Tuesday Lunch: Twitter and the 24-hour News Cycle–How Media affects our Sports Viewing

Posted: July 5, 2011 in baseball, basketball, college football, english premier league, football, mlb, nba, ncaafb, nfl, professional sports, soccer, sports
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By Dylan Davis

 

I was surfing the worldwide interwebs the other day when I came across this article by Joe Posnanski. In it, Posnanski lays out 14 baseball stats that mean nothing in the larger scheme of things, but are interesting nuggets of information when laid out by themselves. For example, did you know that Aubrey Huff has more career doubles than Mickey Mantle does? That’s not to say that Aubrey Huff is a better player than Mick is, (he certainly is not) but his hitting style just happens to produce more doubles than Mantle. That was interesting, but the stat that caught my eye for a number of reasons had to do with Johnny Damon.

 

Damon has amassed 2,662 hits over his 17-year career, while Ted Williams only piled up 2,654. Now, Williams has batted over 1,500 fewer times than Damon over his career (he was sent off to war twice and didn’t have Damon’s incredible streak of 16 straight seasons with 140 games played) and by almost any other stat (batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, etc…) Williams is far superior baseball player. While we all know that Williams is one of the greatest pure hitters to ever grace a baseball diamond, my thoughts immediately shifted to Damon’s career. As I quickly perused Damon’s career stats (2,662 hits, 224 HR’s, 1,088 RBI, and almost 400 steals) I quickly came to the uneducated opinion that Johnny Damon is a Hall of Famer. Now, that sentence may look ridiculous because, let’s be honest, Damon is more well known for looking like Jesus on the 2004 Red Sox than he is for his incredible baseball career

 

As I thought about it some more, I came to realize that the reason why it seemed so preposterous for Damon to be a Hall of Famer is because I have never heard a single baseball pundit even mention the possibility of Damon in the Hall of Fame. Sure, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Albert Pujols, and Alex Rodriguez (minus the steroid allegations and centaur pictures) all have gaudier numbers than Damon, but that doesn’t exclude Damon from being a Hall of Famer himself. Like it or not, a majority of the day-to-day sports information that we get is twisted in some way by the media. Sure, you can look at box scores until you’re blue in the face if you want 100% unbiased information, but most people want to go deeper than that. Looking at purely stats led me to believe that Johnny Damon is a potential Hall of Famer, but a player’s legacy is more shaped by the media nowadays than ever before. In fact, let’s look at the ways media shapes the way we view sports today.

What have you done for me lately? One of the biggest changes that has come about since the advent of the 24-hour news cycle is the propensity to change our views about teams and players almost daily. A batter had 4 home runs last night? He’s an All-Star! The same guy struck out 3 times the next day? Send him down to AAA. While this may seem like an extreme viewing of the situation, look at sports most polarizing figure for a better example: LeBron James. Before he took his talents to South Beach or did this, the narrative on LeBron’s career had already begun to shift in a negative direction. When the Cavs were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals, James shot 35% and only scored 88 points on 90 shots in the series. After the demolition, LeBron was universally lauded for carrying such a crappy team to the brink of a championship.

 

Two years later, LeBron led a similar group of teammates to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Orlando Magic. The Cavs were able to win two games in the series while LeBron posted an inhuman 38 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists average for the series. He hit a memorable buzzer beater in game two and should have been praised even more for his performance than he was in 2007. There’s only one problem: He was criticized. In the two years between the performances, the ideals about LeBron as a player had changed from him being a young player carrying a bad team to someone that needs to win NOW. What had changed? The Cavs had added a bunch of mediocre-to-bad players. LeBron had continued to improve as an athlete and as a player. Other than that? Not too much.

 

The problem is that many basketball writers and talking heads were convinced that LeBron should be able to win now; this in turn changed the minds of legions of fans (including yours truly) across the nation. From that point on LeBron’s career didn’t matter one iota until he won a championship. All the while, people seem to have forgotten that Jordan didn’t win a title until he had been in the league for seven years.

 

This is not limited to James; Eric Gagne broke the consecutive saves record for the Dodgers in 2003 and was released before the 2006 season for injuries and underperformance. Jim Tressel won the 2003 national championship as coach of Ohio State football but has been called a big game choker ever since 2006. No athlete or coach is ever safe from ridicule or obscurity, and that’s mostly thanks to the medias focus on the “now athlete.” When you’re up and coming or the best at that exact second, everyone loves you. The second you slip off or don’t fulfill expectations, you become yesterday’s news.

