Fill up your Instapaper Queue (Links, June 23)

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After spending the past six weeks studying for and taking my qualifying exams, we’re back with our semi-regular series featuring stories that are worth your time and a spot in your reader of choice. We like Instapaper.

Wright Thompson’s article about racism in Italian soccer received a lot of widespread love, and with good reason. It’s sensational. Thompson does a fantastic job of weaving historical fact, rock-solid reporting and his personal experiences to make the story complete.

It was not as widely shared a story as Thompson’s masterpiece, but I thought Mike Finger’s investigative look into how the University of Texas is spending boatloads of money for not much production was illuminating on a lot of levels. It stands as a great piece of sports journalism, using public records and documents to tell a story. It illustrates the largesse of the UT athletic department (I was there a few months ago for a conference, and the tennis stadium was nicer than some pro facilities I’ve seen). Also, it demonstrates the winning-isn’t-everything-it’s-the-only-thing mentality of college sports in 2013.

Which leads us to … the Ed O’Bannon case agains the NCAA is reaching a critical point. If the judge in the case grants the plaintiff’s request to have this certified as a class-action lawsuit, it could be game over for the NCAA. I’m planning a piece on this case this week, but this story is a good catch-me-up.

Where've I been?

What have I been doing the past month? Living out of these boxes.

So you may be wondering, why has this blog been so quiet the past month? (I doubt it, you never know.) First of all, thanks for caring so much that you'd wonder such a thing.

Second, it's been a quiet month at Sports Media Guy because I'm in the middle of studying for my qualifying exams. Starting next week, I'm taking four 4-hour closed-book written exams as a part of my doctoral program at Syracuse University. It's like a cross between the bar exam and final exams. If I pass them, I can eventually move on to being a doctoral candidate, start my dissertation, and keep moving along the path to full-time employment.

And since four 4-hour exams in communications theory, research methods, organizational sociology and perspectives in new and social media are quite daunting, I've had to put the blog on hiatus while I study.

My last exam is June 19, so after that, I'm hoping to be up and blogging again. I may have a post before that on the recent steroid story, but I make no promises.

Talk to you guys soon!

Are the media killing Tim Tebow's career?


Nothing is seemingly ever simple in the pro football career of ESPN's favorite boy, Tim Tebow. After being released by the Jets a few weeks ago, Tebow still hasn't found a new NFL home. For a guy with a 7-4 record and a playoff win (and as someone who has seen, in order, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick quarterback his favorite team, that record looks positively Unitas-ian), it is surprising that a team hasn't at least taken a flyer on him as a back-up.

Of course, it's Tim Tebow. Nothing's simple with this guy. And Mike Silver at Yahoo! reports that team's reluctance has as much to do with the Tim Tebow-ness of it all rather than just Tim Tebow himself:

As much as prospective employers are wary of Tebow's flawed mechanics, much-maligned throwing motion or deficiencies when it comes to reading defenses, the incessant media and fan attention that accompanies his presence on the depth chart is an even bigger concern. "He seems like a great guy to have on a team, and I'd be tempted to bring him in as our backup," one NFC head coach told me Wednesday. "But it's just not worth dealing with all the stuff that comes with it." ... Or, in the words of one AFC head coach to whom I spoke recently: "You don't want to put up with the circus."

Let's be clear about one thing - when people talk about the "media circus" around Tim Tebow, they mean ESPN. Period, point blank. ESPN is the network that took Tim Tebow coverage and made it TIM TEBOW coverage. They're the ones that held a birthday party for him on the air. They're the ones that had Tebow's release as the lead story on the day the first gay male athlete came out. They are the circus.

But it strikes me as a little odd, and a little bit of an excuse, to blame the media for this. Certainly, a strong organization could handle this. An organization with an established identity, a strong structure, a definitive plan, could deal with a popular backup quarterback who had 3/4 of a successful season. The Jets were a disaster all around. They are not a strong organization, they had no plan whatsoever, and they are in the most oversaturated media market in the country, one that lies within commuiting distance of Barnum and Bailey's headquarters in Bristol. But some organization would be strong enough, sure enough of itself, to provide Tebow a shot.

To blame the media, even if there's some accuracy involved, seems like the ultimate cop-out. The blame Tebow's fans is just insulting to people who spend their hard-earned dough supporting a league that is more interested in ignoring the physical costs of its product.

Chris Kluwe's gay-marriage stance: Correlation or causation?


Correlation does not equal causation. That's one of the first lessons you learn in graduate school, or when you begin a research class. It means that just because things are statistically related or there's a relationship between two variables, or events, or ideas, doesn't automatically mean that one causes the other. This ignores time issues (for A to cause B, A has to come before B), or confounds or other factors (A is related to B, but the change is really due to C). It's an understandable but bad mistake, one born of laziness, of having your mind made up before you sit down to do your work and run the data.

It's a lesson journalists can always do well to remember. And it was on my mind last week, after Vikings' punter Chris Kluwe was released. Les Carpenter at Yahoo!, among others, mused whether or not Kluwe was released because he is an outspoken advocate for gay marriage. Carpenter noted that Ravens' linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo was also released after being outspoken in his defense of gay rights.

But because he is now the great threat to the social fabric of the NFL he was cut.

The issue was debated in morethan a few places last week - it got a segment on PTI. But this line of argument seemed too neat, too clean, for my taste. Carpenter tries to argue that Kluwe is a solid punter, but by most stats he was near the bottom of the league. But the argument seemed predictable. And devoid of any evidence to the contrary, it seems too simplistic to say that Kluwe would still have a job if he weren't a gay-marriage advocate.

