Guest Column – The Rise Of Armchair Sports Commentary

Today’s guest column comes from former Boston Herald columnist Michael Gee. 

By Michael Gee

The two comments most often made to me during my career as a sportswriter by loved ones, friends, acquaintances and strangers were, hands down “So you get to go to the game for free,” or, “you get paid to go to the games.”

The first was inaccurate. I was getting paid. The second was only half-true. I was getting paid to write about the game after I watched them.  I didn’t argue the point. People who have not written prose on deadline for money do not believe writing is work, and nothing can change their minds. Besides, the half of their sentence that was true was the more important half.

I did get to go to the games.  By games, I mean every sports event I covered, ranging from the Olympics on down (or up) to the state high school field hockey championship game where it ended in the declaration of a tie, co-champions, and two sets of teenage girls weeping uncontrollably as they got their trophies.  And as far as I was and still am concerned, studying athletic events up close was the reward part of my trade, while writing was the trade part.

A life spent sitting front row center is nonmonetary compensation of incalculable price. It’s worth a great many 6 a.m. Tuesday flights to Detroit. It’s why Red Smith said sportswriters were “underpaid and overprivileged.”   The sportswriters who got to cover the most big games as defined by the average fan were held in almost the same regard by their peers as the ones who were thought to be the best writers or who made the most money.

(Wiseacres, note the following disclaimer. Of course going to the games can be tedious and irksome. That’s how the people in the games feel sometimes, too. Bill Belichick has admitted training camp is dull. Ernie Harwell told me calling 5000 baseball games got repetitious.  I did my share of bitching. Didn’t mean I didn’t love what I did).

Now that I’ve been a journalism consumer and not producer for six years, it strikes me this equation has gone upside down. The best-known and best-compensated sports reporters and commentators, in whatever medium, go to the fewest games, not the most. What’s more, the system is set up to encourage sports reporters and commentators to go to as few events as possible.

Bill Simmons, Mike Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser, Rick Reilly. Those are probably the four sports journalists in America with the largest audiences. All are or were accomplished writers. All but Simmons, who invented his own gig, covered an enormous number of games in their time. None go to many now. There’s more money and fame in being a personality than is found in the press box.

For better or worse my former colleague Michael Felger is the hottest sports commentator in town right now. Michael went to a great many games in his day and a good reporter he was, too. Now, for many times the money he made at the Herald, Mike works the 10-6 shift Monday to Friday. He can have a life. Mike would have to either have rocks in his head or be unhealthily devoted to watching sports events not to have embraced his new gig. His incentives all point in that direction.

Those incentives aren’t healthy. The participants in and especially the owners of the new order of sports media do not perceive the danger it poses to their whole racket.  It seems insane for any part of the business of journalism to respond to the challenge of the Internet by creating a structure where armchair opininating is the pinnacle of the professional pyramid.  Anybody can go on and on about sports on the Web and many do, including me. If you are offering a product for money that can be produced for free by your customers, it had better be of much higher quality than what they can crank out.

The laws of probability make that a chancy proposition. To his credit, Simmons has spawned millions of imitators. Most are and will be horrible,and will fail. But some won’t be. Sooner or later, one will strike readers as even better than Simmons himself.  That dynamic works even more quickly and horribly in radio, or so I am informed by stockholders of Entercom and Glenn Ordway’s agent.

It’s a simple dynamic.. In a world where more people have more access to more information than at any time in human history, the only model that works for the information business is “tell ‘em something they don’t know yet.” Why would customers pay for anything else?

If I were running a sports media business, my reporters and commentators could look forward to going to a great many games – high school games most definitely included.

Former Pats LB Tedy Bruschi Joins WEEI’s Patriots Monday

Just announced by WEEI, former Patriots Linebacker Tedy Bruschi, a current ESPN NFL analyst, will join The Big Show with Glenn Ordway and Michael Holley every Monday for “Patriots Monday”. Ordway, Holley and Bruschi will interview Patriots head coach Bill Belichick so this apparently means the end of maddening softball questions by both Fred Smerlas and Steve DeOssie. Then again with Bruschi there, I’m not sure if he’s willing to ask hard questions of the coach either. Anyway, it’s a whole new cast for “Patriots Monday” for the Big Show with Ordway being the lone holdover.

We have the announcement from WEEI:

Former New England Patriot Tedy Bruschi joins the WEEI Sports Radio Network

July 26, 2011 (Boston, MA) – The WEEI Sports Radio Network announced today that former New England Patriots linebacker and current ESPN NFL analyst, Tedy Bruschi, will join the station as part of its Patriots coverage this fall.

Bruschi will join co-hosts Michael Holley and Glenn Ordway during The Big Show on “Patriots Monday,” from 4pm to 6pm, and be part of their interview with Coach Bill Belichick each week beginning August 15th. Bruschi was drafted by the New England Patriots in 1996 out of the University of Arizona and played his entire career with the team before retiring in 2008. He was a member of each of the Patriots three Super Bowl winning teams in 2001, 2003 and 2004.

Additionally, WEEI will support the efforts of “Tedy’s Team,” through a series of fundraising ventures over the course of the season. “Tedy’s Team,” is a group of runners raising money for the American Stroke Association and training to complete the Boston Marathon® and the Falmouth Road Race. Their participation supports Tedy Bruschi’s fight against strokes and honors both the survivors and the loved ones lost to America’s No. 3 leading cause of death.

“Tedy was a terrific player for the Patriots and is an excellent broadcaster for ESPN,” said Jason Wolfe, Vice-President of Programming for WEEI. “He’ll be an outstanding addition to our fall football lineup and I’m excited to be able to work with him. I’m also extremely proud to use the power of our station to support ‘Tedy’s Team, and I hope we can continue to bring awareness to this great cause.”

That’s all.

2011 Approval Ratings – Ron Borges

Ron Borges is a columnist for the Boston Herald.

This is actually Borges’ first time in the approval ratings, the last time we did these, in 2008, Borges was unemployed, having left the Globe after the football notes plagiarism case. Borges had been at The Boston Globe for 24 years covering the NFL and boxing beats. Before then he had worked out in the SF Bay area, covering the Raiders from 1976 to 1982, first for the Sacramento Union, and then for the Oakland Tribune, which spawned his unending admiration for all things Black and Silver.

Borges is a renowned boxing writer, having covered the sport for HBO in addition to the Globe. After leaving the Globe, he briefly wrote for his own site, RonBorges.com, while freelancing for various boxing and football publications. He was hired by WEEI.com in the summer of 2008, where he lasted for a month before bolting to the Herald.

His appearances on local sports radio and television are always contentious, and his recent foray into the world of Twitter is the perfect place for him to spout his opinion on all topics. He was featured in a 2006 edition of Boston Magazine.

{democracy:120}