Stop acting as PR agents for the sports leagues
The mainstream sports media continues to avoid any serious examination of important social, cultural and economic issues in SportsWorld.
Any reporting on sports policy issues is typically done at a very superficial level. At best, reporters identify the symptoms and then move on to lighter fare. And it’s typically not the sports reporters’ fault: they are at the mercy of their bosses.
There are exceptions for sure, but for the most part, sports media organizations, and their reporters, simply don’t do in-depth research regarding why these issues exist and what can be done to fix them. There’s no systemic investigation of root causes and no analysis of the sports models leading to the problems.
The reason is simple enough: there is a strong symbiosis between the mass media and sports organizations. That symbiosis is cemented by a shared quest for profit-at-all-costs (PAAC). In effect, sports media organizations are partners with the leagues and individual franchises they “cover.” As such, sports reporters serve – many reluctantly, in order to keep their jobs – in the role of PR agents for the sports leagues and teams on their beat. When that happens, the interests of other important sports stakeholders, like athletes and fans, are at best ignored and at worst deemed irrelevant.
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There certainly isn’t a lack of sports issues to examine. Consider just a few:
1) brain trauma at the high school and youth levels, particularly in football, where games and practices are often conducted without any medical personnel present;
2) the emphasis on elite athletics and spectator sports while completely ignoring “sports for all” initiatives for athletes of all ages;
3) the serious decline in physical education and intramural sports programs in K-12 education during a childhood obesity epidemic, and as a growing mound of research reveals fit kids perform better academically;
4) the physical, mental and emotional harm that occurs when kids are pushed to specialize in a single sport at an early age;
5) the widening gap in opportunities and funding between female and male sports;
6) taxpayer and consumer rip-offs in the subsidized construction and operation of stadiums, arenas and ballparks, while simultaneously local public recreational athletic facilities are crumbling or, in some cases, non-existent;
7) the over-commercialization and professionalization of youth and high school sports;
8) the win-at-all-costs (WAAC) mentality of too many adults (coaches and parents) in youth sports; and
9) the societal acceptance of tyrannical youth and high school coaches when classroom teachers are fired for similar abusive behaviour.
Unfortunately, executives at sports media organizations view sporting events at the professional and college levels (and increasingly at the high school level – and sadly, even the little league level) as simply vehicles for selling advertising and not activities deserving true journalistic oversight.
From a journalism ethics perspective, the sports media has the social responsibility to provide more than game stories, coach firings, player trades, and the latest injury news. All of us who love sport and want to see it more consistently at its best have to do a better job of holding the sports media’s feet to the fire when it comes to fulfilling their journalistic responsibility to cover sports policy issues in a serious manner and hold sports power brokers accountable.
Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (leagueoffans.org), a sports reform project. He is the author of three books on sports issues: How We Can Save Sports; Ego vs. Soul in Sports; The Sports Reformers; and a children’s sports book titled Sara’s Big Challenge.
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