From online media to old-fashioned television, radio and print, sports coverage besieges us.
So you’d think a story about a professional league revealing last week that players on one of its most prominent teams were paid to inflict game-ending injuries on their star opponents would be a big deal.
Sure, there has been a bit of coverage of bounty hunting in the United States National Football League. ESPN, for example, said:
New Orleans Saints players and at least one assistant coach maintained a bounty pool of up to $50,000 the last three seasons to reward game-ending injuries inflicted on opposing players, including Brett Favre and Kurt Warner, the NFL said Friday. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs. The NFL said the pool amounts reached their height of $50,000 or more in 2009, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl.
But sports reporters are spending much more energy covering hockey, curling and golf, and even baseball training camps, than on chasing the disgusting details of this headhunting.
Robert Lipsyte, in his highly readable 2011 memoir An Accidental Sportswriter, argues that journalists are simply too dependant on the people and teams they are supposed to cover.
Scribes learn early never to attack the sport that gives them work; you can trash most athletes, some officials and owners, a few rules and conventions, but systemic criticism is for “rippers” with other sources of income. (page 216)
And while I’m poking sports journalists, let me express my discomfort with publications and broadcasters that climb into bed with the teams they cover: “news media partner of Team X.”
Media that climb under the covers with teams in this way, hoping to amass advertising bucks, are no different from people who climb under the covers with others for money.
One bold exception to this harlotry is The New Yorker, from whose advertising sports enterprises are notably absent. Considering the NFL’s bounty admission, the magazine says today:
In any event, any business that evolves a workplace culture where dozens of people from top to bottom collectively lose sight of the difference between fair competition and corruption deserves to fail.
Sports may be the most over-covered human activity, but for my money it’s also the most under-covered.