Sports Journalism and Perspective

 Dwil’s already addressed Bob Costas’ appearance on Mike and Mike Tuesday morning, but there was an additional piece of that appearance that I wanted to address. Costas attempted to bring, as Dwil referred to in his post, historical perspective and gravitas to the conversation. But, in attempting to do so he made a staggeringly misguided historical analogy. And, in doing so, he unwittingly put on display so much of what is wrong in sports commentary – a combination of self-righteous moralizing and an embarrassingly myopic and, frankly, insulting view of history.

Here’s the set-up:

Rob Parker was subbing in for Golic this morning and is, by the way, unusual among sports scribes as a fan of Bonds (he’s also one of very few African American journalists with a Hall of Fame vote).

Parker had made the point earlier in the morning that no fan has walked away from the game because of steroids and, therefore, the fans have spoken about the steroid era – they don’t care. In fact, Parker pointed out, we’ve seen attendance records in baseball over the past few years. So, when it comes to the steroids era, fans have, in effect, voted with their feet. While Greenberg disagreed with the claim that fans don’t care about steroids, he did agree with Parker that fans are not turning away from the game because of them. In fact, Greenie noted, steroids are just another topic of conversation for fans, a point of interest, now part of the larger discussion about baseball, likely only generating more interest in and passion about the sport.

When Costas phoned in later in the morning, and expressed his feeling that the record had now been diminished, Parker again argued that the fact that baseball has enjoyed record attendance the past few years indicates that the fans don’t ultimately care about steroids. The implication – those who are down on Bonds (and the era in which he played) are making way too much out of PEDs and should, as he said earlier in the morning “get over it.”

Costas strongly challenged the premise of Parker’s claim with the following history lesson:

 After World War II, baseball had a tremendous surge in attendance. Baseball was essentially segregated then. A few teams had a few Black players but no one in their right mind would say, ‘well, baseball remained popular so we don’t have to move with greater speed toward justice when it comes to integration of the game.’ I loved baseball in the fifties and sixties growing up; that doesn’t mean that Curt Flood and Marvin Miller weren’t on the side of justice and didn’t have principle on their side because something in the game needed to be corrected and I was able to separate those two things. Baseball was flawed and it was unjust and it needed to be reformed in terms of players rights, but at the same time I loved the game.

Maybe you’re thinking – what’s so unreasonable about that? After all, just because the fans like something, doesn’t automatically make it OK. And, on the surface, I agree – I’m not one to argue that the customer (or the crowd) is always right.

But, think a little bit more about this statement and it takes on an unreal quality. Is Costas really saying that steroid use is the equivalent of the world historic injustice of racism, segregation, and Jim Crow enforced by violence and terror, and manifest in baseball’s color line and its too-slow dismantling? Steroid use and Jim Crow?! In the same breath?! Look, I know Costas would react with horror to such a proposition. But, that his sense of moral outrage about steroid use could so overwhelm his judgment that it did not occur to him  – just once during his rant – to acknowledge the fundamental incongruity between use of steroids and baseball’s color line is, in my view, an indictment of the lack of moral compass of much the mainstream of sports journalism and its extraordinary self-absorption. If fans don’t care about steroids, does that really say the same thing about them and their moral sense as fans being indifferent to Jim Crow? Only in the highly insular, painfully over simplified and frankly childish view of too much of sports journalism could such a statement slip through, disguised as gravitas, rather than the misguided historical comparison it is.

Look, I have no problem with villains and heroes in sports on the field. That sports competition is about good guys and bad guys for many people, when it comes to the competition itself – that’s part of what’s fun about rooting for and against teams and players. I am a Yankee fan – and the Yankees are probably the most hated team in American sports. That’s fine – I understand why that is and it’s part of what’s fun, actually, about being a Yankee fan. But, when you take that two-dimensional, black hat vs. white hat world view off the field – when you actually, in short, purport to make serious judgments about character and morality and society that are based on simplistic views of reality – well,  I can’t abide that. If Dodgers fans hate the Giants’ best player – great. If Red Sox fans hate the Yankees’ best players – that’s part of the game. If Michigan fans hate the Buckeyes – I am good with all that. Three of my biggest rooting interests – the Yankees, Michigan football and UNC basketball –  are arguably part of the three biggest rivalries in North American sports. Bring on the hatred between the lines, I say. But, once you start to believe your own press – as the sports media do – that they aren’t just the purveyors of what happens on the field, but the arbiters of character and morality and decency and (God help us) justice off of it – well, then we’ve got a problem. Because, in far too many cases, theses are folks who’s understanding of the world in which we live is arrested at an adolescent stage. That’s fine for rooting for your team. It’s not fine for serious analysis of the weightier issues of sports as a reflection of larger social realities.
Compare Costas’ comments to Peter Gammons, who came on a short time later and when asked about Bonds had this to say:

I don’t get terribly wrapped up in all the morals of this because I think it’s the era of whatever it takes, whether it’s a slandering a politician after he wins a couple of primaries…or a retail chain wiping out every family business in the country. It’s part of sports, it’s part of life. Barry Bonds is the greatest homerun hitter of his era as Ruth was of his and as Aaron was of his.

