Sports Media Watch presents the Worst of Sports Media 2010. If you guessed that most of the list came from the coverage of LeBron James, you’d be right.
It’s tough to criticize Deadspin for doing what makes it popular – reporting the stories the mainstream sports media generally doesn’t touch, often with seemingly brazen disregard for the consequences. Holding Deadspin or any other Gawker site to high ethical standards requires one miss the point of their existence.
That said, there was something particularly tawdry about the way the site reported the now infamous Jenn Sterger/Brett Favre story. Perhaps it was the fact that they reported the story essentially without Sterger’s consent, after she gave them information off the record. Or, perhaps it’s because any story that revolves around obtaining naked pictures of anybody is bound to seem in bad taste. Yes, the story was a success for the site, and has become one of the most talked about controversies of the NFL season. But it all-but-epitomized Deadspin’s fairly cavalier attitude when it comes to ethical reporting. Then again, they probably won’t care, and who knows, perhaps that’s to their credit.
Bill Livingston, Cleveland Plain-Dealer
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer writer makes this list for this loaded, coded haymaker he leveled against former Cavalier LeBron James:
“No franchise in the league has given more latitude to a player than this one has to James and his ‘team,’ to use the unwittingly insulting term he employs for his posse. Some will excuse it as a slip of the tongue. But while this may sound very retro, his team is the Cavaliers. Not Nike, not the LRMR sports agency, not the guys from the ‘hood’” (The Plain Dealer, 7/3/10).
Considering the wide variety of insulting terms writers across the country used in regards to James’ associates (sycophants, enablers, etc), and even the neutral terms that could have been used (entourage, for example), using the terms posse and especially ‘hood’ seems unnecessary at best. When you use language that you’re less likely to use about a white athlete when writing about a black athlete (and the word ‘posse’ was used more than twice as often in reference to minorities than whites in Plain-Dealer sports articles over the past ten years) you’re making race a factor – even if small – in a story where it should be an afterthought.
Bruce Dowbiggin, Globe & Mail
Speaking of unnecessary racially loaded language, the Globe & Mail writer made a remarkably curious reference in an article about – you guessed it – LeBron James. Of James’ one-hour TV special, he wrote, “It was ESPN meets MTV with a side order of BET” (Globe and Mail, 7/9/10). A throwaway joke, and honestly not that big of a deal – but again, why make references in regards to LeBron James that you wouldn’t make when talking about Tom Brady?
And now, the Worst of Sports Media 2010.
#5: Jim Gray, The Golf Channel, various
The former ESPN/ABC broadcaster burst back onto the national scene in 2010, thanks to a pair of less-than-flattering incidents.
Gray’s performance in the exhaustingly-panned The Decision was indeed poor. He was selected ahead of time by LeBron James’ representatives to interview the much-hyped free agent, and ESPN agreed, despite the fact that they let go of Gray several years earlier. In the past, Gray has shown himself to be capable of uncomfortably hard-hitting interviews (Pete Rose) and uncomfortably soft interviews (Kobe Bryant). His interview with James was the latter.
Of course, an athlete’s decision to move to another team should not necessarily require hard-hitting journalism (though others evidently disagree). That said, questions like “Do you still chew your fingernails” are so soft and inconsequential that they become embarrassing.
Not too long after The Decision, Gray was involved in another controversy, this time involving golfer Corey Pavin. After Gray reported that Pavin would pick Tiger Woods to the U.S. Ryder Cup team if Woods did not qualify on his own, Pavin vehemently denied the report. This led to a confrontation at a press conference, in which Gray allegedly told Pavin, “You’re a liar and you’re going down.”
#4: Jay Mariotti, formerly of Fanhouse/ESPN
If this list had more to do with morals than performance, obviously Mariotti would be higher on the list. He pleaded no contest to a domestic violence charge in September, and completely disappeared from both television and print in the aftermath.
His placement in this list has less to do with his legal transgressions, however, than the staggering hypocrisy said transgressions revealed. In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Mariotti hammered away at athletes involved in legal issues, almost seeming to take some sort of pleasure in their misfortune.
In an article on Roger Clemens’ indictment written the day before his arrest, Mariotti wrote that Clemens “deserves to be hauled away in cuffs,” called him an “affront to humanity,” and seemingly taunted that Clemens’ “next number will be much longer” than the #22 he wore on the Yankees. (fanhouse.com, 8/20/10). Weeks earlier, he blasted Louisville coach Rick Pitino for having had sex in a restaurant, calling it “tacky and mindless” and “just gross behavior.” Mariotti: “Pitino should realize he has permanently undermined his credibility as an educator. … Caught with his pants down, he and his messages are worthless now” (fanhouse.com, 7/28/10). And just one week before being arrested, he criticized Bud Selig for not punishing Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez harshly enough for attacking his girlfriend’s father. In addition to branding Rodriguez as “volatile,” Mariotti argued that Rodriguez would have received a stiffer penalty had he been an NFL player, because in Commissioner “Goodell’s kingdom, domestic violence is considering (sic) among many chilling sins that … has led to numerous suspensions” (fanhouse.com, 8/14/10).
Coming down hard on those who misbehave isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it requires that one keep his or her nose clean. Paraphrasing what he said of Pitino, once Mariotti got caught, his messages became worthless.
#3: Scott Raab, Esquire
Over the past several years, base vulgarity has become the ‘in thing’. Perhaps it began with Buzz Bissinger’s rant on the now-canceled Costas Now. Perhaps it began with Jason Whitlock’s ascendance. One could even pin some blame on the creation of shoutfests Around The Horn and Pardon the Interruption.
