Picking and Choosing the Right Outlet: Becoming an Educated Fan
Stories can be created through happy or sad moments. They can be created in a historical event or in the lull of an off season. Day or night, stories can and always will be created for us to either shiver in our socks or cry of joy. But one critical and constant piece of stories will always exist, the "media". I put it in quotations because of the ever evolving definition of what media seems to be. And for another, I am absolutely critical of some forms of media for making these stories out of nothing to simply raise their bottom line.
Don't get me wrong. True sports journalism still exists and while there is an unfortunate consensus at times on social media that a certain piece is absolute rubbish, there still exists a very strong base of positive media outlets which report proper educational stories. And as I am about to vilify some specific trends and pieces, it is not for the sake of complaining but to direct you, the reader, to educational and genuinely valuable pieces online, on TV, or in the papers.
So let's talk sports sucker traps. And with that said, let's start with the biggest one of them all; Bleacher Report.
For all of you that are not aware of the platform, think about it as a cross of TMZ and Buzzfeed for sports; presenting gossip and vague rankings. Here's the kicker (yes, puns are still cool). BR will make you think you're reading valuable content by displaying matrices and scales with which they rank or analyze players, teams, games, etc. The analytics are so vague that my grade 12 English teacher would have utterly covered the whole paper in red marker. As a very current example, take a look at the early NBA power rankings page on the 76ers. Sure, they haven't won a single game yet but let's look at BR's early "analytical" take on their performance*.
We learn two things. 1) They have three players who can play basketball. (One of them being TJ McConnell?? How??) 2) Joel Embiid can score in limited minutes and has a high potential. Along with their record, this is apparently what places them in the 30th spot. If they truly wanted to make a case for it, why not include the fact that they can't shoot over 41.7% as a team, sit last in the league in offensive rebounds (which lead to second chance opportunities), or that they have blown two large leads against the Magic and Thunder? These are specific facts and examples that should educate the reader about their decision making; not an over analysis of "The Process". For the sake of proper reporting, I could give you reasons as to why the Wizards should actually be last in the rankings, but that's a story for another day.
While that's one example, the website is littered with others, including some of my favourites like "The Worst Head Coach in Every NFL Team's History" and a recent one I chuckled at, "Why your NHL team won't win the 2016-17 Stanley Cup". Anyone who knows an inkling about the respective sports will tell you that it is pure fluff.
And while you can find similar themes of pure "clickbait" from reporters such as Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd, or even tandems like Dean Blundell & Co., there is still hope for sports enthusiasts who want relevant and impacting journalism. Whether you look at innovative outlets like The Players' Tribune where players can truly express their true, raw feelings regarding moments in their careers or Tim and Sid where smart, educational, while also emotional conversations are had with reputable figures in the sport industry. And as a reader, you should strive to read, watch, and listen to these media outlets that show some kind of critical analysis (e.g. SBNation.com)
It sounds ridiculous, sure. Because at the end of the day, all we want to do is escape from the real world by watching heated debates on the fate of Tony Romo or even just update ourselves on power rankings for the sake of being "informed". But step back and rethink that for a second. Are you truly informed or are you filling your brain with fluff? Just for the sake of the argument, think about the most current topic in the NBA, Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant. It has been nearly four months since the signing and yet still the media are on both players for these superlatives that educate no one about anything. As a reader, in what way to you feel more fulfilled? If anything, the basketball between the two is more intense but media outlets should not be nit picking every single personal aspect of the game. The athletes, management, and intelligent outlets are all tired of it, and so should you.
So ask yourself. From what you've read or listened to today, are you more knowledgeable about the sport, moment, stat, or player or have you simply filled your brain with useless information? If you answered yes to the latter, then it's maybe time to change your patterns. Otherwise, the only conversations we will ever have as sports fans will focus on player comparisons and which team is better based on our biases.
It is our duty to be informed, and that starts with where we get our information from.