On Thursday, an article was posted online that once again fired up the controversy that won’t go away. Matt Baker, a writer for the Tampa Bay Times, wrote an essay on his experiences covering the case surrounding now former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and an alleged sexual assault. The article is well-written (the Times is one of the best papers in the country, so it’s not a surprise their writers are talented), if not a tad self-serving. It also reexamined the entire case, though this time from his perspective of the individual covering it. Baker has expensive firsthand knowledge, as it was him that got the ball rolling in the spring of 2013.
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Now, before I go any further, let me just say that I am not going to go into the details or discuss whether or not I believe Jameis committed that crime. First off, my opinion doesn’t matter … second, it doesn’t do anything to continue the same exact argument without trying to make progress … and third, everyone has his or her own opinion decided, and nothing I write will change that. Anyone who says he did it is labeled as “not giving him a fair shake,” and anyone who defends him must “support rape,” so it’s time to focus on what we can learn from this incident.
The ugly side of “team pride”
Baker’s words this past week did bring up a black cloud of sports that everyone who is fan of a certain team, whether it be college or professional, is guilty of. Fanaticism toward your favorite school or organization can have an ugly side, and it comes when people do things like threaten someone for just doing his or her job. Anyone who thinks Baker “had it out” for Winston or FSU is nuts. His job is to be the Seminoles’ beat writer, and he has no ties to Florida, Miami, Clemson or any rival school. He did his job. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s what allows him to support his family.
Not just in this case, but anytime someone doesn’t like the way his or her school or team is covered, the knee-jerk reaction is to claim the program is “being picked on,” or that someone has an agenda. Squash that. I hate the Florida Gators and the University of Florida … HATE. Yet I was one of the first people with a microphone in Tim Tebow’s mug after his second national title in three years, asking if he was part of a dynasty. It made me sick, but it was my job to cover that game. I don’t write that to pat myself on the back, but to show that sometimes you have to swallow your pride and do what is best.
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Penn State fans that came down on every media outlet that covered the horrific actions of Jerry Sandusky. They spit their venom at any media member they could find … instead of swallowing their pride, forgetting the football games and being mad at the people they should have been uspet with: Sandusky, Joe Paterno and everyone else who put the school in a compromised position in the eye of a media maelstrom.
Any fan that threatens physical harm toward a writer or fan of another team needs help, and is an embarrassment to their squad.
What has become of “sports journalism”
It isn’t necessarily Baker’s fault, but the fact that a sportswriter was covering this story shows what the profession has becomes. I have no delusions that bad things don’t happen in sports (and it’s not just a current problem of domestic violence, substance abuse and so on … those things have been around as long as the games themselves). What I personally, as a sports journalist, have a problem with is what the field has become.
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This profession is now a microcosm of our society as a whole. We are pessimistic and have the attention span that checks out before you can even say “attention” or “span.” It’s the reason why Twitter and TMZ are two of the main sources news outlets use these days. Our new favorite words are “yeah, but …” and we can never enjoy someone else’s success. The current state of sports journalism is even worse than the days when writers would go out and get drunk with the athletes, thus preventing them from breaking stories, and instead elevating athletes to Godlike figures.
I don’t know Baker personally, so I don’t want to make assumptions about him. But I know from personal experience that many sports personalities and journalists, quite frankly, hate sports. Some view it as a stepping-stone to getting into the newsroom or the entertainment field. Others look down upon the subject, beneath either their upbringing or their education. There are some who genuinely enjoy the field, but the numbers are minimal.
Positive stories get buried. You wont hear about the New York Giants giving a gift bag of items to a fan with cerebral palsy, because that doesn’t get the viewership as much as the Panthers cutting Greg Hardy. The top shows on the Worldwide Leader are debate shows. New sports journalism isn’t covering the story as much as it is who can make the more sarcastic wisecrack while yelling the loudest. It’s not quality journalism; it’s bringing down as many people or teams as possible in order to pad the resume.
The problems within the sports community most assuredly need to be covered, and should never be swept under the rug. However, it needs to be done by people who have the best interest of the game and doing the right thing in mind, not just getting to the next market or the next position. Sometimes, overreaching to benefit yourself leaves too many corpses in your path.