Monday, February 18, 2008

The Dark Side of the Sports Moon

I was talking with a fellow sports-crazed buddy the other night, and the conversation inevitably turned to the "good old days of sports," when we were growing up back in the 1970s and 80s. We debated whether sports back then was really more pure, or if we were just so naive we couldn't see the warts - and more importantly, the media wasn't hellbent on exposing them. You know what - I don't want to know the answer to that.

I think that's the problem with sports right now. We know too much. And, like the age-old chicken and the egg question, I can't decide if we fans are driving the need to know or if the out-of-control media just loves to stir the pot. It's most likely a little of both.

We've certainly had a couple of high-profile case studies in the past 12 months: Mike Vick and dogfighting, Roger Clemens and steroids, and the Patriots and their videotaping habits. There's been no shortage of topics for Bob Ley's "Between the Lines" specials and we've seen more than our fair share of interviews with ESPN legal blowhard Roger Cossack. It's all so different now, with so many people trying to turn success into tainted accomplishments. As fans, are we simply paying more attention to the "bad" stuff because we're smarter adults now - you know, because we like, watch the news more often?

I don't know, but I do know that the landscape of sports media coverage has become about so much more than just the games. With all the noise we've been subjected to, it takes some work to remember that the Red Sox are World Series champs for the second time in four years, that the Celtics are an incredible 41-9, and that the Patriots went 18-1 in what can only be described as a disappointing season. We've got it so damn good around here, but the cynics and skeptics in the media are winning out.

Don't get me wrong. I understand that controversy is like sex in that it sells newspapers and generates TV ratings. People are clicking on the gossip sites, calling the sports talk shows, commenting on the blogs. I'm willing to bet that the most-clicked item on the morning of the Super Bowl was the Mike Fish story with the new twist on former Patriots employee Matt Walsh. I know I was one of the clickees.

Let's talk about ESPN for a moment, shall we? When the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network was first introduced, it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Today, in my opinion, the network has gotten a little too big for itself (gee, ya think?), and has shown a strong anti-Patriots bias during this whole videotaping joke. Whenever there's a chance to lead with a Pats/Spygate-related story, the network jumps like a rabid dog on meat. It's so obvious that an internal memo was sent around encouraging the TV and radio personalities to slam the Pats at every turn. Why else would a seemingly calm and rational guy like Mike Greenberg suddenly flip a switch and become a big-time Patriot hater (unlike his colleague Mike Golic, who has been far more reasonable)?

I guess my point in all of this is that yes, there are going to be dark episodes in sports that warrant withering media critique. Vick was charged with a crime, the Feds proved it in court, Vick admitted guilt, and he's doing his time. Unfortunately, though, the media in this country (gasp!) all too often makes judgments in print before having a firm handle on the facts. In fact, it's a fact that facts simply don't matter much anymore. If you've got one source telling you that a rogue videographer from 10 years ago may have incriminating evidence, hell, let's run it as the lead story under the blaring headline of "Breaking News."

My question is this - when Bill Belichick and the Patriots are rightly exonerated in this debacle, who's going to hold the media zealots accountable? Are we going to see mea culpas on from their little investigative unit? Will there be some sort of on-air apology? Will the Boston Herald, another ringleader in the Belichick bashing, publish a front-page apology? Who will be the first person to file a lawsuit on behalf of the Patriots, claiming that they would have won SB 42 without the distractions? In the spirit of obscure former Ram Willie Gary, maybe Ray Ventrone will file suit claiming that without the Spygate talk, the Pats would have won, he would have collected a winners' share, and his star teammates lost out on many lucrative endorsement opportunities. Will Senator Sphincter the Eagles Fan invite Roger Goodell back to D.C. to apologize? These we know the answers to.

Like it or not, the Pats are going to occupy a sizeable piece of real estate on the dark side of the sports moon for the forseeable future. They are going to be super-good again next year. Tom Brady will the quarterback of the winning team in SB 43, and unlike in this year's game, his ankle will be just fine. The haters, meanwhile, will multiply, and you know what, that's really okay. These are the emotions that the Celtics, Canadiens, Yankees and Cowboys elicit, and it means you've made it to the top of the heap. The people who think the Pats' dynasty is dead - yup, more judgment before assessing the facts.

As for the allegations of videotape and cheating, let's all calm down and see what happens. If Senator Sphincter really wants to, he can open up a can of worms that will get very ugly very quickly. And I just loooove all the asinine New Yorkers crying about the Pats' cheating ways. Can we say 2003 ALCS? That Yankee team was friggin' littered with steroid-abusing frauds, and God knows how long that had been going on. Could it have tainted those great '98, '99 and '00 Yankee teams? If I'm the sports editor at the Herald, I'm thinking maybe we put an asterisk in front of the Yankees in the AL East standings all season long. You know, just to be fair.

speaking of espn....erin andrews pix please!!!!god
you playn fantasy bb with us or what ms
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