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When the Take’s Too Hot

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It’s been a long time since I was in journalism school, but back in my J-School days we had an ethics class and used to have long discussions about what was and wasn’t ethical to publish.

Generally, these talks revolved around ideas like going undercover: if you gave a false identity to get information, does that information outweigh the act of lying? Or, in other words, if you were dishonest to one person, why should the reader believe you’re being honest to them? It was all very academic and looking back at it, makes me wonder if I attended The College-on-the-Hill.

It all kind of came back to me the other day when I read about a scorching hot take which ran over on a Blog I’m Not Going to Name. Basically, it was a vile opinion that wished actual, literal death on Josh Hamilton for being an addict. It was stupid beyond words, a vicious, ugly piece of hot garbage.

This post isn’t about that, though. It’s about what happened in the layer above the post: the editor who ran it, quickly deleted it but gave the writer a chance to write a self-congratulatory, tone-deaf ‘apology.’ How does that happen?

The goal of opinion writing is supposed to be to present an informed take on a subject and present it in a way that makes a logical argument. If I were to write something about how the Toronto Raptors should fire Dwane Casey, I’d have to make a case for why he’s failed at his job, why Toronto should move on him and maybe even argue a case for who should be coach. I’d have to write about something concrete: wins, losses, defensive meltdowns and short rotations.

I wouldn’t launch a personal attack.

For one, that’s rude and distasteful. Second, it doesn’t actually mean anything: if I start calling people names and slandering them, it’s only making me look petty and uninformed and unintelligent. And again: it’s stupid. My job as a ‘sportswriter’ – anyone who has that job, really – is to argue about sports and be able to back it up. Ad hominem attacks are lazy, uninformed and a waste of everyone’s time.

If I know this, why doesn’t the editor at Blog I’m Not Going To Name? Why doesn’t his boss at A Much Larger Blog Network know this? Were they even in the loop? When the blogger went back and wrote a goodbye post, was it something they approved or even knew about? Who the hell knows.

But it’s not just this one post – although it kind of pushed me to write this – but it’s something I see all the damn time these days: Hot Take after Hot Take, often just out there to shock readers into a few clicks. As a certain four-letter network says, Embrace Debate.

Which brings me back to my days in ethics class: we used to talk and argue these things and hear multiple points of view. Which is what I think every good blog needs: communication. You need to talk with editors to help shape your piece. You need to think about your words and how they’ll impact people.

As we used to say: it’s impact, not intent. I could mean the nicest thing in the world, but that’s moot if they start pissing people off. And once you start coming off like an asshole, it’s pretty hard to gain trust back from readers. Maybe that’s why I avoid a lot of sports media these days.

Written by M.

April 29, 2015 at 11:32 am

Posted in Sports Media

Tagged with ,

The Doom and Gloomy Leafs on a Sunny Jays Sunday

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It was warm and sunny on Sunday as I drove into Blue Mountain, but it was also a day where the slopes were still open, too: people carrying snowboards, skis and helmets commingled with people in shorts, tank tops and sandals at the bottom of the hill.

Seemed like fitting weather, given the day’s sports news coming out of Toronto. It too was a mix of summer and winter, the Jays and Leafs each with moves that would normally lead the sports section.

On Saturday night the Leafs season finally came to an end against Montreal. Not an exciting game, not even one I bothered watching to completion. It’d been a rough year by anyone’s standards, not even getting into the weird little soap operas that kept bubbling up throughout the year: Kessel snapping at the media, a plague of jerseys thrown on the ice, a media-driven flap over players not saluting fans who were booing them off the ice. Like I said: it was a weird year.

Anyway, less than 24 hours after the Leafs final game, Brendan Shanahan started purging the team. He fired the general manager, the coach and a bunch of assistants. Depending on who you read, their scouting department was gutted as well. He had promised quick changes, but man, this was quick. As a twitter wag noted, there wasn’t even time for the traditional contract extensions first.

There aren’t really any compelling arguments for keeping Dave Nonis on as GM. For one, his position under Shanahan seems ill defined and is maybe powerless. Even last summer, when the Leafs started hiring management, the moves were seen as Shanahan moves, like when the Leafs hired Kyle Dubas away from the OHL’s Sault St Marie Greyhounds.

If that left the player moves to Nonis, it’s worth noting what happened there is problem number two. Over the past few seasons, the Leafs have let much of their talent walk, kept underperforming players around and never really addressed positional needs.

One example: In the spring of 2013, James Reimer backstopped the Leafs deep into the first round of the playoffs, often while facing upwards of 40 shots a night. That summer, the Leafs added another goalie, who also regularly faces upwards of 40 shots a night. They still haven’t really addressed their defensive and puck possession problems.

In a way, it’s frustrating. The Leafs are always in the news and it’s rarely for something interesting. It’s always negative, either because they lost, because the media is throwing someone under the bus or because there’s some kind of controversy being drummed up. First it was people throwing jerseys, then it was salute-gate, finally it was Kessel getting fed up by accusatory questions.

