Sunday, July 27, 2008

Journalists on a "witch hunt"?

Even the most zealous fans of Penn State football should agree that coach Joe Paterno, in an interview on today's Outside the Lines, looked out of touch when he accused an ESPN journalist of being on a "witch hunt" for questioning the outrageous number of PSU football players arrested since last year.

Simply because of his tenure in the business, Paterno should know better than anyone that welcoming media attention when all is well, and then condemning the same reporters when the news isn't so good, isn't smart or responsible.

The ESPN story put a bright spotlight on the unusually high number of arrests involving Paterno's players during the past year. We need more -- not less -- investigative journalism in sports.

The OTL story has its own problems; for instance, it characterizes the off-field situation as a "trend," presenting overall numbers since 2002 that are startling. Broken down year-by-year, however, 2007's unusually high number is cause for alarm, but not necessarily part of a trend, as the number is more than three times as high as the previous year. (We're not told why ESPN chose 2002 as a starting point. Also helpful for context would have been more information about the types of bad off-field behavior -- how much involved non-violent misdemeanors? How many were felonies? How does the rate compare to arrest rates for the student body?)

The story also failed to put Penn State in context within the college sports culture. How does Penn State compare to other D1 schools (and not over just a single season)? Stepping back and looking at the big picture: Are Penn State's problems a reflection of the missteps of a single coach -- or might they signify larger problems with big-time football programs across the country? How do football programs in general compare with other sports?

The limited research on the relationship between off-field violence and male college athletes in revenue sports tells us that there is a problem -- but it goes beyond a single program or coach.

That's the bigger, and more important, story -- but one that would force us to look at the entire college sports culture in a more critical way than many want to do, I suspect.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Apparently, even a brawl can't convince FOX that WNBA is worth watching

Although much has been made of the fight that broke out during a WNBA game earlier this week in the mainstream media and in sexist/homophobic blog entries, it's apparently not enough to convince Fox and Friends morning hosts that women's sports are worth watching. In an exchange that starts with a focus on sexism and ends with the smug conclusion by a host that more women ("your people," he tells his female co-host) should watch sports, the WNBA is assessed as a ratings loser and women's sports as simply not interesting. The exchange demonstrates, among other things, the cultural role of sports in justifying sexism.
It's also these kinds of assessments of women's sports -- judging them by male standards -- that feed the tremendous struggles of female athletes for legitimacy. (Unfortunately, even the WNBA fight has been assessed as a positive for the league -- "a much needed a shot in the arm to boost attention," according to a women's sports blog.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

August excitement: Not only in Beijing

Although the world will turn its eyes to the Olympics next month, many parents and communities in the U.S. will also be putting their attention on their local football stadiums. High school basketball players will wait for the spotlight -- but not long, and they've already been playing in high-profile, commercialized camps all summer.
I know that the appeal of scholastic sports is in their love-of-the-game, not-corrupted-by-money aura, but one has to question that image in light of the big business they are quickly becoming. Jacob Leibenluft's "Great Basketball Exodus" on, which refers to a senior's decision to go pro in Europe in hopes of then jumping to the NBA, refers to lawyers, "basketball factories," and the prospect of big-dollar contracts for young players as though the are an established part of the high school sports world.
His focus -- on the prospect of NBA hopefuls forgoing college for a Euroleagues, is troubling. He speculates on the media's role in making it more lucrative for teens to go this route. And he doesn't sound far-fetched. After all, as cable nets have focused more on high school sports (cheap programming that can be promoted with media-generated rankings), Leibenluft's suggestion that the nets might follow young players across the Atlantic is plausible. The implications of that for high school sports, the NCAA and the NBA, he argues, are worth pondering.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More bad news for golf fans...?

Apparently, Golf for Women isn't the only golf-related coverage getting the axe these days. Sports Business Daily reported today that the number of newspaper reporters at major events dropped this year. The Daily quotes Golf World writer Bill Fields, who recently noted that media centers at the PGA Tour The Players Championship and the U.S. Open this year were "noticeably less crowded, with 12[%] fewer reporters at the Players and [5-10%] fewer at the U.S. Open" than in '07.
But fewer newspaper reporters doesn't necessarily mean less coverage, as the hand-wringing in the SBD and other publications might suggest. As SBD notes, 90 U.S. journalists were accredited for the British Open. Sure, the number of newspaper writers among them has dropped -- but there are still journalists covering the event. What would be more interesting is to the look at the number and type of organizations that are sending writers.
Bottom line: The fact that there are fewer newspaper reporters covering golf these days doesn't necessarily translate to poorer golf coverage. Does anyone believe that golf fans can't get as much information on any given event today than they could when newspaper journalists filled media centers?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Another women's sports magazine dies

Conde Nast announced yesterday that its Golf for Women magazine will cease publication after this month. The magazine, launched in 1988, was purchased by CN in 2001. The publisher also shuttered Women's Sports & Fitness in 2000 after purchasing it and relaunching it during the late 1990s.
Golf for Women and Women's Sports & Fitness both had respectable circulations -- around 600,000, the same rate base as that of The Sporting News. So, what's the problem? As with other women's sports titles that have come and gone (such as SI for Women) -- it's identity and advertising. These magazines struggle for positioning satisfactory to advertisers. For instance, should they focus solely on competitive sports (think SI, ESPN magazines), participatory sports (think Runner's World) that are often popular among women, or beauty-focused fitness (think Shape)?
SI for Women and WSF both waffled before they finally ceased publication, and it's been interesting to see the evolution of HerSports, perhaps the newest general-interest sports title for women. Finding the formula that will attract the ad dollar has so far proven elusive for many women's sports titles.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Nader: It's time for a Taxpayer Stadium

I've just gotten around to reading Dave Zirin's recent interview with presidential candidate Ralph Nader. Nader, never one to hesitate about speaking truth to power, talks about his League of Fans movement and the ways he believes sports fans are being swindled by major leagues. Nader also suggests that newspaper sports pages be labeled for what they are: showcases for spectator sports only. "They don't cover participatory sports: amateur sports, amateur leagues, what's going on at the local playgrounds or any effort to promote activity and competition," he says.
I hope that after the presidential election is over, Nader will get back to doing what he does best -- consumer activism -- and put his energy into developing League of Fans into a movement that can make a difference.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The revolving door keeps turning -- and churning more women out

I mentioned in my June 20 blog (about an interview with Julie Ward) that shrinking staffs in sports departments were likely disproportionately eroding diversity. It looks as though APSE's latest study indicates that while racial diversity has improved just slightly (although still dismal), women have generally lost ground since the APSE's 2006 report was issued. Richard Lapchick, an author on the study, questioned decision-making about content by staffs that continue to be overwhelmingly dominated by white men.
In a statement in the report, Tribune Co. Sports Coordinator John Cherwa seems to imply that newspaper losses are at least in part a result of diversity gains at and other TV-Web operations. But that is likely not the case, and certainly the APSE study can't support such a claim -- given that two major operations, CBS and Yahoo, declined to participate. What we need is benchmark data on diversity in hiring at these and the many other Web operations (including those such as that compete with newspaper operations.