In a year full of venom, perhaps nobody embodied the spirit more than Esquire’s Scott Raab. A quick jaunt through the Cleveland-native’s apparently-legitimate Twitter account reveals almost remarkable abrasiveness. Take, for example, this unnecessarily nasty comment directed at ESPN’s Jay Crawford: “As a young man of no particular skill or accomplishment, your arrogance is the most entertaining thing about you.”
His extreme bias against LeBron James and the Miami Heat makes him a bizarre – or perfect, depending on the publication’s intention – candidate to write Esquire’s LeBron Watch feature. “I hate LeBron James,” he wrote in October, saying he would “be happy if he blew out both knees and an elbow before ever taking the court again in an NBA game” (Esquire.com, 10/21/10). Repeatedly, he refers to James as the “whore of Akron,” a distinction that likely played a role in the Heat banning him from receiving credentials to cover their games.
Raab has spent most of the year trashing James, which honestly makes him not much different from any other writer out there. The only difference may be just how crass he can be; at one point, according to Fox Sports Florida, he tweeted to James, “Go f— yourself, you gutless punk” (foxsportsflorida.com, 12/1/10). His hatred of James, his seeming lack of professionalism, and the overall nasty vibe that permeates his work reaches a level where one begins to wonder if it’s supposed to be satire.
#2: Michael Ozanian, Forbes
Long before LeBron James was the punching bag du jour, Gilbert Arenas supposedly represented everything wrong with the world of sports. Of course, Arenas’ ‘crime’ was an actual crime – bringing unloaded firearms into the Washington Wizards locker room.
The news reignited the very popular perception that NBA players are a bunch of criminals – or at the very least, that the NBA features a much larger criminal element than any other sports enterprise. Jumping on the bandwagon of NBA thuggery was Forbes editor Michael Ozanian, who matter-of-factly wrote in January that the NBA “is full of thugs” (blogs.forbes.com, 1/2/10).
Of course, he did not give any example of the NBA’s supposed thuggery beyond the Arenas incident.
#1: Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports
From May of this year to the present, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski has gone after LeBron James like Glenn Beck after President Obama or Keith Olbermann after President Bush. Beck and Olbermann, of course, are often regarded as representative of their respective parties’ fringe. By contrast, Wojnarowski is widely considered one of the better NBA writers today.
Wojnarowski’s criticisms of James certainly do not approach Scott Raab’s level of nastiness. That said, there’s a personal touch to most of his writings about James that seems to indicate a latent personal dislike, an antagonism that seems inappropriate for a supposedly objective reporter.
Certainly, Wojnarowski parroted many of the now-common criticisms of James – that he quit on his team, that he was narcissistic, selfish, et cetera. This portrayal of James is commonplace, unoriginal. But he didn’t stop there. James’ free agency saga wasn’t a referendum on James the player, or James the businessman. Wojnarowski decided it was a referendum on James the person. And with that in mind, he embarked on one of the most dedicated campaigns against a single athlete in recent sports media history.
James “never learned to treat people with any manners or treat authority with respect,” he wrote in June (sports.yahoo.com, 6/2/10). He had neither “judgment” nor “shame” (6/2/10); he was the “vacuous star for our vacuous times” (7/7/10). He and his associates sought to not just overshadow, but actively “undermine the conference and NBA Finals, the NBA draft and Fourth of July parades in small towns and big cities across America” (5/14/10).
James wasn’t just a stereotypical arrogant athlete; he was something almost approaching evil in Wojnarowski’s eyes. Because of James, he wrote in June, “[a]ll hell is breaking loose, broken rules and broken promises ruling the day” (6/23/10). He concluded that particular piece with this almost-comically over-the-top statement: “On your knees, people. Bow down to the King. Bow to the chaos” (6/23/10). One imagines that he pictured LeBron as some kind of Satanic figure on a throne, surrounded by burning Larry O’Brien trophies in the background.
He described James’ one-hour TV special as an “exercise in self-aggrandizement and self-loathing,” and the “public execution of his legacy, his image,” referred to James as a “callous carpetbagger” who was “[leaving] his soul in Cleveland,” said James’ Nike “puppet seems more human than him,” and even characterized the thought that James had always intended to leave Cleveland as “frightening” (7/9/10).
His character assassination of James arguably hit its peak when Chris Paul joined James’ marketing company in July. He argued that Paul had “constructed himself a reputation of values and character, and separated himself in all the best ways,” but was now throwing that away. “LeBron James damaged his own standing in the sport this summer, he wants to take down Chris Paul with him too,” taking Paul’s career “out of the sunshine and into the darkness” (7/23/10). The way he seemed to contrast Paul’s “wholesomeness,” “upbringing and character” with James was probably the biggest insult of all. It was as if James had actually committed some crime, as opposed to holding a one-hour TV special to announce where he would play basketball.
A good percentage of people reading this article, possibly most, will agree with Wojnarowski and believe this to be a piece simply defending an indefensible, selfish ‘punk’ – to use Charles Barkley’s word. But, as in the previous entries, this has very little to do with James. For as much as those in the media love to talk about accountability – and in regards to James, ‘accountability’ was mentioned quite frequently by various writers – they never seem to hold themselves to that standard.
Wojnarowski isn’t on this list because he was wrong about LeBron James. After all, I don’t know LeBron James well enough to tell America what kind of person he is. Wojnarowski is on this list because, somewhere along the line, he lost the ability to cover James objectively. Because he used his bully pulpit to trash James as a person – not just his on-court play, not just his business decisions.