In Condemnation of ESPN as Court TV
I have some very troubling breaking news to report. On Wednesday afternoon, Barry Lamar Bonds walked into a San Francisco courthouse. In the city where he became Major League Baseball’s undisputed home run king, Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice of a 2003 grand jury pertaining to his alleged steroid use. And so Barry Bonds rode off into the sunset with his head hung low, the national perception of baseball irrevocably altered as fans old and young were riled into an uproar.
Now, there are a few issues with this version of events. For one, Barry Bonds is most likely hanging his head as a result of gravity rather than shame, on account of its mammoth size. Granted, the link of Bonds to performance enhancing drugs did make a permanent impact on the image of the MLB and spearheaded a trend towards the cynical sports fan, but all of this is a half decade old at the minimum. Sports history is largely determined in the court of public opinion. Hence, Barry Bonds has been a confirmed steroid user since the BALCO scandal broke in 2003. Which leads me to my main point: why exactly is everyone treating this as breaking news?
This isn’t an argument for blissful ignorance, a righteous call for Giants fans to lay down their sense of morals and ethics to scrutinize why the defending World Series champions find themselves at .500. The horrific and indefensible beating of Giants fan Brian Stow that left him in a coma has shifted the focus away from the field and to the question of security, as it should have. Baseball and its fans cannot tolerate overzealousness expressed through violence, and prudent discussion and a call for respectable conduct is both necessary and welcome. But the national discourse on Giants baseball would certainly gain more from commentary on the early season resurgence of third baseman Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval, who entered the season down 40 pounds from the 280 pounds he weighed last year. Wouldn’t one editorial on the demonstrated importance of player conditioning provide more edification for the modern sports fan than the deluge of responses to the Bonds conviction have?
The problem of true newsworthiness seems particularly pernicious in sports media today. While Bonds is overshadowing the rejuvenation of small market baseball in Ohio, with the upstart Cincinnati Reds and the perpetually dismal Cleveland Indians leading their respective divisions, think of the amount of coverage the quagmire that is the NFL lockout has been getting. Why do we really need to get daily ESPN updates to tell us that NFL Players Association Executive Director Demaurice Smith has purchased a bottle of water to take into the mediation session? That is not an exaggeration; this was reporter Ed Werder’s first comment on a “developing story” at one point. The playoffs are about to begin following the most exciting NBA regular season in recent memory, and yet ESPN devotes a half hour to its NFL Live program every night, while NBA Fastbreak is nowhere to be found. And god forbid the Stanley Cup playoffs or anything hockey-related preempt these oh-so-urgent legal proceedings.
Sports are an outlet, a diversion from life. A sports fan should not be forced to view the world with litigious eyes in order to watch the highlights. Lawyers may be an integral part of the Bonds trial and the lockout, but these events should not be considered sports news, but rather sports adjacent. Think about how we as a sports nation explained the Steroid Era hearings to children years ago, and how we are explaining the lockout litigation today. Professional sports is a business, but the important things are the lessons we learn on the field, of sportsmanship, of fraternity, of the spirit of competition. To bring sports media to a place so far removed from sporting competition, where sportsmanship and fraternity are unused and unwelcome, is unnecessary at best and detrimental to the sports world at worst.
Barry Bonds and BALCO headlined the sports pages ages ago; let us leave them there where they belong. The NFL lockout will eventually be resolved or impact the coming season; until then, let us focus on things that matter. You know, Sandoval homered Wednesday night to lead the Giants to a win, let’s talk about that. The NHL playoffs kicked off Wednesday, and the NBA starts its postseason this Saturday. Or hey, it’s springtime, why don’t we all just leave Sportscenter be for a while and head outside ourselves?