And then Cyd Zeigler delivered this incredible blow to the argument on, who writes that stories like this actually do more to hurt the cause of gay athletes than help:

Members of the media have long been the biggest deterrent to gay athletes coming out. Attitudes in the NFL shifted years ago; And even where they haven't, players will accept a productive gay teammate whether they realize it or not. Yet the mainstream media continues to pound the drum of NFL intolerance. A common theme I heard from "experts" in the last two weeks mentioned how Jason Collins' coming out was lovely, but we all know how hard it REALLY will be for an out NFL player in the locker room. On this issue, the mainstream media has showed a dereliction of duty for a decade. This is simply the latest example ... The storyline also hurts the LGBT sports movement. By putting a fictitious target on athletes who support gay rights, we make it harder to find athletes who will speak their mind on behalf of equality.

It's such a great point. The writers of the "Kluwe was cut because he was an advocate" probably believe they are doing a good thing, pointing out what they think is a wrong in the name of tolerance, when in fact they are perpetuating an environment that works against tolerance.

And again, absent any direct evidence to the contrary, it's a dangerous claim to make. And read the original stories from last week. There is no evidence to argue Kluwe was cut because he supports gay marriage. There are no quotes suggesting this, no on or off-the-record claims. It's just speculation, based on a writer's ideas. It's lazy writing, born out of having their minds made up and a storyline already written before they even look at the data or do the work.

It's arguing causation, when there's just correlation.

And any grad student will tell you how wrong that is.

Derrick Rose should play hurt. Except that he shouldn't.


If you're a reader of this blog, you know I have a pretty endless fascination with The Sport Ethic. If you're new, The Sport Ethic is a concept from sociologists Hughes and Coakley that examines some commonly held attitudes among elite athletes (and the subsequent consequences of those attitudes). One of the core attitudes of The Sport Ethic is playing through pain, playing while hurt, sacrificing your health for the team and for the game.

Which is why the Derrick Rose story fascinates me so much. Rose is coming off a torn-up knee, has been cleared to play by team doctors but still hasn't played. Complicating the story is the fact that many of his Bulls teammates are playing through illnesses or injury, and that the Bulls are doing better than expected in the playoffs, having beaten the Heat in game one on Monday night. Rose has been getting killed in certain areas of the Chicago media for not playing.

This isn't the first time this has popped up recently. The RGIII controversy in January was a textbook example of The Sport Ethic. A better comparison for the Rose story would be the Washington Nationals' decision to shut down Steven Strasburg last year. But there was a key difference - last year, Strasburg wanted to keep pitching but the Senators made the decision to shut him down. They took the long-term view of what was best for their franchise - potentially sacrificing short-term success for long-term viability. That was the team making that decision.

This is a player doing it. This is a player putting his own health and his own future ahead of the short-term benefits of his team.

What's surprising to me is how much support Rose is getting in some media circles. Mike Wilbon, a vocal Bulls fan, has been vocally in support of Rose's decision. Tim McKeown is correct on ESPN: Rose can't win no matter what he does.

The star player is supposed to return early from injury. He's supposed to fight the doctors and his trainers and coaches to get out on the court or field to come to the aid of his teammates. He's supposed to jog out onto the court to the thunderous ovation from appreciative fans who will forever be indebted to the man who played through the pain.

These columns, and others, are casting The Sport Ethic in a new light. It's questioning the conventional wisdom of the locker room and of talk radio. It's looking at things from the players' point of view rather than swallowing the established storyline we all expect. It's suggesting that maybe some norms valued by The Sport Ethic may be outdated, or wrong. Maybe playing when a player isn't 100 percent isn't always the best thing for the player and the team. Maybe we in the media and in the stands place too much faith in the myth of Willis Reed, of the flu game, of Jack Youngblood playing on a broken leg and forget the players who come back too early, too hobbled, too ineffective.

Maybe The Sport Ethic is starting to change, slowly and gradually.

Jason Collins and the media


I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay. And with that, Jason Collins provided us with the lede of the year, and one of the most significant sports stories of the year as well.

It's been interesting to watch the media coverage of Collins' coming out this week. The coverage seemed to hit all the right notes, and reaction to it has been, from what I can tell, very positive. It's interesting to me how quickly this story has fallen off our radar - it went from the big story on Monday to almost no mention by Thursday. It's odd, given how monumental it felt on Monday, that people aren't really talking about it just a few days later. But maybe that's the ultimate sign of progress.

The one problem with SI's handling of the story is the headline: The Gay Athlete. Jason Collins isn't the only gay athlete. He's not even, to use the wonderfully tortured phrase of Monday, the only active gay athlete in the four major professional sports (aka only active male gay athlete). There are other gay athletes. There just are. Framing the story as "The Gay Athlete" makes Collins look like even more of an outlier.

But ESPN's coverage ... yeah, that's been fun. First, it took them more than two hours to even acknowledge Collins' announcement on Monday, and even after, it was the SECOND lead story on their ticker (behind, of course, Tim Tebow.) And later that day, on OTL, Chris Broussard launched into an anti-gay rant.*

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(*-His line, "I don't agree with homosexuality." cracked me up. Like that matters?)

John Koblin on Deadspin did a masterful job breaking down Broussard's comments and how ESPN's asinine "Embrace Debate" mantra led to them. Seriously, read Koblin's piece. It's wonderful.

What's so disappointing about the "Embrace Debate" mantra is that it leaves no room for subtlety. It leaves no room for conversations. Debate implies that an argument, a fight over who is right. A conversation is a discussion, an exchange of ideas.

A conversation is what's in order on this story. And beyond the "is being gay OK?" nonsense, and even beyond the obvious questions of "how will this play in a locker room?", there are ao many more interesting questions to discuss here:

  • What is the role of gender in this story? The obvious mistake too many people made on Monday was saying Collins was "the first openly gay athlete." Not even close. There are women who have coming out for literally 30+ years.Billie Jean King came out decades ago, as did Martina Navratilova. Britney Griner came out in April, and did so in such a nonchalant way that no one noticed. Is this disconnect due to the macho culture of men's sports? Is that that many people (aka men) just assume that women athletes are all lesbians?
  • This story is rightly a big deal. Collins should be applauded for coming out. It is a brave move. But looking big picture, how big a deal is it? Remember John Amaechi? Bet you, like friend of the blog Matt Zimmerman pointed out, had to google him. How much social impact will having a 34-year-old reserve player at the end of his career come out? Will the greater impact come when it's a star, in his prime? Or even before his prime (in college)?
  • What impact does the Jackie Robinson story have on our understanding and expectations of this story?

