Being a sports fan your entire life, you start to notice a few trends. You become aware of how players are likely to act, predispositions of certain teams, tendencies in certain sports, and especially how the media likes to operate.
Recently, one trend that seems to stick out above the rest is that of the media. I mean all media: print, radio, television – essentially, they all work the same.
At its basic core, the media wants ratings. They want viewers. They want readers and subscribers; and with the explosion of sports blogging, they want page hits.
Now that aspect is common sense but to some, how they go about capturing the audience’s attention may not be.
Let’s think about the biggest athletes of our generation. Names like Brett Favre, LeBron James, and Tiger Woods may come to mind. Think back to a time not too long ago — these guys were on top of the world at one point. All are household names and all once were the shining example of how a famous athlete should be.
Favre was heralded as one of the best quarterbacks of all time, and more importantly, one of the NFL’s most fun-loving and likeable players. Woods was being called the world’s best golfer and exemplified the role-model status as his endorsements and media coverage never stopped growing. Then, there’s LeBron. Even in high-school, James was anointed the king of basketball and even the heir-apparent to the NBA’s greatest player, Michael Jordan.
Now? Anywhere you look, the images you get of these once iconic athletes probably isn’t anywhere close to what it was just a few years ago. Favre is considered a self-involved, attention-seeking prima donna. LeBron is an immature kid who can’t win. Tiger Woods doesn’t even need an explanation.
After years of media coverage, years of hype, and years of being built up — all of that comes crumbling down in an instant. As we all know, there’s no better story than one that has elements of good and evil. The classic tragedy from ancient Greece is alive and well in our world today, and we don’t have to visit the theaters to see it anymore.
Now this isn’t to say these examples in question didn’t do anything to bring ridicule upon themselves, especially in a situation like that of Tiger Woods, but the media acts as if it is waiting for a slip-up, foaming at the mouth for someone to make a mistake just so they can have a fresh take to deliver to the masses.
Take the New Orleans Saints for instance. Just two years ago they were the media darlings after winning the Super Bowl as every outlet preached about the Katrina ordeal (despite that it was about four years after the fact) and how a football team “saved” a region. They used the real-world issue of a natural disaster, tied it to a football team and created a sensationalized heartfelt story to tug at America’s emotions. ESPN, as an example, harped on this aspect, bringing it to the forefront at every chance they could get because it was a “feel-good” story.
Fast forward to present-day and the Saints are being accused of doing what every NFL team does — having bounties for big hits and targeting opposing team’s star players — yet the headline you see on the new edition of Sports Center is “Saints to Sinners.” Now, all of a sudden, the Saints are the biggest villains of the NFL. That isn’t an accident. That’s how you keep a story fresh.
From Favre to LeBron to the Saints, the media builds them up and then tears them down. Instead of just reporting the facts, the media loves to stir the pot. From human-interest packages on television, to leading questions in interviews, the media will not pass up the opportunity to sensationalize.
To elaborate, take the phenomenon of Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin as the blueprint on how the media loves to create characters of grandeur and super-human ability. Yes, each story is incredibly interesting, but media outlets, including the one mentioned above, will ride it seemingly 24/7 in hopes of it catching on worldwide. More often than not, they’re successful, but that isn’t the real problem?
The problem is that it is a self-manufactured story just to bring attention to the outlet in question. You can call it the hype machine. You can call it spinning a story. You can definitely say it’s the media outlet pushing their agenda — something CBS Sports, NBC Sports, ESPN, and the rest all do.
Do you ever wonder why ESPN doesn’t advertise a certain bowl game or NBA matchup? It’s probably being aired on another station.
It’s not a matter of what is going on in the world of sports; it’s a matter of what is in the interest of that particular brand.
In a couple of months when Linsanity sputters out for good or Tim Tebow gets a speeding ticket, it will only be a matter of time before we see the fall of these once highly acclaimed characters.
Just wait for it. It isn’t about the facts; it’s about the “story.”
To contact Morgan Beard, email firstname.lastname@example.org.