Sunday, June 12, 2011

The 5 Major Sins of Sports Reporting

I am a person who reads and watches fair bit of sports coverage, and for obvious reasons I have been doing much more so lately. Here's my conclusion: the vast majority of sports journalists and broadcasters are catastrophically lazy. What else can explain the complete inability they exhibit to actually cover the sport, and not the peripheral activities that they, more more less, create? This drives me bonkers, because they ostensibly have one of the best jobs in the world (in terms of "how many people would trade places with you"), but have become so complacent that they no longer feel the need to actually put in effort on more than an occasional basis. Here's some news for you guys: If I only worked hard every 4th or 5th time I submitted something my ass would get fired. Welcome to the real world.

So without further ado, here are the 5 major sins of sports journalism:

1) Judging the content of the game based on the outcome
This is the lovely habit of analysing a game in hindsight, denigrating the losing team even though the game may have turned on a single play. In Game 1, Burrows' goal gave Vancouver a collective fangasm, followed by coverage that suggested the result was preordained. Boston scores and the coverage is reversed.
PAUL'S TAKE: "It's so much easier to talk about how smart I am when I can talk about my opinions after they come true"

2) Players Stepping Up vs. Players Making Mistakes
"Player X needs to make something happen out there"
"They never would have scored if Player Y doesn't do Action Z right there"
PAUL'S TAKE: How can a player force something to happen on the ice if every good thing must accompany a mistake by the other team? Are you saying that good players need to me more psychic? Is that what sports psychologists do... telekenesis?

3) The he-said-she-said bull that sports journalists love to foster at post game press conferences.
Hey kids, here's a word of advice: Get your quotes and then write your story. Not the other way around. Too many of these guys spend the game cramming back buffet fare while the game is on, then process that into the steaming turd they call an article during the third period. All that's left is to sprinkle it with some quotes you've garnered through leading questions and you're done. But you know what? A pile of turd with sprinkles on it is still a pile of turd!
PAUL'S TAKE: I don't care about your deadlines. Have some self-respect.

4) Covering the periphery instead of the game
Obviously the best example of this at the moment is the Burrows bite from Game 1*. Yeah, not good for the game. Obviously I'm a homer, but I still don't like to see it. Still, it doesn't need 24-hour news coverage right? Why don't you just watch the game and then talk about that? Maybe some insightful commentary to help me out like this article here? (sorry, requires an ESPN Insider membership. If you don't have that you have to eat turd)
PAUL'S TAKE: "Watching game tape in order to come up with something interesting is hard. Instead I'll write an article I can pound out in 40 minutes and call it a night. And by the way, I'm dead inside. Seriously... I wanted to write plays, but that doesn't pay very well. So instead I write about a throwaway comment from a goalie and hope that I can goad someone else into keeping this train going to prevent me from doing any real work."

5) Talking about stats instead of the sport
Guess what, the internet's been invented. So you don't need to put up a graphic every time someone's on the screen about how many points they've scored since whenever compared to how many they scored before that. If I can look the info up for myself you shouldn't be able to count it as journalism. You want to do something for me? Show me what that player is doing differently now versus then so that I can watch for it during the game and enjoy the experience on a deeper level.
PAUL'S TAKE: You know why people don't do this? Because there's nothing different. Sports have streaks in them, it just happens. Pucks hit posts, balls rim and out, and footballs go off fingertips. But everyone always has to say something even if there's nothing to say. Seriously: I think they shut the oxygen off in the booth whenever the colour guy isn't talking. It's the only explanation for why he's always desperate to jam in some inane comment no matter how little it makes sense. Come to think of it, that would explain why so many colour men sound like they have brain damage...

I have little hope that things are going to get better during this Stanley Cup playoffs, but I will at least mention that the Puck Daddy bloggers on Yahoo! are doing a better job than most, although they do fall into the above traps from time to time (they also didn't seem to know JFA about the Western Conference at the start of the playoffs, but have clearly been watching the games since then).
One more comment I'd throw out there is that Bill Simmons is trying to fix a lot of the problems I mention above with, so if you share my frustrations you should maybe check that out too.

*A note on the Burrows thing: For those of you who think Burrows should have been suspended, I counter with: What about this hit, or this one, or even this one which isn't from the playoffs but is exceptionally reprehensible (you will never convince me it wasn't intentional). None of those hits received suspensions, so unless you would rather have someone traveling at 20km/hr ram your head unprotected into the boards than someone nibble on your finger through thick leather, well, give your head a shake. You're caring about the wrong problems. And no, I wasn't ok with the Rome hit on Horton, but that got (ridiculously) the longest suspension in the history of the Stanley Cup Final so it wasn't included.


  1. If Horton gets physically taken out of the game b/c of a cheap hit leading to a serious injury, it's only fair to take out the player that hit him, as well. If it were in the normal course of the game, I'd say okay, that's just part of the game, players should be prepared for injuries. It was a late hit, though, and nobody expects to be taken off guard like that because they expect other players to actually obey the rules.

    Curious to see what you think of the Canucks players taking all those dives in the last game, Burrows in particular. I thought I was watching a European soccer match. They got in quite a few hits like the ones you were complaining about, as well, without suspensions or even penalties in most cases. Of course, this playstyle was completely validated by giving them a win against the Bruins, who were focusing on shots instead of hits and rightly played like crap.

  2. I see a sports column with your name written all over it in your future...

  3. I completely disagree with the eye for an eye thing. Players should be punished based on the degree of infraction, not injury. Otherwise, what are they taught? If they can get away with it, there's no punishment. The rules should be proactive, not reactive, in order to prevent injury.