I've heard and read it said before that this story is looking for its Jackie Robinson, its player to break the barrier. I've thought that before myself. But I wonder if that mindset, if that story line, isn't misplaced. For one thing, Robinson was a young player, at the start of what would be a hall-of-fame career. His crossing the color line in baseball was an incredibly important symbolic moment that addressed what remains our Original Sin.

But more importantly ... Robinson's debut came in 1947, when segregation was still legal. Not just practiced, not just endorsed. Legal. The supreme law of the land. He debuted seven years BEFORE Brown v. Board of Education. This is one of the cases when sports was ahead of society on the curve. But now, sports is behind the curve in terms of gay rights and acceptance of gays.

But also, waiting for Robinson - a legendary figure in every way - diminishes what Collins did. Charlie Pierce, of course, said it best: He's not our symbol. He's not a conduit for us to show how tolerant we are and how great sports is for being so tolerant. He's a man, who should be able to live his life how he sees fit.

Which is the true victory of this week's story.

On deadline ... but for how much longer?


A few weeks ago, the NCAA men’s basketball championship game was a sports writer’s nightmare. It had nothing to do with the game between Michigan and Louisville, the result or anything like that. It was all in the timing. The game started at 9:27 p.m. on the East Coast. Which means for so many of the guys and gals on press row, it was a hellish deadline night.

This is not a new problem. Sporting events are starting later, to accommodate the national TV audience and its advertisers. This means a lot of times, writers are up against a hard deadline wall. It happened during Saturday night’s Final Four, too. The Syracuse-Michigan game tipped off at 9:21 p.m., and ended after 11:30 p.m. I talked to several reporters who covered the game, and they told me that their deadlines were between 11:45 p.m. and midnight.

Needless to say, there’s no chance to craft a well-rounded, analytical story. It’s hard to find a fresh angle, a unique take, a good perspective for your readers when you have to file a story that close to the end of the game.*

*(This was my only real problem with the Gregg Doyle-Jim Boeheim dustup in the press conference. There were writers in that room who needed to get quotes and get their stories filed, and Gregg picked that moment to get into a pissing match with Boeheim? That was crap.)

This is nothing new. Jim Kelley, the late Buffalo News NHL columnist, told the story of when he was covering Sabres games on the West Coast, he’d have to file his story AT the final horn. PR guys would be baffled. “You don’t understand the question - how long after the game do you file?” No! Kelley, would say. You don’t understand the answer! The second the horn sounded, he sent the story.

I had my share of tight deadlines. I wrote a 500 word story in nine minutes once. In the 2009 NCAA Tournament, the Binghamton-Duke first-round game I covered started a little after 10 p.m. My first-edition deadline was 12:30, final edition 1:30 a.m.

Journalists have a love-hate relationship with deadline - at least I did. Writing on a tight-deadline is what we do - especially in sports. I take great pride in my ability to write on deadline. But an early deadline means you don’t get a chance to develop any kind of interesting story. If your deadline is 20 minutes after the game is over, your story is not going to be a well-thought analysis of the game. It’s going to be a running game story, featuring play-by-play and a couple press-conference quotes. It’s probably going to rely on a pre-existing storyline, because you simply don’t have the time to come up with anything else.

But there’s a deeper question: How much longer is deadline going to be an issue?

Deadlines exist because of the print production cycle. This is not news. There comes a point each night where the presses have to start running, because tens or hundreds of thousands of papers need to be printed, bundled, put on a truck, delivered, etc.. Delaying the presses costs a newspaper money - there are overtime costs, delayed delivery, etc. Writing 40 years ago, Gaye Tuchman noted that the daily deadline is central to everything journalists do. In so many ways, that’s still true today. Writing on deadline is one of the defining traits of a journalist. It’s something we take pride in. It’s what we do.

But it’s increasingly becoming anachronistic.

There’s no need for a deadline structure online. There’s no need to file a story by midnight, if people won’t read it until the next morning. There’s no reason a column can’t be posted at 10 a.m., or 2:32 p.m., or at 6:17 p.m. Everyone always thinks the advantage of online news is its speed. But one of the advantages of online that no one talks about is its patience. There’s no need for a hard deadline. There’s no reason a writer can’t take her time to develop an analytical game story that goes beyond the play-by-play you probably already watched. There’s no reason a columnist can’t write something for the next morning, spinning the game forward rather than just looking back. As the journalism world continues to shift to digital, I think this will be one of the biggest changes to the way reporters do their jobs.

Our work is increasingly becoming consumed on screens, and yet we still write based on a production schedule created for paper.

The question is, how long will this be the case?

My award-winning sister


I wouldn't be a sports reporter had it not been for my sister Amy. A few years older than me, she dreamed of being a sports journalist as long as I can remember. She set the pace in our house, the example I followed growing up. I followed her to St. Bonaventure. I followed her to The Times Herald in Olean. I followed her to the St. Bonaventure men's basketball beat (seriously. From 1997-2004, that beat was the Moritz family business).

But while I bailed on newspapers in 2009 for academia, she's still living her dream every day at the Buffalo News, covering college sports and baseball. She's one of the most compassionate writers you'll ever read. But she's more than that. She transformed herself into an iron-distance triathlete (by the time you read this, she'll have run more today than you have all week). She's an advocate for women's sports and for an active lifestyle. She's also, and this has been scientifically proven, the coolest aunt in the whole-wide world (P<.00).

