks don’t care about you.

I had more to this article, including an entire section about generational conflicts between my and the one proceeded one (how the elders perceive my generation/athletes from my generation to be weak and sensitive, to which I say try living a life with a camera on you at all times, not having any privacy, and we just finished fighting a war).  I also had a section dissecting the decline in overall “fandome” and etiquette of fans, but it’s too much vitriol at once.

Here’s what I want you to take away from this article:

  1. I’m still alive.  And hopefully I’ve gotten back into the fold.
  2. This isn’t how I envision my future articles.  Possibly a few critical analysis, probably on the subjects in the previous paragraph.  I intend on being humorous, insightful, and analytical on sports and any tangents which may arrive from my sports watching experiences.  I’m here to entertain, educate, and hopefully make you happy.
  3. For so long I’ve been disgusted with what I’ve read and heard on TV, in the newspaper, on the radio.  I had to get away, but separating myself entirely isn’t the solution.  Running away from the problem isn’t the answer.  And while my efforts to raise the bar will likely be in vain, I will unquestionably regret any effort I do not make.

I hope I don’t let you down.

I thank you for your loyalty and commitment.

And I hope to be speaking with you very shortly.

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