This season, more than any other I can remember, seemed like the media trying to crank out a new scandal every few days to sell papers or push a columnists name ahead. When I get around to the sports section, it feels like the same old doom and gloom from a crop of writers I used to enjoy reading. Maybe that’s why I read it less and less these days.

And indeed, all the moves are leading the sports pages today. The scribes are already writing stuff that throws Kessel under the bus (no, I’m not linking to it) and slamming Nonis on the way out. I’m sure that in days to come, they’ll find hands to wring, people to blame and easy solutions that won’t really solve anything. I’m also sure I won’t bother reading any of it.

It’s too bad: the Jays played their most exciting game of the year on Sunday and frankly, it might be one of their best games of 2015.

 

I caught snatches of the game on the radio and on Twitter: lots of hitting, a big Jays lead and a near-comeback by the Baltimore Orioles. I think my favourite part was the late home run by Bautista: buzzed by an inside pitch, he took the next into the seats and ran around the bases yelling at Darren O’Day. If I remember right, he was even yelling from the dugout afterwards! It was great: his first home run of the year, one that gave the Jays an extended lead in the late innings and a nice display of emotion from a guy who generally seems pretty reserved.

 

But remember: late last year, Bautista went on a tear and more or less kept the Jays in playoff contention almost single-handedly (I even wrote about it here). He hit .299/.430/.540 in September, including a 12-game stretch where he hit eight homers and slugged a 1.205 OPS. He started this season a little slowly, but man, he seemed jacked up after that dinger and I’m hoping it’s a sign he’ll go on a tear.

 

There were other cool moments. There was a great grab by Donaldson late in the game, where he dove and grabbed a sharply-hit ball. There was two good grabs by Kevin Pillar, including one in the ninth where he lost his glove but the ball stayed inside (he hit a dinger, too). And there was Castro, who found himself in a jam in the ninth, with the tying run at the plate and one out, but pitched his way out of it. Not bad for a rookie!

 

For me, the game hit all the right notes: memorable defense, good pitching (by Castro, anyway) and a Bautista dinger. And what’s more, it’s a positive story: there isn’t anyone to throw under the bus, nobody you to assign blame to, not even a stupid controversy to milk. After all, after a week into the new season, the Jays have gone 4-2 and are tied for the AL East lead. It should be an exciting time!

 

It’s too bad it’s buried under a pile of Leafs-autopsy ink.

The Good Point: On Equal Coverage

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Over at The Good Point, I’ve got a piece I’m pretty happy with, where I examine why more mainstream sports outlets – Sports Illustrated, ESPN, etc – don’t cover women’s sports like they do men’s.

In it, I spoke to a woman who runs a great site, The Scoreboard for Equality. There, she keeps an eye on the NY Times and other sites. As I wrote in my story:

A sample day: on July 12, the New York Times had 25 stories about men’s sports and just one about women’s: a lone story about golf in China. The night before, there were two WNBA games and a NWSL match between Seattle and Western New York. ESPN premiered the first of it’s Nine for IX documentary series just a couple days later. As per the report on Scoreboard, none of those events were on the publication’s main sports page.

Perhaps you’ve heard the Times famed motto: All the News That’s Fit To Print.

Click here to read the whole story!

Written by M.

August 8, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Posted in Sports Media, The Good Point

Tagged with ,

How John Madden and Pat Summerall got together

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Here’s a short post from the pile of “Stuff I wrote/pitched elsewhere that was passed on.”

 

Back in 1981, CBS Sports was a mess. This was before they were broadcasting baseball, the Olympics or March Madness, the days when they had NFL football on Sunday, the Masters in the spring and NBA basketball sometime at night. And the on-air presentation wasn’t much better either: maybe you’ve seen some of these broadcasts, which look barebones even by 1980 standards: a few cameras, the bare minimum of on-screen information. And lots and lots of Brent Musberger, their star commentator and host.

That year, CBS Sports lured away a young producer from ABC Sports named Terry O’Neil. Starting as a researcher, O’Neil had worked his way up through ABC Sports and learned how to produce a sports telecast under the legendary Roone Arledge. When he jumped to CBS, he went from a network with Monday Night Football to one that aired a made-for-TV NFL Cheerleader competition. As he writes in his memoir, The Game Behind the Game, CBS was woefully out of touch.

“Their production people had not been introduced to the fundamental techniques of attracting and holding audience. They hadn’t developed personalities among CBS’s star athletes, didn’t heighten interest by reporting real news, didn’t preview their coming events with live cut-ins during a broadcast day.” (pg 82)

And more to the point, they were bleeding young talent: both Al Michaels and Bob Costas fled the network after being repeated passed over for promotion. But things were changing: shortly after they hired O’Neil, CBS landed college basketball, which remains one of their core properties. They renovated the way they presented games, overhauling graphics and the way on-air talent reported during and between events. But O’Neil’s biggest move was about to come.