Tonight, our alma mater honors her by giving her the John Domino Award, it's highest honor it can give to a sports journalist. It's a part of the school's biennial Sports Symposium, which this year features Charles Pierce.

I'm honored to get the chance to watch her accept this award tonight.

Thoughts on Boston

A few scattered thoughts on the past week:

  • I've always been a bit skeptical of the notion that, after a tragedy, sports acts as an agent to "bring a city together." You hear this all the time. Maybe it's just the contrarian in me, but I've always been wary of that. There are a lot of people who aren't sports fans. And the lives victims and their families of the marathon bombings aren't magically improved by the home team playing a game again. That being said, the Star-Spangled Banner at Wednesday night's Bruins-Sabres game was a sight to see. I mean a sight to see.
  •  To me, it's the best rendition of our national anthem at a sporting event. Yes, better than Marvin Gaye, better than Whitney Houston. Our national anthem is not at its best when it's performed. It's at its best when it's sung as a collective, thousands joining together, letting the emotion of the moment pour out.
  • I'm critical of PTI a lot, but Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon quietly did great work this week. They handled Tuesday's show and Friday's opening segment with the right balance of solemnity and seriousness, and their transitions to sports news was as seamless as possible
  •  As far as journalism ... a lot has been said and written about it, and I don't have much to add other than this: We're in an era in which journalism is changing. I use the phrase "journalism paradigm" a lot, which is just a fancypants academic way of saying how we define and understand what is real journalism and what isn't. That paradigm, that world view, is changing dramatically, and this week demonstrated that.  Developing news, as Gaye Tuchman called it, is always confusing and chaotic. It's just that confusing chaos used to live just in the newsroom and our notebooks. Now, it's public. That's not to excuse the errors - the New York Post's embarrassing coverage, CNN's massive mistakes, the rush-to-judgement of the people at Reddit - but it does contextualize it a bit. It highlights the challenges news organizations face trying to figure out this new journalism world. Things are constantly changing. The paradigm is evolving before us, and anyone who claims to know what the future of journalism is is either lying, stupid or trying to sell you something. That change, like the news, is unfolding in real time.

The NCAA: A change gonna come


March is usually the best month for the NCAA. It's March Madness, after all. The NCAA Tournament, which is not only college sports' marquee national event but also one of the cornerstones of our sporting calendar. People spend the month talking about, watching, and betting* on college sports.

(*For amusement purposes only, of course).

But this March wasn't the best for the NCAA. There was the Rutgers fiasco. There were accusations of scandals both at Syracuse (my school) and Auburn. Mark Emmert, the NCAA's head, came under fire for his leadership and had a combative press conference the week of the Final Four. Then there was the Kevin Ware injury and the subsequent bone-headed decision by Adidas and Louisville to sell T-shirts with Ware's number (the shirts were pulled from the virtual shelves).

What's striking to me is how many media outlets, how many reporters and columnists, were taking the anti-NCAA standpoint. The Kevin Ware shirt was widely, and rightly, panned.

OK, so the NCAA is often low-hanging fruit. It's rule book is too convoluted, too arcane, too restrictive on players.

But it seems to me like there is a tide turning in sports media. I have no data to back this up, but it's just something I've observed lately. There is a critical edge to the commentary and the journalism that was missing in the past. If the first-generation of investigative sports journalists dealt primarily with unveiling traditional NCAA scandals (paying players, academic fraud, etc.), then the newer generation of sports journalism deals with critically examining the power structure itself. The work of Taylor Branch, Dan Wetzel*, Charles Pierce, Jason Whitlock, Barry Petchesky and the Deadspin guys, the Big Lead guys, and countless others, is exposing the core hypocrisy of big-time college sports.

(* My initial post forgot to include Wetzel, which was an unforgivable omission on my part. I apologize for that.)

Put it this way: The work of Charles Robinson at Yahoo and Pete Thamel at SI, among others, has traditionally been held up as the paragon of sports journalism. And at a pure technical level, their journalism is typically sensational.

But there's a fundamental question lurking: Is good journalism that tacitly endorses a corrupt status quo good?

Why has this change come? A couple of reasons come to mind. Maybe it's the amount of money in big-time sports. It's gotten insane the past few years, so the disparity between that money and the fact that players get no cut of that is starker. Maybe it's the Ed O'Bannon case, which is threatening to overturn the economic model of college sports.

Maybe, too, it's the increasing number of news outlets/blogs/commentary sites. Sites that aren't a part of what Ben Carrington calls the "white sports industrial complex." Sites that aren't dependent on NCAA contracts for revenue, for circulation numbers. Sites that open the marketplace of ideas to views, comments and ideas that don't typically fit into the sports pages.

Whatever the reason, it feels like things are changing in college sports. It feels like the NCAA is on thin ground. It feels like things are starting to shift. It feels like the entire complex that's been built around big-time college sports, with all its hypocrisies, faults and unfairnesses, the complex that allows everyone to profit off an Adidas Louisville shirt with No. 5 on it EXCEPT the player who wears No. 5 in the first place, the complex that the sports media has helped build and entrench over the past decades, is starting to crumble.

Welding and player boycotts: 10 years after my biggest story

Courtesy Bleacher Report

Ten years ago this week, I was in the middle of the biggest story of my journalism career.

I missed the actual anniversary by 11 days. It was March 3, 2003, that the St. Bonaventure University men's basketball team became embroiled in a scandal. I was covering the team for the Olean Times Herald at the time, and covered the scandal from start to finish. It was my biggest story. It won me a national writing award.

In so many ways, it was the biggest story of my life.


ST. BONAVENTURE - Several people in the Reilly Center expressed the same sentiment - Monday was a dark day for St. Bonaventure University.

The St. Bonaventure men's basketball team forfeited six Atlantic 10 wins on Monday because it had an ineligible player, junior center Jamil Terrell, on its roster. In addition, the Atlantic 10 conference declared the team ineligible for the conference tournament, which is scheduled for next week ... 

