Reading Between the Lines Podcast: Episode 2 — Michael Pina

A lot of great reaction to last week’s podcast with Dan Kennedy and Adam Kaufman, which is greatly appreciated on my end. I’m still working out the kinks, and quickly fell behind this week while working on my Metro Boston column and a Sports Media Musings piece for you guys tomorrow. The hope is to have an iTunes feed up and running by next week’s episode.

In Episode 2, I talk to Michael Pina, who writes for various sites on ESPN’s True Hoop Network, including Celtics Hub, as well as Sports On Earth & The Classical. Basically, he has a problem: he is a certified basketball junkie. Which is a great thing for readers, because he’s part of the wave of young basketball scribes who really teach you about the game’s nuances through analytics, clips, and still-frames.

CLICK HERE for the direct link to the player on SoundCloud if the player is not showing up on your Smart Phone. If you want to skip around, below is a breakdown of our conversation. As always, thanks for reading listening! Say hello on Twitter: @Hadfield__.

0:00 – 8:40 We talk about writing styles & the Sloan Sports Conference.

8:40 – 16:55 The conversation shifts to Celtics talk: Jeff Green’s future, the Rajon Rondo narrative (CAN HE BE THE BEST PLAYER ON A CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM?!), and other relevant topics are discussed.

16:15 – 25:00 (END) With the Celtics, for most part, being irrelevant come spring time, we pick our favorite teams to watch, who we think is coming out of Western Conference (either the Heat or Pacers are a lock for the Eastern Conference), & the idea of “clutchness.”

Sports Media Musings: NFL Prospect Michael Sam Announces He Is Gay; The Media Debates How The Media Will Treat The Story

Today: In which we discuss Michael Sam’s decision to step forth as the first openly gay NFL prospect. Before doing so, let’s pass along some prerequisite reads from much smarter writers than myself.

Cyd Zeigler, of Out Sports, has the exclusive behind-the-scenes story of how Sam’s PR team chose to come out to the public with the news, including the thought process behind which outlets to confide in, etc. The piece deep dives into the decision to give the television component to ESPN, but the written news to the New York Times, in order to maintain control of the message. A must-read for media junkies.

LZ Granderson, who is a columnist at ESPN (and gay as well), says Sam’s announcement maters, but it’s hardly groundbreaking.

Mike Tanier is one of my favorite football writers in the country right now. Although, he’s quickly on his way to becoming one of my favorite writers, period. His piece on Sam is excellent.

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The media (predictably) spent the immediate aftermath of Sam’s announcement debating — what else? — HOW THE MEDIA will treat the story. That statement reads cannibalistic, but the conversation felt genuine. Still, contemporary media’s penchant to hedge the future importance of something — anything, really — as its happening, rather than what it means in the here and now, is fascinating. Let’s play along, if only to work this out in our head and on your computer screen by answering three peripheral questions:

1. Is this a story?

Block everything surrounding this announcement out, and simply look at the decision as to whether or not this is “news.” The answer, of course, is that yes — this is a story. We’re traversing uncharted territory and establishing precedence here. To that end, there is immense news value, and plenty of angles to explore. Saying otherwise is ignorant at best and borderline insulting at worst.

Now, when someone questions the magnitude of the announcement or says “so what?,” they aren’t really downplaying its importance or significance, they are scaling back the scope of media reaction to show progress. The implication of that reaction is that we’ve come so far as a society that an openly gay football player assimilating himself to the NFL culture, by and large, shouldn’t be a big deal anymore. And that, really, silence on the matter — seamlessly moving on with our lives without skipping a beat — displays true acceptance, the kind which doesn’t need acknowledgement because This Is Just The Way Things Are. In theory, this is fine, but we live in the real world, where Sam’s decision engenders attention, both positive and negative.

As an aside, it’s interesting: Sam’s advisors planned the timing in a way that helps NFL officials absorb the news as much as possible before the draft. And while that method could prove effective in terms of his draft position, the media, as its wont to do, could find layers to explore, which will only build anticipation — effectively prompting the exact opposite outcome Sam was looking for. Time will tell, just something to consider.

2. What kind of legs does this story have?

It depends on the inevitable moment when an athlete or media talking head (probably the latter) says something stooooopid. So far the media has spent more time discussing whether or not this is a story (again: it is, you imbeciles), than the story itself. Because that’s how we talk about about everything these days. (e.g. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!)

By the way, Herman Edwards never stood a chance here. It’s not a good look, but I suspect, we’ll see worse down the road.

3. OK. That’s a given. Stop dancing around the question: Really, how long?

Fred Toucher compared this to the Manti T’eo scandal last year, which feels off. Toucher’s point is that the T’eo thing was THE story of 2013, but its attention died down shortly after the draft. His argument ultimately fails, however, because while both of these moments live in the era of the 24/7 news cycle, where we drop whatever has our attention for the next shiny object, they are rife with important differences.

Chief among them is that the “distraction” T’eo provided is his own humiliation; meanwhile, Sam’s pending employment (hopefully) fosters progress. This is a critical distinction. Sam is representing an entire demographic, one that this announcement profoundly affects not just today, but going forward. Forever, really. On the other hand, T’eo knowingly perpetuated a lie. It was salacious in every sense of the word, and the ubiquitous failings in the media to uncover the truth was certainly astonishing, but beyond that embarrassment, the story ultimately impacted T’eo and, I suppose, the fourth estate.

But, as with the previous question, the real implication goes beyond the surface of the question. What we’re really asking is “How long will this be THE topic that blogs, columnists, television panels, and radio shows are talking about?”

