A little perspective on Media Days, the Heisman, and sports writers

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By MIKE HERNDON

There may be more animosity and mistrust of the media right now than in any time in American history. Or it may be that we just see and hear it more now due to social media and the internet. It’s most often seen in politics and political reporting, but it seeps into other forms of media, as well – including sports writing.

Calling your local beat writer a homer, a hater or a hack is almost as old as the games themselves. But today’s favorite political rhetorical trick is painting journalists as rich elitists who have nothing in common with normal Americans, and this is also often turned on sports writers by fan bases who don’t like something they’ve written.

Which is, of course, bunk. The vast majority of sports writers – even writers for national outlets — live paycheck to paycheck, ever wary of the next layoff. For every Skip Bayless or Colin Cowherd, there are a thousand local beat writers and columnists showing up at the paragraph factory every day doing their honest best to bring you the unvarnished news. Forty-hour weeks in the business are rare – even non-existent during football season.

I did it for two decades, and loved almost every minute of it.

So you’ll have to excuse sports writers – and even ex-sports writers – for getting a little irritated when someone in their ranks goes off and does their best to live down to the false narrative.

The Pac-12 held its football media days recently and Stanford star running back Bryce Love didn’t go. He had a very good reason that most of us would appreciate: He’s trying to graduate early – he’s majoring in human biology with a focus on pediatrics and stem-cell research — and his summer class schedule conflicted with the event.

Now, here’s a kid with his priorities in order, right? We should be showering Love with praise for embodying what the “student-athlete” concept should be.

Instead, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports called his absence from media day a “dangerous precedent.”

“Put it this way,” Dodd wrote. “Try to envision Tim Tebow in his heyday skipping SEC Media Days because of, well, school. Right or wrong, that wouldn’t have happened. The need to better himself, the conference and his school would have outstripped another summer school lecture.”

Football – or even talking about football — “just means more” than “another summer school lecture” in the SEC, right? Maybe it shouldn’t.

ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg seemed to suggest on Twitter that Love’s absence at media day might hurt his Heisman Trophy chances.

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You’d think they were handing out the Heisman next month instead of in December. Oh, and did I mention that Love actually appeared via Skype at the event, answering the same questions remotely that he would have gotten if he’d been there in person? What more did the writers need of him? To describe the sweat glistening on his brow under the hot television lights of the Hollywood ballroom as he told the story of how he started playing the game as a kid for the 457th time?

Media Days events around the country have grown to the point of ridiculousness. Coaches show up and give out vague reports filled with clichés. Players answer questions on everything from their injury history to their culinary skills. Real news is rarely broken. Their real purpose was and is to give sports writers an opportunity to collect material for features and previews leading up to the season, and for that purpose they are useful.

If the Heisman Trophy even registers a blip on Love’s list of priorities, however, he need not worry. His candidacy for that honor will be determined in October and November, not July. If Heisman voters (and I was once one before I left the biz) are so stupid that a player’s absence from a media day event affects their votes, they ought to stop giving out the award. To Dodd’s credit, he admits as much:

“The public probably doesn’t care if Love was here or not. The kid is going to win the Heisman by running for 2,000 yards again and leading the Cardinal to a 10-win season – not necessarily by showing up in person to a media day.”

So why all the hand wringing? Why write that column at all? Why feed the narrative that sports writers are pampered elitists who have grown so accustomed to being catered to that they expect it?

Let me say this loudly and clearly for everyone in back: Athletes don’t really owe sports writers anything. They got where they are by their hard work and ability, not by the words we’ve written about them. We like to pat ourselves on the back about the “exposure” we give them, but in the digital age it’s rare that a player with ability isn’t discovered, that excellence isn’t rewarded. The recruiters and scouts are under too much pressure to deliver, there are too many camps and combines across the country, and film is too readily available and accessible.

What athletes owe their universities and conferences is their hard work and effort on the field and in the classroom every day. By all reports, Love is giving that. His job is not to sacrifice his educational pursuits to jump at every opportunity to help the university and the conference promote their brands. There are people at both the college and conference levels who are paid very well to do that.

And we think that a college athlete who can’t even make a buck off signing an autograph or selling a jersey should have to alter his schedule and put off his education for a contrived media event to promote a conference?

Please, guys, for the love of all that is good and holy, get over yourselves. Take a good, long look in the mirror and stop screwing this up for all the sports writers who do their jobs without any delusions about who and what they are.

 

 

 

 



Categories: College football

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