Last week, Bona declared Mr. Terrell ineligible after the NCAA ruled that he did not meet eligibility requirements for junior college transfers. Specifically, Mr. Terrell does not have an associate's degree, as required by NCAA rules. Instead, he has a certificate in welding.

-Me, The Times Herald, 3.4.03

The story really began in late February. Just before a Bona-GW game at the Reilly Center, the school issued a press release that a question had been raised about Terrell's eligibility. The fact that he had a degree in welding from his junior college had been floating around all season, but it had never been confirmed or pegged on-the-record. Now, this was very clearly the issue.

A few days after that game, I was in Philly, covering the Bonnies' game at Temple. I wound up sitting next to Linda Bruno, then the A-10 Commissioner, who filled me in on the conference's planned hearing that Monday.

On Monday, then-Bona coach Jan van Breda Kolff took his spot on the weekly Atlantic 10 conference call. Mike Harrington, the college hoops reporter at the Buffalo News, was on him from the start. "Did you enlist the help of the University president to declare Jamil Terrell eligible?" he asked pointedly, repeatedly, in a classic performance.* I had already been digging into the story. That call sent me into overdrive.

(Mike later told me that he had been kicked off the call by an overzealous operator who was concerned that he, Mike, was badgering the coach. Ray Cella, the A-10's legendary PR chief, got Mike back on the call within minutes.)

Later that afternoon, after the sanctions, I tracked down Terrell's junior-college coach, Gerald Cox. He told me that he had sent a letter to St. Bonaventure, and every school recruiting Terrell, that the player's degree was not the equivalent of an associate's degree. "They knew what they had," Cox told me.

I was the only reporter who had quotes from Cox in his story. I'm still damn proud of that.

After doing a lot of reporting, I stopped by my apartment for a quick break. I put on the Empire Sports Network, which was doing a standup outside of the RC. The reporter mentioned at the end of her report that the players were meeting at that moment.

I flashed on a scene a few years ago, when Indiana fired Bobby Knight and the players admitted they considered boycotting a game. "They're voting on whether to play their last two games," I thought.

I went to campus, found nothing. I went to the office, and while putting together the story about Terrell's recruiting and the sanctions, and conducting one of the last interviews with then-school president Robert Wickenheiser (who admitted to being at the center of the scandal), I made calls and found out that, apparently, players were leaving campus for spring break.

The next morning, I had to work a pagination shift for our afternoon paper. I quickly did my page and then got the RC for the scheduled practice. The team was supposed to practice before busing to UMass for a game. I got to the gym, and John Wawrow of the AP was there. He had heard the same rumors. We spent a bizarre day at the gym, trying to figure out who was here, who was gone, what was going on, having players refuse to talk to us, walk through the stands to avoid us, before finally admitting what had happened. Players had left campus. They were refusing to play the team's final two games.

ST. BONAVENTURE — The silence spoke volumes.

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team was scheduled to start practice in preparation for its Wednesday night road game against Massachusetts. But except for a rack of untouched basketballs, the gym was empty — silent except for the hum of the lights.

The Bonnies never took the floor for practice. They never boarded the team bus for Amherst, Mass.

They ended their season a week early. In a stunning and unprecedented move, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s players decided not to play the final two games of the regular season. The school backed the move, announcing Tuesday afternoon that the team would not play its scheduled games this week against Massachusetts and Dayton. Those games go in the books as forfeit losses.

A once-promising season for the Bonnies ended not on the basketball court but in a conference room in Hopkins Hall with a press briefing.

- Me, The Times Herald, 3.5.03


What strikes me the most, 10 years later, is how different the actual journalism was.

There was no social media. Twitter and Facebook literally did not exist yet. Newspapers were online, of course, but it was very different. This was still a time when the online edition was a complement, a bonus, an extra. It was repurposed content from the print edition.

Looking back at how I covered the scandal, everything was built around the next day's story. They were long, in-depth stories that I'm damn proud of. But the atomic unit of my work was that story. At some point during the day, I sat down with all my notes and crafted a story.

If this story happened now, I wouldn't do that. This story would come together incrementally. There'd be no waiting for the next afternoon's paper. I'd be writing constantly, updating the story with each new morsel of information, keeping things alive on Twitter. When I talked to Gerald Cox, that quote I included above wouldn't have been saved for Tuesday afternoon's paper. It would have been on Twitter seconds after he said it, or at worst seconds after I hung up the phone. The player boycott? That would have been all over social media that night and day. The story in 2003 was crazy and confusing because no one knew what was happening. This story in 2013 would be crazy and confusing because there would be so much noise, between players Tweeting, blogs opining, Tweeters snarking, etc. (I've had this conversation with Mike Harrington. We both agree that Joe Shepherd, who went on Sportscenter to give the players' side, would have blown up Twitter in the Bona basketball world). In 2003, journalism was story-driven. In 2013, journalism is increasingly process-driven.

That's not to say one is better than the other. It's not to say that the way we did it in 2003 was right and pure, and that today's news is wrong and tainted. It's the way of the world. Things change. Technologies evolve. Paradigms shift. I know there's a part of me that's very glad that Twitter didn't exist in 2003, because it would have made that challenging story even harder to cover. I also know that in many ways, the new technologies would have made my coverage of that story better and more useful to my readers.


I've toyed with the idea of writing a book about the scandal. My wife's told me I should do it for years. Two other books have been written. I played with the idea, corresponded with an agent about it. But it never happened. Part of the reason is that I could never think of The Big Idea of the book. What's the big hook, the big story, the thing that makes someone who doesn't know St. Bonaventure from Bonasera the undertaker want to read the book? I'm not sure. Plus, having helped three professors write books, I've seen the insane amount of work that goes into a truly great non-fiction book. I haven't had that in me. Yet.

