I seem to have a love-hate relationship with sports. Having played baseball at the college level briefly, as well as playing semi-professionally and for various town teams for more than a decade afterwards, not to mention coaching college-age players as recently as two years ago and still serving as league president, I obviously have a strong connection to the sporting world.
One of the things I recall from my own playing days back at the University of Maine, was that most of the jocks that I ran across wouldn't have been classified as intellectuals. I’m not sure why that is and certainly, you’ll find athletes in all sports that are intelligent, articulate and who could serve as role models of thoughtfulness.
If anyone has ever read David Halberstam, Pat Jordan, or Michael Lewis, to name but a few writers who mine the field of sports, it becomes obvious that sports and intelligence aren’t even mutually exclusive. Having said that, however, all one has to do is spend a few minutes going up and down the radio dial, or spend time with any of the better-known television sports talk shows to wonder why so much of America’s discussion of sports is rooted in the mundane, monotonous, and dare I say, simple-minded and shallow end of the pool.
There are sports hosts for instance, like David Stein, who takes the events that comprise sports and weaves them into a celebration of life. Even the incredibly popular sports host, Jim Rome, books solid interviews that on most occasions, reveal that many athletes are capable of more than the typically clichéd answers to the usual line of sports questioning.
Yet, from the two local yokels on The Morning Jab, to other national sports feeds from ESPN Radio and other syndicated programming beamed at us, the questions and the topics rarely seem to vary. Even worse, the level of discourse and the lack of civility among regular callers is particularly gallling. Speaking of the local morning drive programming on WJAB, the two morning hosts recycle the same warmed-over drivel on either the Patriots, or the Red Sox, 365 days per year. Oh, yeah, they manage to mix in some local racing news once-in-awhile, but good lord, how many fucking times must we rehash this past Sunday’s Patriots’ loss to Indianapolis? And did I mention the callers? Well shoot me and put me out of my misery! I swear, these people are interchangeable with the crowd of knuckle-draggers who call in to support the war, the right-wing agenda of the Bush administration and any other topic that can be condensed into a five-second sound bite.
It doesn’t seem to matter what sport or team one follows, either. Despite their losing record, I’ve gotten hooked on this year’s version of the Boston Celtics. As a result, I’ve begun searching the blogosphere and other online sources of information on the Green and Gold and I swear, the commentary is the same old rehashed shit that one would find at baseball, football, or hockey fansites. As always, there are exceptions. Both Dave Zirin’s blog, as well as the excellent NBA site, True Hoop offer examples of witty, intelligent takes on the world of sports. In fact, Zirin’s site often puts sports into a political context that is sadly missing in almost all reporting and writing that might be classified as sports journalism.
Like any subject, the world of sports allows writers and other so-called journalists, an opportunity for innovation and something that rises above the trite and typical. Writing about sports and covering teams and athletes allows access to an entirely different audience than commenting on politics, or popular culture. I’m surprised that more writers and journalists don’t offer a more nuanced approach and maybe attempt a blending of the world of athletics, with politics and social commentary, more often.
I know I’d certainly appreciate some different perspectives and new approaches to the coverage of sports, as I can only take so many discussions about the same old players and teams. It seems to me that a few others might, also.