A quick glance at the sports headlines these days will reveal a number of sordid details about an athlete’s personal life, his or her drug habits, sexual proclivities and the status of the contract negotiation.
But that’s just a quick glance, right? Sure, we know the story — performance-enhancing drugs, injuries, off-field escapades in bedrooms and bars — but surely there is more out there, right?
An in-depth look at the sports headlines conducted by “A Sporting View” shows that commentary and reporting in sports journalism now overwhelmingly focuses on off-field, non-game reporting. The morning of this writing, I took a survey of the top 100 stories as aggregated by “Flipboard,” the popular iPad and iPhone app that serves news according to your preferences in a stylish, magazine-like format (“A Sporting View” is represented there, as well ... just saying). Because I am not privy to the metrics, I do not know how they weigh stories, so this survey can only be described as non-scientific.
Be that as it may, it took me 84 flips to get to a story that actually dealt with game-scenario issues. In this case, the first game-related story on Flipboard was a well-pitched game by Jon Lester of the Red Sox versus the Giants. Three other baseball stories followed that dealt with on-field issues, and that was it.
The rest were either analysis (i.e. “who should be the next Patriots’ backup quarterback”) or reports relating to murder, drug use, suspensions and legal matters.
I had the chance last year to meet Buck Williams during a function at the University of Maryland. Williams was a real force for the Terrapins, and later, as a first-round draft pick, at power forward for the then-New Jersey Nets. I never got to see him play as a kid. The Nets weren’t televised on broadcast TV or basic cable. But every morning, I would check the box scores of the Nets game just to see if he got 10 rebounds or more the previous night. Almost always, his line read something like 20 points, 12 rebounds, six assists. It was uncanny.
On the nights he didn’t score like that, I’d check the opposing roster and learn who the better defenders of the league were.
Yeah, I get that it’s more titillating (no pun) to discuss the latest adulterous affair, nightclub shooting and mind-bending legal case. I can see why a murder case involving a pro athlete would garner more attention than a story about the three catches he made in the game, but it’s wearing on me. Just 4 percent of the stories on my sports aggregate dealt with game-related issues ... things like, who did what during an actual game.
The sports pages were designed to provide a respite from the “hard news” of the day during the golden age of newspapers. I think it’s time to respect that successful model and bring it back.
A sports page consisting of 99-and-a-half stories about off-field antics just won’t do.
Vasto is a veteran sportswriter who lives in Kansas City.