In a lot of ways, this story 10 years ago defined who I was as a journalist. It's among the first things I mention when I discuss my career. It's the one story almost everyone knows about, at least in passing. I'm proud of breaking this story, of the work I did.

That my journalism career peaked at 25 is sad in some ways. But that story is what helped me get my next job in Binghamton, which led me to meeting and eventually marrying my wife, which led to our daughter being born.

It was the biggest story of my career. And it helped me start writing the story of my life.

What the "sports fans love the print section" study doesn't tell you


The headline on Twitter, from the Poynter Institute, caught my eye: Report: Sports fans like print newspapers. I sent out the link, which instantly got retweeted by a lot of people.

I think it says something we all want to believe - that print newspapers still matter. That despite all this digital hubbub, that print is still THE go-to source for sports fans. It's the ultimate validation of our traditional journalistic worldview.

But is it really?

I looked up the original study to get a better idea of what this study actually shows. Because I was skeptical. I didn't know if this study actually showed what I think we all wanted it to show - or thought that it showed.

Here's one man's breakdown of the study:

  • It's from the Newspaper National Network. The stated research goal of the study is: "To explore the unique value/benefits of the Sports Section of Newspapers to sports fans." Right there, that's a HUGE red flag for me for the study. This is a study conducted by a newspaper advocacy group, a study that the stated goal is to (basically) promote the sports sections of newspapers. So right off the bat, this tells me that this study is probably going to have good news for newspapers, no matter what.
  • The study is a survey of 404 self-identified male sports fans. No problem with the size or the fact that they're sports fans. But only male? That makes no sense. At all. You've just limited yourself to half the population, and you're assuming that women don't read the sports pages or care about sports news. More importantly, and this is basic quantitative research, you can't make generalizable conclusions about the value of the sports pages when you're only surveying men.
  • The money finding: When asked "Please select all of the places you typically go to for sports news, information, and/or analysis, not including live games or competitions," the print newspaper sports section was the top answer, with 69 percent. SportsCenter and the local TV news were second and third with 45 and 42 percent, respectively. Pretty straightforward, right? Sort of. If you look at all the choices, there are no online sites listed. Let me repeat that: For a media study conducted in 2013, there are no online sites listed. So yeah, print tops the list. It's called the "traditional" sports media. But leaving the internet off as a news source is incredibly flawed and biased. It leads to a misleading conclusion.
  • The key finding in this study is hidden, I think: For the digital portion of the "Please select all of the places you typically go to for sports news, information, and/or analysis, not including live games or competitions," question, the sports section of the newspaper website is the "go-to" source with 76 percent of respondents. is second with 65 percent. So when you examine attitudes toward online news, the local paper's website is the most important source for sports news. That's an important finding. Because there's this assumption that goes through the industry that news organizations should cover local first, because we can get the national news on ESPN. And that's true. But this study suggests that a newspaper's online edition is the most important place for local sports fans to get their news - even more so than ESPN. It suggests (again, we can't conclude anything, because of their dumb sampling strategy) that perhaps we in the industry have been undervaluing our online editions. Rather than a repurposed print site, perhaps the sites should be the digital hub for sports news in your area.
  • Look at those last two bullet points again. They're the same question - NNN broke it up for digital and non-digital in reporting the answers, but it's the same question (Question No. 10). So while the headline is that sports fans like newspapers' print editions, print is actually third in importance, behind the newspapers' online edition and It looks like they broke the answers up along traditional/digital lines simply to make the print sports section look good - to be able to claim in a headline that print is tops among sports fans, when even in this potentially flawed study, it's actually third.

In all, I find this study to be potentially interesting but also incredibly flawed. It's a study conducted by a newspaper advocacy group seemingly designed to provide good news about the newspaper industry. It only surveyed men, which is problematic. I think it is interesting to note that a newspaper's online edition is the "go-to source" for sports news, beating all other media outlets. But to claim print is the go-to source for sports news is misleading. It tells us what I think a lot of us what to hear, but I'm not quite sure that's what's actually true.

Sport Summit 13: Three days in Austin

In case you ever wondered what academic Brian looked like ...

This past weekend, I had the honor of attending the 6th Summit on Communication and Sport, sponsored by the International Association of Communication and Sport. The Conference was held at the University of Texas-Austin.

I presented a paper I did that examined the how prominently sports stories are played in U.S. news sources, using Pew Center data. I was wondering what sports stories made it to the front page/network news casts and how prominently they were displayed. The biggest finding was that of more than 52,000 individual stories, only 851 of them - less than 2 percent - were sports stories. As far as news is concerned, sports has its own corner of the media world and almost always is stuck there.

The best part of the conference, as always, is the people. It's wonderful to spend a weekend with such intelligent, smart, passionate and friendly people. There's none of the stuffiness or pretentiousness of some academic conferences. As I told my wife when I got home, this conference is basically like getting together with all your friends for the weekend.

Instead of recapping the entire Summit here, you can read my Storifys of each day of the conference. (I wanted to post them here, but Wordpress and Storify don't play well together). Of special note are the talk by Ben Carrington on the White Sports Media Complex, and an academic round table about how sports research can be taken more seriously within the academy. I already recapped the food here.

To all my friends and colleagues whom I spent the weekend with, thank you for a wonderful weekend. Until next year, when we take New York.

Headed to Austin for #SportSummit13

This weekend, I'm honored to be attending and presenting at the 6th Summit on Communication and Sport, sponsored by the International Association for Communication and Sport. This year's conference is being held at the University of Texas in Austin, and I'm super excited to make my Austin debut. I'll be presenting a paper on Saturday that studies the prominence of sports stories in newspapers and newscasts. Last year's conference at Bradley University was my favorite academic conference, and not just because Dave Kindred told me mine was the presentation he most wanted to see (humble brag). It's my favorite because so many of my favorite people in academia are at this conference. It's always wonderful to be at a conference where you don't feel like you constantly have to apologize for what you do. It's great to be around people who are as passionate about sports research as you are. I'm truly humbled to get to spend time around people who are as smart and kind as my colleagues at this conference.