From an oversaturation standpoint, the period between now and the draft will see prolific overkill. That’s obvious. But it’s a special type of overkill: aimless overkill (my favorite kind!). Because no one, certainly not anyone in the media, is particularly adept at identifying draft value. (Think of how many impact guys come in undrafted every season, or how many third round draft picks outperform first rounders. Trying to reconcile his changed draft status — post-announcement — feels silly and pointless and empty, but simultaneously is an important question. Alas, #EmbraceDebate. Ewwwww.)

After Sam’s drafted – and, despite what one General Manager said in Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column today, we’d be floored if he wasn’t drafted – the story will garner attention in training camp, but no more than other typical preseason storylines “Will RGIII will bounce back?”, “Is Rob Gronkowski healthy?”, “TEBOWWWWWWWWWW!” (I feel like a SportsCenter anchor just needs to yell “Tebow” once every 90 minutes in August – can’t just quit cold turkey). In the end, who cares? We just want to watch football.

As far as outlets ranging from TMZ to CNN? They’ll keep their eye on matters, but direct their attention elsewhere as soon as Justin Bieber enters rehab. So, basically, by Valentine’s Day.

 ***

At the very least, we’ll be taking a break from Pete Carroll: Leader of Men talk this week. Speaking of which, in my Metro column this week, I examine the Carroll era and rank the top-five expatriates of Boston Sports who we wouldn’t want to see a championship. Because lists are always fun. Especially negative lists.

Anyway, as always, thanks for reading. Feel free to say hello in the Twittersphere: @Hadfield__.

Sports Media Musings: The Narrative Problem; Revisionist History of the Pete Carroll-Patriots Divorce; Sochi Games Unplugged

Today: In which we play a game of Three & Out while cleaning out the notebook as we head into the weekend. As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to say hello in the Twittersphere: @Hadfield__.

FIRST DOWN: The Narrative Problem

HOT SPORTS TAKES are all around Boston these days, and it’s killing my wardrobe. Yes, my wardrobe. This morning “Dennis & Callahan” teased whether Tony Gonzalez, who apparently left the door open to stave off retirement one more season to play for a Super Bowl contender, would even consider New England as a destination. The statement was so outrageous that I spit my coffee out. Now, I have a coffee stain on my shirt. Thanks a lot, Hot Sports Takes. JEEZ.

To clarify, I’m not blaming “Dennis & Callahan.” They are just following suit, I suppose. But this idea that the NFC is now impenetrable needs to stop. The Seahawks and 49ers probably beat whoever comes out of the AFC this season. I have no qualms with that assessment, but the problem here is obvious: Football happens once a week, and in between games, we develop these “irrefutable” ideas/takes about teams and players, then either whimsically flip the idea or doggedly stress its absolute truth based on the result the following week.

It’s a foolish exercise and lacks any perspective, but hey — sure, NO ONE IS BEATING SEATTLE, until the Seahawks lose, then the tide turns to IS THIS THE BLUEPRINT TO BEAT SEATTLE? Rinse and repeat, and so on and so forth. You know the drill. When the Super Bowl happens, we’re stuck on that same narrative until summer time, and forced to listen Steve Young talk about Pete Carroll like he’s a philosopher as opposed to a fucking football coach with a straight face. This is real life. This is happening.

Meanwhile: WHAT HAPPENED TO ANY GIVEN SUNDAY???

// AND PARITY??

The answer? Those things don’t exist in the offseason.

(As an aside: Yes, the Patriots are still Super Bowl favorites. There are 32 teams, and they consistently reach the conference championship game, year in and year out, 8 out of 13 seasons in the Brady-Belichick era.)

SECOND DOWN: That Mind Erasing Device From Men In Black Totally Exists

As previously mentioned, the talking heads are having a field day with Carroll, and some are questioning, or at least discussing, whether or not Bill Belichick should loosen his grip on his team. The problem is that those espousing such ideas blacked out the downside to Carroll’s approach and conveniently forget to mention that Seattle is the first true beneficiary of the CBA (Russell Wilson & Richard Sherman count for LESS THAN A MILLION dollars on Hawks’ cap). Although, I refuse to believe the talking heads would ignore facts to promulgate an idea or, GASP, agenda.

No. Never. The only explanation?

In case anyone was exposed to such a device, here’s a refresher. This is what happens when 10-6 turns into 9-7 which turns into 8-8.

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I’m happy for Carroll, I really am. But I think his success is mutually exclusive in terms of how the Patriots should conduct affairs going forward.

THIRD DOWN: The Sochi Games Are Everything Right Now

Goalies taking a trolley between rinks, toilets that don’t work, and the Russian deputy prime minister indirectly admitting that the government has surveillance cameras set up in hotel rooms. So much wrong happening here. It’s fantastic, actually.

As insane as this sounds, I want to welcome the Olympics to the way in which we discuss sports in 2014. You’re a little late to the party, but that’s OK, kegs in the back, LET’S PLAY FLIP CUP!

What am I talking about? The way we talk about sports in 2014 has very little to do with sports. Bullying, the idea of tanking, the stoooopid Hall of Fame debates, everything about the NCAA, even over-the-top postgame interviews (OMIGAWD, DID YOU HEAR WHAT RICHARD SHERMAN SAID!? THUG … ACTUALLY, IF YOU MUST KNOW, HE WENT TO STANFORD. SO THERE.). These topics are related to sports, but unrelated to watching sports. The Olympics, though, are supposed to be different – the purity of sports, which is supposedly pristine.

Instead, it turns out, the Winter Games are just the rest of the sports world. Except maybe worse, like on steroids or something, because Russia is what happens when keeping it real goes wrong. When the games start, maybe that will change, but so far, it’s emblematic of the way we consume the rest of sports.