Sports Media 2020: Blessing or Curse?
In this age of instantly available information on a global scale, the unprecedented access to athletes and people involved in professional sports, or sports at any level for that matter, and the explosion of the average Joe having a potentially global platform to express their thoughts and opinions, we have seen the questioning of sports practices and the inner workings of the sports machine dramatically increase over the last 10 years. I am not complaining or criticizing this phenomenon, I benefit from it as I sit here typing out this article. The question now becomes, how good for sports is this information age, really?
As my area of expertise is football, I will speak on the NFL for this writeup. We have had the modern NFL draft system for going on 51 years now, since revising the system put in place in 1966 after the union of the NFL and AFL. From 1970, the draft has functioned, for all intents and purposes, the same fundamental way. The team that does the worst during the season gets the first pick in the following draft. This was the status quo. As time progressed, and the popularity of the NFL increased, there was also a correlative increase in media coverage, bringing more sports media jobs. The internet added to the expansion of access to teams and personnel as well as the expansion of people talking about their sport. Social media was the exponential increase that was inevitable from about 2010-present. Today we don’t just have the Dick Young’s of old or the Steve Wilstein’s. There are some amazing reporters and writers. Rich Cimini, Adam Schefter, Colin Cowherd, Ian Rapoport. But everyone with a computer has the ability to say whatever they want and have the ability to reach large audiences. How has this affected the game today? Well, show me a player in 2020 that doesn’t have a Twitter or Instagram account. In this age of clicks and follows being the apparent goal, it has allowed outside noise to invade the game itself. I point to JuJu Smith-Schuster IG live streaming himself dancing on opposing team’s logos during pregame warmups. I point to the god awful touchdown celebration of the entire team running over to the PURPOSEFULLY placed selfie camera near each end zone.
I talk about the above to highlight the main point of this article. The media today seems to have an opinion on everything. And Jeremy Schaap of ESPN is no different. If we listen to him, teams like the New York Jets, or the Jacksonville Jaguars do not deserve transcendent players like Trevor Lawrence or *insert elite prospect name here*. And because of the massive exposure, these takes can get massive traction but misses the spirit of the way the draft is set up. Schaap seems to think that the NFL is rewarding losing, and on the surface it can look reasonable, but when you deep dive into it, where does the spirit of the game, of the competition, where do those intangibles go when competitive balancing isn’t held to a high standard? If Schaap got his way, Kansas City should presumably get the #1 pick in 2021. But do they want TLaw? No, they just gave Mahomes half a billion dollars. Green Bay looks to be the team to beat in the NFC and they took Jordan Love last year and still have Rodgers for the foreseeable future. No Trevor there either. Seattle up next? Yep and the Lawrence slide continues. Millions of dollars lost to the player due to that draft slide. Or the alternative.. A QB needy team will have to sell their future to those successful teams to get up to grab their guy. The rich get richer. Now a bad team has sold their soul and can’t build around the guy they initially needed. The poor get poorer. My message to Schaap, I hope this take was really just to get views. If you truly believe this, your take is incredibly tone deaf and has more far reaching implications on your character as a
human being. Your passion for that position came from somewhere and without getting political, I truly hope you don’t truly feel the way you talked about the Draft.
The players being on social media factor into this by exposing themselves to this external noise. It can create locker room issues. It creates egos. It can break the confidence of a struggling player. Think about how Sam Darnold must feel right now. Players watch their Twitter feeds and respond to Schefter or Rapoport and they get gassed up. A small time writer (like me) tweets something and a player responds and then WE get an ego boost. All of a sudden we want the next interaction and the next. Some tend to start trolling just to get those clicks. And reporters like Schaap now have the need to get those clicks to compete in this dog eat dog business so they bust out these hot takes with clickbait titles. It is a vicious cycle.
So I ask again, how good is the widespread media explosion in the sports world? Am I overreacting or is there something there? Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to be in the position I am in where I can do what I do, but overall, how are our sports being affected by the open door for media coverage on their entire lives? Do we still have quality coverage or are we seeing writers going after low hanging fruit to gain exposure? I will leave it with you all.
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