I'll be tweeting out updates and posting here, probably Storifying the best chatter.

Fill up your Instapaper queue (links post, Feb. 17)

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Just two links this week in our semi-regular series featuring stories that are worth your time and a spot in your online reader of choice (we like Instapaper).

The Wright Thompson piece on Michael Jordan turning 50 has been widely circulated. With good reason. It's one of the finest pieces of sports feature writing I've ever read. I think it may be our generation's "Frank Sinatra has a cold" or "What do you think of Ted Williams now?" It's that great.

My good friend (and fellow presenter at this week's Summit on Communication and Sport) Dr. Jimmy Sanderson wrote an interesting blog post about the relationship between communications and the sports concussion problem. He argues that we in the communications business have a responsibility to properly frame, cover and address this issue.

What the Toledo Blade should have said ...

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Let's reset the scene. Early Tuesday morning, Deadspin published a long story exposing the reason why a longtime University of Toledo coach was fired, detailing the sexual harassment claims lodged against the coach and quoting text messages sent to an anonymous former runner. Five hours later, the Toledo Blade published its version of the story, in which the runner is named and interviewed on the record. The first reader comment called attention to the fact that the Blade reporter named the athlete and that Deadspin did not.

At which point, a man by the name of Dave Murray, the managing editor of the Blade, reads the comment.

That's where we are.

Now, to quote my favorite comedian, Mike Birbiglia:

At this point, what he should have said ... was nothing.

At most, he could have said that the interview was conducted on the record, that she consented to having her name published in this report, and left it at that. It's a perfect answer to a valid reader question.

He should have said nothing.

What he said, was:

The difference between the coverage of this story by The Blade and Deadspin is that (Ryan) Autullo is a professional journalist who has named sources and you can believe what he reports.

Needless to say, this has not gone over well.

It's ignited the usual tiresome debates over old vs. new media, about how sports journalists aren't real journalists, blah blah blah.

I get the frustration. The Blade was working on the story, trying to get it published, and then they got beat at the 11th hour by a national blog - one that used anonymous sources. I know what it's like to get beat on a story by an outlet that uses anonymous sources when you can't or don't want to. I know how frustrating it is to watch a national outlet parachute in and do a big story on your beat because they don't have to worry about burning bridges, sources and your credibility in town if you're wrong. I get that.

But that post was completely out of line.

There's this perception in a lot of sports journalism circles that Deadspin is still "just a blog," just a home for juvenile humor. That's not the case. Deadspin is a major player in sports journalism. Deadspin is as much a part of sports journalism as SI, ESPN and Yahoo. Deadspin's journalism is as good as the sports journalism published in any outlet, legacy, traditional or new media.Deadspin broke Manti T'eo story. Deadspin reported this story. They've been out in front of a lot of stories lately.

Sports editors may not want to acknowledge it or admit it, but Deadspin is a sports journalism outlet. And more often than not, it's a damn good one.

What makes the Blade's editor's response more damning is that there was no need for it. The stories don't so much compete with each other as they do complement each other. As the paper's top editor said in a post to Romenesko, they're written for different audiences. The Blade story is perfectly fine for the local readers, who may know, care and be impacted by it. The Deadspin story is perfectly fine for a national audience, that doesn't have any vested interest in the story other than the salacious aspects.

What the editor at the Blade should have done was pointed out the Deadspin story as a way for his paper's readers to learn more about this story that affects their community.

What he should have done was answer the question without resorting to an unwarranted, unfair and unprovoked cheap shot at a news outlet that did nothing wrong and does nothing but promote a stupid, outdated, and useless false dichotomy.

What he should have said ...

Was nothing.

Fill your Instapaper queue (Weekly links)

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I'm trying something new here. I'm hoping to compile a weekly list of links to interesting stories about sports media and the other things I write about here. I'm hoping to make this at least a semi-regular feature. The point isn't to make it a weekly round-up of news items you've already read, but longer pieces that may be more suited for saving to Instapaper (or your long-form reader of choice. Although it should be Instapaper. Because it's the best one.)

This Boston Magazine piece is, on its face, about the legacy Boston sports media. But really, it's a call for more innovation on the sports pages.

There have been many pieces about how NFL players understand the risks they are taking. Jerry Sullivan's column is a perfect illustration of The Sport Ethic in play.

As a part of his story on Ray Lewis, Tim Graham of the Buffalo News talked to Dr. Lawrence Wenner from Loyola Marymount University, about the media's role in perpetuating the mythology of sports heroes. His views are worth reading.

My wife pointed this one out to me, about how the internet is providing long-form sports writing with a home.

Of all the sporting events in the world, the Super Bowl is at the bottom of the list of ones I'd want tickets to. Will Leitch explains why.

The complicated narrative of Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis

What's Ray Lewis' story?

On the face of it, it's an easy question. If you're a football fan, you know Ray Lewis' story. Brilliant linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, one of the best to ever play that position, a respected team leader, the emotional core of that team, accused murderer, man who pled guilty to obstruction of justice, man who paid a settlement to the families of the victims.

This has been widely chronicled.

But really ... what is Ray Lewis' story?

Is this a story of redemption?

Or is it a story of a famous pro athlete getting away with murder?


Narratives are a powerful thing. Narratives are how we as humans understand the world and relate to it. We don't instinctively understand data and facts. We do instinctively understand stories and narratives.

Narratives get a bad rap a lot of times, particularly in criticism of sports journalism. There's an opinion that sports writers are too driven by narrative. They're looking for a story, even if that story flies in the face of facts and data. This is how the Manti Te'o story blew up - the narrative was so powerful, writers got swept up in it. You read and hear this a lot around the Baseball Hall of Fame voting - a player may have excellent stats but lacks a compelling narrative, or a player may have a stellar narrative that obscures less-then-stellar stats (think Jack Morris and Game 7). Narratives are powerful, and once they're defined, they are hard to change.