See, now that’s perspective.  Costas should dial back some of his self-righteous outrage until he gets a little more of it.

31 Responses to “Sports Journalism and Perspective”

  1. jweil, as usual, great article:

    Let me condemn and possibly defend Costas at the same time here. Yes the analogy is an absolutely ridiculous one. What i think Costas may have been doing, albeit recklessly, was use an extreme example to make his point I think his point boils down to “popularity shouldn’t trump justice”. And to bring it home he used a horrible example. Illustrative, but horrible.

    If I come off as a bit of an apologist it is probably because I have also been guilty of using an extreme examples hoping to drive home a point only to find it “lost in the sauce”. After learning my lesson I have packed away all of my Jesus and Hitler analogies for good!!!

  2. Charles

    You’re right – he was using an extreme example to make the point. What I think is noteworthy, though, is that he really didn’t seem to be aware that he was making an extreme example. It seems that “injustice” – whether steroids use, or Jim Crow – is interchangeable. This is part of the cheapening of outrage (the opposite of Bill Bennett’s nonsense in “The Death of Outrage” that is a staple of contemporary discourse on many fronts.

  3. Point well taken.

  4. Bob Costas is completely oblivious to the fact that Bob Costas could be wrong on any level. Last year I had the privilege of watching him rail Chad Johnson for his shameless self promotion, of course Costas was doing this on his show COSTAS NOW!

    Team play I guess is only valid when it’s somebody else’s payday on the line.

  5. ShoelessBlue Says:

    I appreciate Gammons’ quote. He makes a valid point, but I think it’s MLB that is encouraging the “whatever it takes” attitude.

    In Bonds’ case, MLB set the ground rules by 1) not having ground rules, 2) rewarding the HR and heralding McGwire and Sosa. I read Game of Shadows on the floor of a Barnes & Noble (refuse to pay those guys for protecting the lying attorney) – if Bonds did say, “I’ll show McGwire,” or whatever, then more power to him.

    Paraphrasing “A Few Good Men,” MLB wants Barry Bonds, MLB needs Barry Bonds … MLB can’t handle the truth.n

  6. Excellent article.

  7. Jweiler great article but let me add my point of view here. Many white americans really dont’t care about what happens or has happened to people of color. Take for instance the OJ verdict and how white people all over america were outraged. Now you also have the Rodney King verdict and had visible evidence that a crime against another human had occured but when the verdict came down not guilty against those cops, white america did not care. There have also been a number of cases in which white people have killed black people and there has been evidence against these people but all white jury’s have let these people walk including the killings of children. Again in all of these cases white people did not care but in the case of OJ whether you beleive he did it or not there was doubt raised by his good defense team including the fact that evidince was planted by police(blood and bloody sock) glove? I say this to bring home the point that people of color even in 2007 are still viewed by many whites as not as inportant. There was a special on one of the nbs news shows showing how women of color who go missing get far less press coverage then white women. A relative of superbowl mvp Desmod Howard went missing and his wife went from network to network trying to get her story aired and she was turned away constantly. This women was young attactive, educated and the relative of a famous person and she still couln’t get any press so the media who is for the most part white is equally biased. That’s just the way it is many people of color still deal with racism everyday when they walk out the door. Part of the reason why Barry keeps to himself is because of the way his father and God father were treated as black americans. White folks don’t know what black people deal with but yet they want to offer an opinion of how we should feel. Take the Duke lacrosse team. Noone is scolding them for disrespecting black women. Even though they have a history of public bad behavior. Just let the good ole boys run wild. Also look what happens to you when you cross wealthy white folks the distict attorney was disbarred. Now how many cops and DA’s have planted evidence on black people or withheld info that would prove the innocence of a man and sent them to jail, death row even. These people were never punished. You wonder why black folks have such high blood pressure.

  8. Nice job. I glad the petulance is transparent.

  9. I’m glad too.

  10. [...] I don’t get terribly wrapped up in all the morals of this because I think it’s the era of whatever it takes, whether it’s a slandering a politician after he wins a couple of primaries…or a retail chain wiping out every family business in the country. It’s part of sports, it’s part of life. Barry Bonds is the greatest homerun hitter of his era as Ruth was of his and as Aaron was of his. [Peter Gammons via The Starting Five] [...]