 

Perception IS reality. Did you know that Michael Jordan was a pathological competitor who did anything it took to win? You probably did, that’s why he is so loved and praised by most as the greatest basketball player ever. But did you also know that for the first five years of his career Jordan routinely destroyed his teammates confidence and belittled those not as good as him (which means everyone)? When recounting MJ’s legacy, most people leave out the part about him being a bad teammate because that’s not what was reported at the time. Most people have a view of Jordan being ultra-competitive and doing everything he could to win. You know who else is like that and has very similar stats in a much more competitive era? Kobe Bryant. If you look at both of their careers in a vacuum, you can very easily make the argument that Kobe will end up having a better career than MJ (especially if Kobe wins one or two more titles), but most people will never admit that Michael isn’t the best. The reason for this is very simple: most people don’t like Kobe Bryant.

 

It’s easy to look at Kobe and see a whiny, over-competitive jerk that doesn’t care about his teammates. He isn’t a likeable person and he allegedly sexually assaulted a woman in Colorado. If you add all of that into the mix, it’s easy to see why Jordan is streets ahead of Kobe in most peoples eyes. How have both personas been cultivated? When Jordan was playing, there wasn’t Twitter or new stories every five minutes about all aspects of his life. Fans only saw the Jordan on the court, not the one who destroyed teammates in practice. Nowadays an army of bloggers and tweeters scrutinizes everything Kobe says and does and he can’t complain about anything without being skewered by everyone. Should any of that affect how we view Kobe as a basketball player? Of course not, but it invariably creeps into our assessments whether we want it to our now. Just think, if Jordan and Kobe had switched careers we may be saying that MJ could have been better than Kobe if he was just a nicer guy.

 

Stats matter too much. Player A: 5 goals in 50 appearances as a midfielder. Player B: 13 goals in 32 appearances a midfielder. Both of these players play in the top leagues in Europe. Most people looking at those two stats would choose Player B every time, as I’m sure you did (unless you realized it was a trick and I’m trying to make a point.) The first player is Barcelona’s Xavi and the second player is Frank Lampard of Chelsea. Now, Frank Lampard is an excellent midfielder and is a very solid player for both Chelsea and England, but Xavi is one of the four or five best players in the world and probably the best midfielder. The way he plays is not conducive to scoring buckets of goals, but he is effective nonetheless.

 

Many players across all sports are lumped into groups depending on the stats that they produce. Reaching certain stat plateaus, such as 3,000 hits or 1,500 rushing yards, mean too much and more emphasis should be placed on every aspect of a player’s game. It’s easy to look at a player such as the Steelers’ Aaron Smith and point to his low sack totals as a reason why he’s not a top-flight defensive end. The fact that many of you may be Googling Aaron Smith proves my point. Smith is a defensive end that doesn’t get to the quarterback very often, but he takes up two or three blockers on every play so his teammates can make the highlight real plays and get the stats. When Smith went down with injuries the past few years, the Steelers defense went in the toilet (comparatively) until he returned. We as fans need to look deeper than the quick stats that we are fed on SportsCenter or online and actually view players and teams as a whole. Just because we are told Player X isn’t good because he doesn’t rush for 1,500 yards or score 20 points per game, doesn’t mean we have to believe it.

 

All of this brings me back to Johnny Damon. Back in 2004 Damon was a national sensation as his amazing beard/hair combination made him a fan favorite on the darling Red Sox. After that, Damon kept putting up pretty much the same stats but wasn’t viewed as the player he once was because he didn’t receive the same media coverage. In other words, he hadn’t done enough for us recently. And while he may not have the greatest stats of any player playing right now, his all-around play and locker room attitude makes him infinitely more valuable than and VORP or XFIP can ever express (I have no idea what those stats mean, but I think they’re real). With that being said, next time you sit down to watch a sporting event, try to appreciate the players for what you see, not what you heard about them on Twitter or by the newest stat that was created. It may be impossible, but you’ll be amazed how much more you can enjoy sports.

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Comments
  1. Geoff1068 says:

    even with twitter, i would like mj better than kobe

  2. […] Dylan: Jamaal, we’ve been through a lot. Evan always thought you had the most potential in writing, and I was amazed how easily you could churn out 1,500 coherent words in a story. […]

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