Sportz Is Hurting America

Over at the Mid-Majority, Kyle Whelliston (formerly of espn.com) has a great essay on the “Sportz” phenomenon:

Sports are great. Actual participation is awesome, but watching other people do sports can still be pretty good too. These days, people can watch sports anytime, anywhere and in whatever state of undress they choose. These are truly the days of miracles and wonders! All thanks to the Sports-Industrial Complex, which brought you mantertainment, lite beer and the Sports Bubble.

When sports became industrialized in the latter part of the 20th Century, the S.I.C. became the conduit between the viewer and the games, between you and your sports. That was the original idea, anyway. What happened instead was that consumer intelligence was insulted in spite of the action. Instead of bringing sports to the public in absentia, the delivery mechanism ended up sending something else entirely — non-analytical analysis, lifestyle features, reference comedy, “babes,” sports that aren’t sports, and a frat party that never ends. It’s all something I call “sportz.”

You probably know sportz-with-a-Z when you see it, because you feel it. It produces a visceral reaction that’s unmistakable. Every time a television commentator says something like “a walk’s as good as a hit” or “both sides of the football” or “upside,” it makes you angry and sick. It diminishes your mental capacity. A world full of cumulative points should never decrease something like your I.Q..

I really can’t do much more than point to this and say “Read the whole thing.” Kyle really nails the way that ESPN has become a tremendously frustrating collection of media properties. While I’m ok with some sportz– I enjoy PTI quite a bit, still, and generally like Mike and Mike– ESPN has steadily gotten louder and dumber over the last couple of decades. Save for occasional big event weeks, they hardly even show sporting events any more– idiot “analysis” shows make up the bulk of their programming now. They’re the Fox News of sports journalism– all opinion shows, masquerading as news.

Sadly, it’s really hard to do anything about it. As Kyle notes, many people who start out attempting to criticize sportz get sucked into the idiot vortex:

“Sports media criticism” is sportz about sportz. It’s as boring as anything else that’s two steps removed from a subject — it’s analysis of analysis. It’s a hall of mirrors. It makes as much sense as reviews of Amazon reviewers, or music criticism criticism, and only invites sports media criticism criticism criticism.

Sportz is contagious, and doubles like mitosis as it spreads its stupidity. There is nothing smart that you can say about anything stupid — especially something that’s designed to be stupid. Ignorance and anti-intelligence spread like disease, infesting every context in which they are allowed to exist. That’s as real a reality as the indisputable maxim that says big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.

The above analogy to political media still holds, and goes both ways. In much the same way that the sportz commentary Kyle talks about capture even those who would criticize it, the antics of Fox’s yapping heads drag the entire national political discourse into a sucking swamp of stupid. The degradation of political discourse parallels the degradation of sports media, and vice versa.

On the bright side, the re-awakening of the Mid-Majority is a positive sign. It means that college basketball season is drawing nigh, and promises quality coverage of small schools in the near future. It can’t come soon enough.

Comments

  1. #1 Allen
    November 3, 2009

    I find sports on TV one of the most boring things around, and this is from someone who lettered 10 times in high school, played club rugby in college, and raced motorcycles just after. It’s nearly impossible to out anywhere without being assaulted by some idiotic sports show on TV.

  2. #2 Anton P. Nym
    November 3, 2009

    So ESPN (which I don’t watch, not being a sports fan; I’d rather play the sport than watch and I don’t play much) is going the way of MTV and the History Channel; ditching the obstensible reason for its existance and instead airing lowest-common-denominator stuff in an attempt to grab more viewers.

    Oh well; we’re back to “500 channels and there’s nothing on” territory again.

    — Steve

  3. #3 NoAstronomer
    November 3, 2009

    Even worse … the pandering to the sportz live-broadcast media, which needs frequent regular commercial breaks, is killing the joy of being at the game.

    The only sport I watch these days are my daughters soccer games.

  4. #4 cisko
    November 3, 2009

    Thing is, though, the actual sports are pretty damn entertaining. The challenge is that the actual games float in a sea of sportz-infected waters.

    I wholly blame the push for a national championship in football on the sportz phenomena. I really think it’s driven by the ESPN mentality. I know I’m in a minority here, but I can’t see it any other way. You only care about a “National Champion” if you have a programming need to declare a ‘winner’. Otherwise, you get a lot of good bowl game matchups that you watch – or not – depending on your traditional preferences and what games look most interesting.

  5. #5 Eric Lund
    November 3, 2009

    I’m one of the people who don’t own a TV, and I voted thus in the beer commercial poll a few days ago. Between those commercials and the inane meta-commentary you’re describing in this post, you are making a strong case for the “kill your TV set” position: this is the sort of stuff I would have to put up with (along with the equally inane when not actually disinformative political commentary, sitcoms that aren’t funny, “reality” shows involving elaborately contrived situations, and bad movies that aren’t quite bad enough to be wonderful) if I watched TV. There are more pleasant ways for me to waste my time, thankyouverymuch.

