How did we get to the place where the most important story in sports stems from a controversy over a $15,000 payment for Vegas shenanigans? Why on are the Adam Schefter’s of the world digging up texts and voicemails, reporting them as the most important news of the day?
Why—in the name of God—are we entertaining Ricky Williams’ opinion on the matter?
Let’s be clear about something: Bullying is a serious matter, and it goes without question that all employees should feel safe in their workplace. Racism has no place in civil society. But many of the key parties in this affair couldn't approach even this relatively low standard of humanity and general decency.
But when you put aside the details of the scandal, what lingers for me is how terrible sports media has covered these and similar stories. The takes from the ex-player on locker room culture, the legal advice about what may or may not happen, the well-written analysis condemning whatever it is that deserves to be condemned—these stories consume the news cycle for days and weeks.
No one, during their formative years of sports fandom, was drawn to sports because of the scandals. No one has thought, “Man, this stuff on the field is great, but what I really come back for is the things that get players suspended.”
So when try and figure out what got us here, let’s consider both central parties: The producer and the consumer.
For the producer (i.e. the maker of whatever content), milking these stories dry is a relatively easy decision. They cost essentially nothing to make. You aren’t required to have a huge programming deal or full-on highlights, you can just replay the same package over and over again. It also hits the sweet spot where you can rely on talking heads to spew potentially factual but not-necessarily-so shit that gets attention because it’s controversial.
But while they’re definitely easy to make, scandals and brain-draining stories wouldn’t be around if there wasn't an appetite from the consumer. And there’s clearly an insatiable appetite on the part of (at least some) consumers. Scandals require us to know very little about sports. We might not know how best to defeat a Cover 2, but we definitely understand bullying and racism. Like the back-story for a drama, these are controversies so easily found in life, just dressed up on a different stage.
But is this really what we want out of sports? Do we really want to spend our ever-dwindling free time subjecting ourselves to piping hot takes?
I’m trying not to come off as an old curmudgeon who longs for the good ole days that probably didn’t exist, but seriously, why did sports stop becoming fun? When did we get so caught up in our own bullshit that we forgot sports provide a great stage where truly breathtaking competition can take place?
I don’t watch sports because I want to be further informed of Florida employment law, or because I have a desire to see someone yell the virtues of the NFL locker room culture. I watch sports because they’re supposed to be fun. That’s a pretty rare commodity in this world. It sucks when it’s wasted.
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