  11. Well done. I think the media, Bob Costas, Christine Brennan, et al, are frustrated jocks who didn’t make it to the professional level and as a result, bring nothing but negativity to every story they report on. They suck!!!!

  12. GrandNubian Says:

    JB,

    It’s ironic that you bring that point up. Me and my old college roommate have always said the same thing in reference to white media critics (i.e. Costas, Mike Lupica, etc.). As a matter of fact I was just thinking about this last night.

  13. I think it’s worse than that. Costas and Lupica didn’t have pro prospects in anything except “ridin’ deeeeez nuts” after fifth grade.

  14. GrandNubian Says:

    LOL@T3

  15. The other part about Costas, Lupica, Albom and the rest is how they have arrested development in with regard to sports. To them, athletes are god-like figures that are supposed to be above the common man, when in fact, they are just as flawed as any working stiff. It’s ridiculous to think that just because you have the ‘privilege’ to play sports professionally that you need to be perfect. These are men that refuse to grow up and see the business of sports as just that, a business.

    These are the guys that the jocks never picked to play baseball, basketball, football and, hell, even kickball and now they use their columns as bully pulpits to punish those kids that looked at them (the scrawny runts) and the fat kid and chose the fat kid to play. These are ‘men’ that have damaged psyches and require therapy for their Napoleon complexes (I don’t believe Costas, Lupica or Albom are bigger than 5’7). They won’t forgive any athlete (especially Black) for their indiscretions, but Marv “sexual predator” Albert is welcomed back with open arms. Shameful, Hypocritical, Indignant and yet they are the Moral Majority of sports.

  16. GrandNubian Says:

    Good stuff Aone…..

    I agree wholeheartedly.

  17. “Bring on the hatred between the lines, I say. But, once you start to believe your own press – as the sports media do – that they aren’t just the purveyors of what happens on the field, but the arbiters of character and morality and decency and (God help us) justice off of it – well, then we’ve got a problem. Because, in far too many cases, theses are folks who’s understanding of the world in which we live is arrested at an adolescent stage. That’s fine for rooting for your team. It’s not fine for serious analysis of the weightier issues of sports as a reflection of larger social realities.”

    ABSOLUTELY.

  18. Sportsdiva Says:

    “I think it’s worse than that. Costas and Lupica didn’t have pro prospects in anything except “ridin’ deeeeez nuts” after fifth grade.”

    Whooooo!! LMAO!!! The response that comment induced will single-handedly help me make it through this next meeting!!

    Still…LMBAO!!!

  19. I was done with Costas back in the nineties when the Bulls were in the midst of their second 3peat. Whenever he was on the air he made it his business to rail against Dennis Rodman anychance he got.

    One time in the midst of one of his childish diatribes about the Worms latest coif he described him as being from Mars. His co-anchor(Hannah Storm?),probably as exasperated with his nonsense as I was shot back with, yeah, but he’s got more rings than Saturn.

  20. GrandNubian Says:

    Awb,

    Damn, there’s a bunch of irony going on here today. Is this a sign of something great or just a sign of the times? :-)

    That’s EXACTLY when I was done with Costas (ref. to railing on Rodman). This is too funny (peculiar).

  21. GrandNubian Says:

    FYI….

    Look at what I found on Page 2 (BSPN).

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/index

    Look where it says “Ten better than 756″….

    LOL….too funny!

  22. grumpyoldman Says:

    You’re right to call Costas on his BS. But that doesn’t undermine the fact that Bonds (despite his greatness) had an advantage that (some) other players did not. So Gammons says Bonds is the greatest home run hitter of our time. Really? What does that make Ken Griffey Jr? Chopped liver? I’m not a Bonds basher, but I believe that Junior has the most clean home runs since Aaron.

  23. Grand Nubian,

    Once again, David Schoenfield gets it wrong. Regarding Duane Kuiper’s first
    home run did come off Steve Stone, when he pitched for the White Sox. He came to the
    Orioles in 1979. They can’t even do snarky right.

  24. Sorry Grumpyoldman, even if you took away HALF of Bonds homers from 1999 through 2004, he would still have over 600 homers (611?) and counting right now.

  25. “Is Costas really saying that steroid use is the equivalent of the world historic injustice of racism…”

    No. He’s saying that just because a sport is “healthy” doesn’t mean it’s not in need of a check up.

    “I don’t get terribly wrapped up in all the morals of this because I think it’s the era of whatever it takes, whether it’s a slandering a politician after he wins a couple of primaries….”

    Is Peter Gammons saying Bonds is being “slandered” just because he set a record?

  26. GrandNubian,

    Ironic indeed. Since then I have found it hard to even hear the tiny, puckered a**hole speak on ANY subject. So I was happy when he stopped doing the NBA.