  6. #6 D. C. Sessions
    November 3, 2009

    There is nothing smart that you can say about anything stupid — especially something that’s designed to be stupid. Ignorance and anti-intelligence spread like disease, infesting every context in which they are allowed to exist.

    That becomes self-referential — as does this comment.

  7. #7 katydid13
    November 3, 2009

    I know people who watch the Redskins with the sound off and play local radio coverage of the game because they find the national coverage so insipid. Although, I have to say that one of those guys can be an avid consumer of spotz for mindless relaxation.

    cisko ssshh about the National Championship, Congress might hear you. They keep threatening to hold hearings and intervene somehow. They don’t need any distractions. They are doing a fine job of ignoring important issues and procrastinating on their own. They don’t need any help.

  8. #8 Kate from Iowa
    November 3, 2009

    NoAstronomer says: Even worse … the pandering to the sportz live-broadcast media, which needs frequent regular commercial breaks, is killing the joy of being at the game.

    The only sport I watch these days are my daughters soccer games.

    I’ve heard that exact same thing from my little brother, who’s started going to the high school and college games here, rather than watching sports on television at all. Makes sense, if you think about it, no one’s going to try and sell you bud lite a the local high-school’s field if you’re an adult. There’s just so much less crap involved.

    Me…I’m out of luck. I used to quite enjoy boxing, but the last good holdout (that I had) of televised boxing was HBO…which thanks to thier “24/7″ series has become exactly what Whelliston is talking about, a sports soap opera for d00ds, has just ruined even the prospect of watching televised boxing for me.

    What the hell do I care about those guy’s personal lives for? I watch boxing to see boxing, not to find out that somebody’s baby’s mama needs a house!

  9. #9 Bob Hawkins
    November 3, 2009

    On-topic Sign of the Apocalypse: ESPN’s “Cold Hard Football Facts” segment, which consists entirely of speculation.

    And cisko, I agree about the college football championship. Who needs it? Not the big-time football factories who sell out 100,000-seat stadiums and play 8 home games a season. Not the non-football factories, it’s irrelevant to them. Hmmm. Who’s left?

  10. #10 Koray
    November 3, 2009

    If you want intelligent commentary, the nerdier sport, motorsports has quite a bit of it… except NASCAR & IRL. Everything else (i.e. Formula 1, MotoGP, World Superbikes, American Le Mans, Koni Challenge, Rolex Series, etc.)

  11. #11 Sherri
    November 3, 2009

    I remember the good old days in the 80s when ESPN actually used to show sports, including weird (to me) sports like Aussie Footy. I blame Olbermann and Patrick. Sportscenter with those guys was great; they were intelligent and snarky and liked sports. Unfortunately, the only thing ESPN got was the snark, and filled the air with “personalities” who were snarky but not intelligent.

    I don’t care that much about a college football national championship, but I hate the current system. The BCS system renders all but one bowl game meaningless. I used to enjoy watching the bowl games; you could root for an upset here and a dominating victory there and watch the polls go crazy naming a number one when it was all over (or more than one number one.) With a national championship structure, all the games leading up to the championship would be interesting. The BCS is the worst of the options.

  12. #12 Kaleberg
    November 3, 2009

    ESPN, like MTV or CNN before it, built a business on real stuff, actual sports, or music videos or news coverage in the case of MTV and CNN. There is still the 24/7 maw, so they have to add stuff. Then, they realize that they can take over multiple channels, so the maw is now 3/24/7 or 5/24/7. There is no way they can fill it with sports any more than MTV could have filled it with music or CNN filled it news.

    I gave up on cable a year ago, and I haven’t missed it. I think there was some kind of a phase change in the 90s, and it all got so attenuated over the last five or ten years that they could have a million channels with nothing on. The internet arrived just in time to provide music, videos and news. Maybe ESPN will grow a brain and let it provide sports, otherwise folks will just roll their own.

  13. #13 Tom
    November 4, 2009

    To paraphrase Jon Stewart: There were those who were worried that there would not be enough sports to fill a 24/7 sports network schedule. They were right.

    P.S. Google tells me that “sucking swamp of stupid” is a unique phrase on the internets. I like it.

  14. #14 featheredfrog
    November 4, 2009

    Amusingly, the weekly rebroadcast of Jean Shepherd on WBAI covers this as well, although in the context of packaging:

    http://flicklives.com/Mass_Back/shows/1965-02-15_new_improved_packaging.mp3

  15. #15 Q
    November 5, 2009

    I don’t like Sportz either, (though Politicz is worse, in my opinion, since it actually matters). But why isn’t a walk as good as a hit (if there’s nobody on base)?