Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Vecsey: An act of sportsmanship

Article here about sportsmanship. It involves two players helping an injured opponent in a softball game between Western Oregon and Central Washington.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Roger Clemens Affair: Sports journalism, blogs, and the end of icons

Blogs have completely changed the nature of sports coverage. Pressured to compete against bloggers, journalists are now expected to do more than simply write a game story, they must report what they see. That might seem like an obvious journalistic precept. But covering a team is complicated. You actually have to face the people you're writing about, and when you're ridiculing them, it is not so easy to face them the next day in the locker room. But the world has changed. It is the TMZ'ing of America. And maybe sports journalism--once considered journalism's toy department--will be better because of it.

Back in the 1990s, the pre-blog era, the biggest story in sports--steroid use in baseball--was completely ignored by beat writers who were observing players getting bigger, and breaking all sorts of hitting records. They missed the story. Total whiff.

I doubt that would happen today because of the increased scrutiny in the blogging community who are dissecting sports and sports journalism.

Earlier this month there was a post--Ricky Reilly, Billy Simmons, And The Follies Of Privileged Sportswriting--on Deadspin, a popular sports blog. The editorial is well-worth a read. Although it is profane, it does a beautiful job of showing the importance of sports blogs, and the perils of "the inherent catch-22 of a sportswriter's job lies in access. You can't brutally criticize athletes and expect them to give you any access." Perhaps journalists need to do a better job of reporting athletics, and bloggers need to do a better job of fact-checking their stories.

Some reporters fear blogs. But competition has always made newspapers better. Journalists used to lament the death of two newspaper towns because there wasn't enough competition. Now reporters have hundreds, if not thousands, of competitors. Heck, there is at least one blog dedicated to covering steroids. It is an important issue, maybe the issue, in modern sports but newspapers can't cover it all the time.

The increased scrutiny has its price. Quick to judge, perspective can be lost. With the New York Daily News' revelation today that Roger Clemens allegedly had an affair "with country star Mindy McCready, a romance that began when McCready was a 15-year-old aspiring singer performing in a karaoke bar and Clemens was a 28-year-old Red Sox ace and married father of two." The story made me realize how sports icons are no longer untouchable. And that is not such a bad thing. It is extremely rare for an athlete to transcend sports, and to hold up all sports stars as heroes is naive. Clemens is a baseball legend, but he chose to sit before Congress proclaiming inaccuracies in the Mitchell Report. Ten years ago he might have gotten away with it. But this is a different era. Clemens, 45, didn't quite change with the times. He thought being a super-star athlete would let him escape scrutiny. But newspapers can't afford to sit by anymore. And they aren't. You can thank the bloggers.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Olympic flame, boycotts, and the art of propaganda

Hillary Clinton is calling for a boycott of the opening ceremonies in the upcoming Olympics. China's human rights record is pathetic, and its Tibet and Darfur policies are abhorrent, but sitting out the opening ceremonies is the wrong way to get attention. Olympic boycotts have never worked. Plus, highlighting the games on the presidential campaign trail gives the games more prestige than they deserve. First, the United States is in the middle of a disastrous war and looming recession. Second, while the Olympics might seem like a big deal to people over forty, their credibility has been eroded by bribery scandals, corruption, and steroids. The Olympics once symbolized something grand, but Frank Deford is dead-on when he describes them as "yesterday's party."

But let's imagine that the Olympics are not on the wane. Is a boycott even a smart strategy?

There is a grand tradition of governments using the Olympics for propaganda, and in every case I can remember, the simple symbolic act of an athlete, not a government, has ruined it for them. President Carter's boycotting of the Moscow Olympics had no impact on the Soviet Union, it simply destroyed the dreams of many American athletes. Not showing up never works. Athletes create lasting symbols, more so than bureaucrats and totalitarian states. One of the lasting images of the Civil Rights struggle was Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fist on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics. In the last couple weeks, people have brought attention--and shame--to China through torch relay protests; this essentially grass-roots movement has drawn the world's attention to human rights abuses. That is good. But when it comes to the actual Olympics--spectators watching throughout the world--the United States needs to participate, and even join in the opening ceremonies. (Perhaps, the athletes could walk into the stadium heads down...)

What do we remember of Hitler's Olympic games, the 1936 Olympiad in Berlin? Hitler was using the games to promote his ideology, and Joseph Goebbels developed the torch relay as a cynical way to show the world the new, daunting Germany. The world didn't boycott the games, and history would have been no different if we had. The United Press' coverage of the opening ceremonies highlighted how the U.S. athletes refused to dip the stars and stripes for Hitler. They were "weakly applauded," but the gesture made its symbolic mark. And there is the immortal image that people took away from the Berlin Olympics. The image? Jesse Owens' class, grace, beauty, and greatness in the face of tyranny.