At the time, CBS’s top broadcasting duo was Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier. The network had decided to break it up for the start of the 1981 season, but wasn’t sure who would go where or make up their new top team. Van Gordon Sauter started pushing for a new color guy, at the time working on regional broadcasts and best known for starring in Miller Lite ads: John Madden. But, as O’Neil relates it, Madden had a quality you couldn’t fake:

“Madden showed promise. At that point, he was not the funny, outrageous Madden America now reveres. He was not doing the ‘boom, bap, whap’ routine yet. But he had something honest, real. The quality was had to define, which made it all the more appealing.” (pg 92)

But the question of who would call the top-market games was still up in the air: Sauter was pushing for Vin Scully, O’Neil for Summerall. Each represented a different way of broadcasting: Scully was a talker, who could (and still does) illustrate a scene with words; Summerall was the opposite, the Raymond Carver of broadcasting, using five words where another would use 15.

“With football’s faster pace,” wrote O’Neil, “there was no time for word pictures and with recent advances in coverage, there was no need. Now add Madden, who had plenty to say and frequently used the full 30 seconds between plays to say it. The combination would be too much. The viewer, I told Sauter, would be wrung out by halftime.” (pg 93)

Eventually, CBS split the difference for 1981: each would partner with Madden for four games and by the end of week eight, CBS would make the final call. And they’d go with Summerall and Madden.

It wasn’t a universally loved combination. Joe LaPointe of Knight-Ridder wrote a column condemning the decision, calling Scully the victim of behind-the-scenes politics. Even if he wasn’t, Scully was biting mad and left CBS for NBC Sports seven months later, becoming their lead baseball voice. And by Super Bowl XVI, one of the most iconic broadcasting duos was set. They’d broadcast together for the next 20 seasons. O’Neil, after a messy spat with Musberger and CBS management was gone by 1987.

Written by M.

April 23, 2013 at 9:00 am

The Most Interesting Tweeting Toronto-types

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About a week ago, Sports Illustrated put together it’s top 100 sports tweeters and a few days ago, Deadspin followed with a list of the worst sports twitter accounts. Neither list really means much because: SI doesn’t exactly have any criteria other than people who tweet about sports/work in the sports media/are popular athletes so it’s no better than just seeing who gets RT’d the most; Deadspin’s list is a hilarious piece of satire and it’s cool that people are taking it seriously.

But then, making a list of Who’s Best/Worst/Funniest/Etc/Ad Infinitum is also completely pointless because people use Twitter different ways. Some use it to keep up on news, others to spread news and others to make funny jokes. I can’t tell you the best people to follow because what I expect from Twitter is probably not what you expect. You’re probably better off making your own decisions.

That said, what follows is a list of what I deem the most interesting Toronto Twitter peoples: people who tweet stuff about Toronto sports which is either funny, interesting or at least post links to good stuff. It’s by no means definitive, is probably stuffed with bias towards the Jays and Raptors (I still don’t know of a good Argos-centric Twitter person) and includes a few people who don’t live in the GTA or even tweet about Toronto stuff, but are still worth it for people in the 905, 416 and maybe even the 705. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

September 22, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Fading to red: The Score 1994-2012

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Last summer, on a bright and hot weekday, I got up early and took the GO Train down from Barrie down to Union Station, got outside and walked a few blocks over to Blue Jay Way, to the headquarters of The Score for a job interview. I had asked which building was the right one to walk into, I was told I should be able tell by looking. It was the one with a giant sports ticket on the outside.

That interview never amounted to anything, but it was nice to visit the place I’d watched so much of over the years; if there was one sports network that deserved a title like “different,” it was The Score. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

August 29, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Flashfact: Remembering Bert Sugar

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When Bert Sugar died last weekend, the sportswriting world didn’t just lose a colourful character, it lost a unique voice: someone who knew professional sports are hype and bullshit and wasn’t afraid to fill his copy with clever jokes. In an age where a backup quarterback commands a press scrum so large they have hold a media conference on a practice field, his less-than-serious while knowing almost everything attitude will be missed.

From my short piece at Flashfact:

I can’t help but wonder if there’s some kind of cosmic connection at work in New York these days. On Sunday, Bert Sugar – the last remnant of the Golden Age of Sports Writing – died at 75. On Monday, Jets quarterback Tim Tebow was introduced to a crowd so large it wouldn’t fit into the media room, forcing the presser to be held on the practice squad. As Vonnegut wrote, so it goes.
Sugar was a reminder of the past, of a long-gone print media sports writing type. He was something of a character, a half-made-up, half-for-real man in his fedora, suit and ever-present cigar. He looked like he could have stepped out of one of the old volumes of sports writing and I half expect to see his byline among the long-dead writers in the great anthology No Cheering in the Press Box.

Read the whole story by clicking here.

Written by M.

March 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm