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Year filled with hard-to-ignore scandals
The most common complaint about sports coverage — my particular emphasis in this space — is the amount of time spent chronicling off-the-court antics as opposed to dealing with the actual games. “Who cares about the rest of this garbage?” a lot of readers ask.
Certainly, nobody did more to capture the nobler side of sports than Bud Greenspan, the documentary filmmaker who died Saturday. In films such as “16 Days of Glory,” Greenspan chronicled the uplifting side of athletic competition and put a lump in your throat along the way.
In 2010, however, when it comes to asking the media to stay focused on what transpired on the court or field, athletes haven’t made it easy to overlook the herd of elephants in the room, unleashing a blitz of scandals.
What’s the right balance for networks, commentators and announcers? Can they really ignore issues involving marquee players?
It would be nice, for example, to deal strictly with Michael Vick’s MVP-worthy year with the Philadelphia Eagles, but that requires ignoring his 18-month prison term for operating a brutal dog-fighting ring. Analysts can marvel all they want at his talents as a runner and passer, but for dog lovers, it’s hard not to smile each time Vick takes a solid hit from a 300-pound lineman.
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton enjoyed his own dazzling dual-threat campaign, earning him the Heisman Trophy. But then there’s that little matter of his father allegedly seeking a six-figure advance against his son’s likely seven-figure paydays once he starts playing on Sundays.
Gee, only six New Year’s Day bowl games from which to choose? Actually, it’s not as bountiful a feast as that suggests: The main highlight is the Rose Bowl — making its non-network-broadcast debut on ESPN — as TCU tries to prove it is BCS worthy against Wisconsin.
Along similar lines, the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl win — four-plus years after Hurricane Katrina — was the kind of feel-good story Greenspan would have loved. But then star running back Reggie Bush felt compelled to go and return his own Heisman, thanks to NCAA violations that landed his alma mater, Southern Cal, on probation.
No NBA player soars higher than LeBron James, but all most people will remember about the so-called King from 2010 is the churlish way he notified Cleveland of his breakup plans, via an ESPN infomercial titled “The Decision.”
Tiger Woods returned to the golf course after a five-month hiatus, but oddly, that doesn’t seem like the most memorable part of his year, either.
Ohio State will cap its season with a trip to the Sugar Bowl. Too bad the Jan. 4 contest is the last people will see of starting QB Terrelle Pryor and four teammates for a while, as NCAA rules violations will earn them suspensions through the first five games of the 2011 season.
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Brett Favre, meanwhile, made yet another dramatic come-from-retirement return, although his most talked-about passes involved the messages he apparently sent (sexted?) to Jenn Sterger during his stint with the New York Jets. (Go ahead, check the “Babes” link; I’ll wait.)
No wonder TMZ — the website normally preoccupied with the escapades of Hollywood celebrities — expanded its scope by adding sports, where you can find headlines such as “Favre Allegedly Asked Sterger for Masturbation Video.”
Finally, there’s the little matter of whether there even will be games to watch and scores to follow in 2011, with labor discord clouding the future of the NFL and NBA, including the very real possibility of season-threatening lockouts.
Of course, outside of Greenspan’s films, the many athletes leading exemplary lives — who love their mothers and have sex (mostly, anyway) with their spouses — don’t always get so much attention. But complaining about that is like criticizing the media for not devoting more ink to airplanes that land safely. That’s just not the nature of the beast, which thrives on the unusual and scandalous.
For all that, there are still those who’d like to adhere to wins and losses — following our heroes’ exploits exclusively when they’re in uniform. Sports represent an escape, they say; why muck up their enjoyment with unnecessary drama?
In theory, that sounds swell — but such an approach would require an assist from athletes doing their part by providing less off-field fodder for newspapers, websites and networks desperate to drive circulation and ratings. If everyone was a model citizen, after all, the media would be forced to limit coverage just to the games, right?
As Pete Rose might say, don’t bet on it.
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