    I remember on HBO he was interviewing Vince McMahon who looked like he wanted beat the high holy hell out of him. As much as I hate THAT racist bastard, I was actually hoping that he would have a ‘roid rage episode and drop kick Costas miniscule ass right off the set.

  27. JWeil
    Great stuff as usual. I think what’s really wrong with Costas’ analogy is the underlying assumption of any sort of moral equivalancy between the terrorism and complete lack of fairness of segregation and the use of PED’s. Costas assumes that PED’s are wrong on their face and assumes everyone feels that way as well. I can make a strong argument that there should be absolutely no limits on PED use in any sport and I’d be glad to take on Costas or anyone else on that matter.

    Shoeless #5
    Absolutely. baseball and those pathetic cretins who report on and comment on Barry Bonds as well as the fans need Bonds as well. I don’t know about you but I do know that for many, myself included, Bonds at the bat is and has been for about 8 years, the only compelling thing about baseball.

    Paul #7
    Absolutely correct on all accounts IMO. White America, by and large, still can’t get it’s mind around the notion that we are full citizens with full value and full humanity.

    Aone #15 and others.
    I agree that a large percentage, hell, probably a majority of Sports so-called journalists are failed, mediocre athletes and that that failure is a reason they subconsciously hate most, especially most black, professional athletes, jealousy, pure and simple. But what’s up with the short hatred? I’m 5’6″ and was never a good athlete in school. I’ve become a pretty fair bodybuilder and martial artist over the years but I’ve never had a particular sense of gelling with athletes in general. But I defend them to the teeth today because I see what’s going on in the world of sports journalism and view the situation as a microcosym for the society as a whole. There is plenty of reasons to hate Costas, Albom, Lupica et al. But comments about their body habitus are simply uncalled for IMO.

    Grumps #22.
    You have absolutely no idea what Bonds did or did not do, and you have absolutely no idea what KG did or did not do. What you DO know however, is that Bonds outworked KG by a good margin, Outworked him in the offseason in the gym, out worked him in season in the gym, out worked him on his swing–And something completely ignored in all of this. Bonds’ swing underwent tremendous refinement in the late 20th century. Along with his incredible work ethic, I have absolutely no doubt that he’d have hit the same HR’s steroids or not.- and outworked him in studying those things that make a hitter better. KG is a great, great player and a special talent, but putting him the same conversation as Barry Bonds as a baseball player is simply absurd.

  28. Kev,

    I’d have to disagree. You just have a better sense of self and you are probably secure about whatever it is you do.

    The guys I mentioned in my post CLEARLY have Napoleon’s complex. They clearly feel the need to impose their will on a conversation and/or a subject regardless of who or what they offend. Their ‘disappointment’ in these athletes is reminiscent of a child finding out that Santa Claus is a fairly tale; and their diminutive statures (physically and emotionally) can’t handle that. Does that mean ALL short/small people feel that way? Absolutely not. But for these three ‘men’ I feel my point was fairly accurate.

  29. grumpyoldman Says:

    Kev Dog, Bonds was a monster in the gym, no doubt. But won’t you concede that PEDs may have made that possible? Of the people I know who used steroids (half a dozen), all say that one of the many benefits of the drugs is that they allow you to work harder; they make your muscles recover faster; they make it possible for you to lift hard every day, or even twice a day. Yet you have “no doubt that he’d have hit the homers steroids or not.” Really? In other words, the steroids didn’t accomplish anything? Then why did he take them? Why does anybody take them?

  30. kulturejam Says:

    When we hear Costas, Albom, Lupica and company rail against BB, I hear them condemning themselves. Sportswriters have access to their subjects that journalists covering any other field only dream of. What do you think political reporters would give to be able to interview a legislator on the Senate or House floor immediately after an intense debate and vote? What would entertainment writers give to interview a rock star backstage immediately after a concert, or to speak with an actor on the set? Well, sportswriters have this kind of access; and baseball writers have more of it than the others, with 162 games and open clubhouses. So when I hear these parasites out-doing each other in condemning steroids, what I would like to know is, if steroids are so horrible, were so pervasive, and have so greatly impacted the game, why didn’t you report it? Either you are so incompetent that you couldn’t see what was (allegedly) right in front of your nose, or you saw it and covered it up. In either case, you completely failed to do your job. Is the intensity of the attack an attempt to deflect attention from these failures? Costas and Albom especially disgust me. Costas was so fooled by Kirby Puckett that he named a child after that perverted serial abuser of women. Albom was found guilty and suspended by his newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, for enhancing an article he wrote by including things that never happened (i.e.lies), and for enhancing other articles by including things “very similar” to things written by other people (i.e plariarism). Have these people no shame?

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