Things that have ruined sports coverage in Boston for me

There are times in which I go into a sports funk. Well, I guess it really isn’t a sports funk, because I always enjoy watching the games. I’m just as excited about each game that my favorite teams play as I have ever been. However, I’m not enjoying what surrounds those games. Programming and reporting that should enhance my knowledge and enjoyment of the games are instead taking away from them. After thinking things over, I’ve come up with a list of media related developments and trends which are actually taking away from my enjoyment of sports coverage here in Boston. I repeat myself a few times in this list, I’m sure, and some of the items are perhaps connected with other items in the list, but I think each point deserved its own listing. Without further ado, here is my list of…

Things that have ruined sports coverage in Boston for me:

1) Contrarians simply out to make a name for themselves.

Otherwise known as the Let me say something so incredibly stupid that people can’t help but take notice and have me on their shows so I can defend my position, and get more attention and make money and then be a regular guest on those shows while I continue to say dumb things just for the sake of standing out and being different. This is probably the biggest problem in the sports media right now. You get rewarded for being a contrarian, no matter how stupid what you say really is. It allows people with no talent to keep in the spotlight and get their names talked about.

2) Arguing and controversy over everything.

I blame ESPN for a lot of this, though it can likely be traced back to the news world of FOX News and other roundtable discussions where a lot of shouting and back and forth is going on.

It seems every conversation this day on radio and television must have two strongly divided sides. Each side has to vigorously defend their stance, under no circumstance admitting defeat or even the merits of the other side. While the outlets will strongly deny that they choose up sides prior to a show, what are they supposed to say? That it is all contrived? The fact is, this “choosing up sides” does happen. I was talking to a media type recently who had appeared on an ESPN program. He told me that he was told the subject matter they would be discussing, and then that “It would be great if you could just shoot down everything this other guy says.”

Is this supposed to be entertaining? The shows then become nothing more than two egos battling it out and trying to get the upper hand, no matter how ridiculous and weak their stand might be. It’s not informative, in fact, if you have a convincing person arguing for the “wrong” side, the shows can even be misleading. There?s a misguided thought among the media that the public wants and craves “opinions?. Not so. We have our own. We don’t need to hear ALL of yours.

3) Talk Radio

It started out with such promise. Sports fans could have a station dedicated to talking about their local sports teams. They would hear analysis and discussions of last night’s game or listen to interviews by players, executives and reporters. This didn’t last long, because this “reading the boxscores” over the air approach was deemed to be too boring. What the station needed was a “hook”- as if sports fans weren’t loyal enough to come back and listen each day – the station decided that creating a daily “soap opera” would be the way to go. They would create cartoonish characters for themselves, invent plots and subplots, all filled with controversy and negative talk, to keep the listener coming back each day. Actual sports talk is replaced with endless debates filled with fake passion about the same subjects over and over again. Apparently it works for them, but I’ve got to wonder – are the ratings really that much higher as a result of these changes? With the incredible success of the local teams as of late, wouldn’t there be just as many people tuning in?

On the recent edition of WCVB’s Chronicle which featured WEEI, Glenn Ordway said that the station gets criticized because the hosts often are talking and yelling over each other during the course of a show. He said this is actually something they try to do, because, Ordway claimed, the average fan when he gets together with his friends be it at a bar or in their living room, is going to shout and yell over their friends to get their point heard.

I’m sorry, but is this true? When you get together with your friends, are you constantly talking over them, yelling at them, making fun of their weight, and saying outrageous things to bait them? It may happen occasionally that you have a heated discussion over a topic, but it’s certainly the exception to the rule, and not really something that is enjoyable. But for some reason, this is now the standard for talking sports on radio and TV in Boston.

4) Baseball games treated like football games

I think this is purely a Boston thing. Every Red Sox game is analyzed and dissected on talk radio and in the papers as if it were 1/16th of the season as NFL games are, instead of the 1/160th of the season that baseball games really are. This results in each and every game, and each and every decision by the manager being second guessed and placed in a vacuum apart from the “big picture” that is the 162 game season. There’s no perspective there. As the games, weeks and months go by, the intensity builds, it reaches a boiling point so that every single game, every single hit and error is LIFE OR DEATH. No enjoyment of the games here when a bunt single in he first week of June is debated to death on the airwaves for three whole weeks.

5) The Haters

Being “objective” or not “in the pocket” of the local team apparently means for some media types around Boston that you must display maniacal hatred for those teams. You must work hard to find every fault and point out every possible bad angle and negative spin you can put on a situation. Otherwise, you are nothing but a “homer.” God forbid.

6) Media relationships and rivalries (Globe vs WEEI)

The listeners and viewers suffer because of these petty “rivalries.” Wouldn’t you like to hear Bob Ryan or Jackie MacMullan on the Big Show? While I mentioned above that I dislike contrived controversies it would be interesting to see a guy like Ron Borges, who truly despises the Patriots go at it on the Big Show against Ordway, Sheppard, Smerlas and DeOssie. While neither side would make many coherent points, currently Borges only appears on outlets where his outlandish claims and venom go largely unchecked. This isn’t fake or contrived controversy. If Borges really has issues with the way the Patriots and Bill Belichick do things, I’d like to see him have to explain and defend his views against someone who is going to challenge him, not give him a pulpit to spout his “Bill Belichick was the 2nd gunman” theories.

The same thing applies to television. You’re not going to see any of the Globe writers on FSN, or any of the WEEI or Herald guys on NESN. You thus get an incomplete view of the Boston sports scene.