But narratives aren't all bad. Narratives can provide depth, nuance, and a human touch to sports coverage. It's cliche to criticize Olympic coverage as being too story driven*, but there's something to that. That's a vital role the sports media can and should play - finding the stories behind these athletes we cheer for and spend so much money following.

(*Smarter people than may have said this before, but there's something incredibly gender-biased in this. Like "real sports" coverage is the man's world, and that introducing stories "feminizes" it too much.)

Sports media has an incredible power to shape the narrative of an individual player, coach, team or an entire sport. So often, that narrative comes down to a simple story - player overcoming the odds; selfish ball-hog who only cares about himself and money; heroic player showing true grit and heart; plucky underdog taking it to the overconfident favorite.

The problem with narratives is that they are often far too simplistic. They don't take the whole picture into account.

Narratives, like life, are often complicated.


Side note: I don't have much of an opinion, one way or the other, on Ray Lewis. I think the media hagiography on him and his career has been over the top. But I do believe that people can change. I've always respected the way Lewis has played football, his intelligence, his obvious charisma and leadership. It's worth pointing out, too, that he's kept his nose clean pretty much since then (with the exception of the new PED rumors that came out this week).

It's telling, too, that I have zero problem watching Ray Lewis, who was at least tangentially involved in the murder of another human being, while at the same time, I have a big problem watching Michael Vick.


So what's Ray Lewis' narrative?

Is it one of a man who, at the very least, was involved in a fight that led to a man dying? Or is it of a man who is a team leader, one who redeemed himself through sports?

It doesn't hurt that Lewis is an incredibly media savvy, media friendly guy. He's a great talker, he says meaningful things in interesting ways, he's accessible. He acts and looks like an archetypal football player - and in an era where there's so much concern over player safety and a crackdown on hitting, he can be seen as the last of a dying breed.

In a weird way, in this regard, Ray Lewis reminds me very much of Joe Paterno.

Is Ray Lewis defined by that night in Atlanta?

Is Joe Paterno defined by his inaction toward Jerry Sandusky?

Are you defined by your worst action? Always and forever?

Is redemption possible?


How you define Ray Lewis' story depends completely on you and your opinion on the matter. You may view him with disgust, as a spoiled athlete who is responsible for another man's death. You may view him as the last real football player. You may be cheering for him. You may be cheering against him.

Ray Lewis' narrative is complicated.

Life can be like that. Even on the sports pages.

Ego in journalism on display

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(Before I start ... I know all the parties involved in this story, either first or second hand. Tim Graham's a friend of mine. My sister works at the Buffalo News, so I am friends with or know pretty much that entire sports department. I've never met Kent Babb, but one of my best friends worked with him for a number of years and is friends with him. And both stories are worth a read, because they are fantastically done. I don't believe this has affected my opinion on this case. But it may have. And I want you to know about these relationships, so you can make your own judgments.)

Ego isn't necessarily a bad thing.

A healthy ego is a part of any journalists' tool box. You have to believe that you (and you alone) can find the story. You have to believe that you can get the source to talk, that you can find the documents or data that support a claim, that you can write the story better than anyone else. You have to have a strong belief in yourself and your talent, or you're never going to ask a tough question, or write a tough sentence.

But ego in journalism can also be a bad thing. It can lead reporters to cling to outdated work routines, role conceptualizations and other beliefs. It can lead them to believe that their work is more important than informing the readers.

Such is the case here, in this story from Deadspin today. It details how two reporters (Tim Graham and Kent Babb) went to speak with the mother of the man killed 13 years ago that led to Ray Lewis' arrest and eventual guilty plea to obstruction of justice. Both reporters were seeking to accompany Priscilla Lollar on her first trip to her son's grave.

I get where Babb's coming from. I do. That's your instinct as a reporter - get the story first. Get it before anybody else. Do whatever you can/have to to do so. Sometimes, being second on a story has an advantage, because if you know someone else is out there ahead of you, you step up your efforts (in the St. Bonaventure welding story, I knew Mike Harrington in Buffalo was all over this. So it pushed me to get in touch with Jamil Terrel's junior college coach, who talked to me first and blew the story up.) And in a way, I know that no reporter or editor  wants a "me too" story.

But here's the first thing: That instinct serves you well in the case of breaking news. If you're tracking a scandal, yes, all is fair in love and breaking news. But this wasn't a scandal. This was a feature story. This was shining a light on a corner that too many in the mainstream sports media are ignoring because it doesn't fit with their narrative and their boy. A light that could easily be shined more than once.

Babb's behavior here feels unseemly, more than a little wrong. There was no need to rush to tell Priscilla Lollar's story. This is not breaking news. It's a feature story. This quote troubled me, from Babb in Deadspin:

"In my mind, the race to the house was on."

Why? Why was there a race? This was a feature story - an important one, but a feature story. There was no breaking news here. There was no document that was going to be destroyed, no team of lawyers waiting to jump in and cover up for the accused party. This was a woman who had her son murdered. There was no race, except for reportorial ego. It was the sense that "there's a story, and I need to be the one to tell it." rather than "there's a story and it needs to be told."

Here's the thing: If Babb had written a story a week later as planned, it could have been just as powerful. There's nothing wrong with a line that says "This was just her second trip to her son's grave. The first came last week." The story isn't the visit to the grave. The story is her journey, her emotions.

In a way, rushing to be first on a story where there was no need to rush to be first turned Lollar's grief and story into a prop.

The story shouldn't have been about which reporter was there first, who told the story first or who told the story better.

The story was, and is, about Priscilla Lollar, the depth of her grief, the unanswered questions she lives with every day.