7) The Internet

What? Isn’t this an Internet site? In many ways, the internet has been a boon for the sports world. Fans can look up information, statistics and get together with fellow fans on message boards dedicated to their favorite team. Sounds great, huh? Unfortunately, whenever you get people together on-line, you get trolls. Whether they be people who delight in baiting others and causing chaos on message boards (even ones operated by media outlets), or people who create their own inflammatory “fan” websites for the sole purpose of posting negative, sometimes hateful opinion and stirring up trouble with “rumors” that they create themselves, these ones can take the joy out of following sports for many.

8) Panicmongers

I heard Michael Felger use this term on FSN one night to describe another person on the show. It fits perfectly. With some media types, the sky is always falling, even after the first preseason game for any sport. What could go wrong? What if (superstar) gets injured? Is (draft choice, free agent, trade) a total bust? Is (superstar) done? Could (coach, executive) be in danger of losing his job should (unlikely catastrophic event) happen?

9) “Throwing it out there”

I don’t have any basis for this, but I’m going to bring it up anyway. – That’s the essence of the I’m just going to throw this out there for discussion style. It may include accusing a player of using performance enhancing substances, or whether a coach or executive is in danger of losing his job should a certain (usually far-fetched) situation arise. Perhaps it’s even done on a positive accomplishment: “Let’s say David Ortiz breaks the franchise record for home runs, will he then demand another contract extension this offseason?”

10) Rooting “for the story”

When did this start? Has it always been this way? Instead of enjoying an outcome that will result in happiness for their audience, media types now root for whatever is likely to result in “the best story.” Usually “the best story” is whatever is going to cause the most heartache for the local fans and be the most negative outcome possible. A devastating loss is somehow easier to write about then an exhilarating win.

11) The need to be “edgy”

WBCN had a perfectly good Patriots pregame show in years past. However, they started tweaking it with the express purpose of making it more “edgy” and “combative.” A new host was brought in last year, one who was good at creating “problems” and “issues” that had to be addressed and fought over. This year, competent analysts Pete Brock and Tim Fox were dismissed in favor of guys who are going to yell at each other and be combative. The producer encourages this format, saying that it was their goal to bring this “edge” to the program. NECN has changed their Sports Late Night program, both during the week and on the weekends to be more “edgy” and more opinionated.

12) “Celebrity” Callers

You know the names. “Frank from Gloucester,” “Alison from Cambridge,” “Mike from Canton,” “John from Medford,” “Angry Bill,” “Al from Everett” “Dakota from Braintree”. The list goes on. Sometimes I’m hard pressed to figure out if they’re calling the station, or if the station is calling them. They make regular appearances, seemingly on cue, and usually take the discussion on the air into a totally different direction. Always for the worse. They’re usually some sort of “Superfan” – the worst type of fan. These so-called “fans” usually call up to rip the local teams or question the decisions of the coaches and managers. In the case of “Frank” and “Mike” they’re Yankees fans who appear on the air to do nothing more than taunt Red Sox fans and stir up reaction. Sometimes they’re just on the air to do nothing more than say incredibly stupid things and be the butt of jokes from hosts. (“John”) Incredibly, some of these callers have even either been offered time on local radio stations, or have gone out and tried to get their own show. We had “Danny from Quincy” and another guy whose name I forget (Jack?) get segments hosting with Eddie Andelman on 1510. We had “Dakota” doing a short-lived morning show on the same station. Whenever a piece is done on Red Sox fans or WEEI callers, “Angry Bill” is trotted out before the cameras. What is the appeal?

13) I was right all along!

A proclamation is made. Usually there is very little evidence to prove this proclamation, the basis for the proclamation may even be disputed or proven to be out-and-out wrong. Weeks, months go by, and then by coincidence, the scenario described in the original proclamation actually comes about. That original statement is still dead wrong, but now the leap is made that the speaker was correct all along and now has been proven as such. He seeks vindication from any and all that will listen to him. One to look to for the future, and perhaps it is even happening now, is Borges proclaiming the Patriots championship run as a house of cards, ready to fall apart at any time. At some point, the Patriots are not going to win the Super Bowl, and Ron will be right there, telling us he was right all along. Even if that date turns out to be 2008. Glenn Ordway is another one who has perfected this tactic.

14) Politics

While Dennis and Callahan make no bones about the fact that their show is not strictly sports talk?a good deal of it is news, politics and entertainment, other shows which claim to be sports often work in their political views and get them out there to a huge audience. If a World event is happening, or even a local scandal, you can be sure that the sports experts are also going to bless us with their keen political insights and opinions. I use sports to get away from the news and politics of the world. I don?t need to hear the opinions of these guys on things that actually matter.

So what’s the solution? Is there any? I have friends on the West coast, who are transplanted from here, and they’ve told me it has actually improved their enjoyment of rooting for their teams. They watch the games on the dish, or at a local bar that is full of fellow transplants. They might see some pre or post game shows, and go check out a newspaper or two online. Perhaps the forced cutback has increased their enjoyment of what they can get.

There is no doubt that Boston sports fans have an insatiable demand for information and talk about their teams. The local media has attempted to fill that demand with shows of all types and formats. Unfortunately, they’re shows that for the most part, I don’t enjoy. I listen and watch regardless, but it just could be so much better. I wish I could sit in these meetings where these plans are thought up and implemented. Who thinks that these elements are a good idea and add to the sports experience here in Boston?

It’s not all bad. Perhaps next I’ll come up with a list of the good things in the Boston sports media.

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