by Keith Aksel
The Tattered Pennant has officially been online for one whole year. In that time, we’ve attempted to present articles that other sports outlets wouldn’t write. For example, we discussed the big picture implications of the prediction industry in sports journalism, the effects of in-game fighting, and the reasons we watch sports in the first place. All of our efforts have been in the pursuit of making sports fans more critical and smarter about the events they watch.
Some of us fans are not satisfied with casually following athletics. We are passionate about our teams, and find that watching and thinking about sports are significant parts of our lives. This passion makes us want to dive in further, and “know” sports better than the average observer. With that, our one-year anniversary seems like the right time to restate who we are, and what we want to achieve with this site.
The way we see it, fans get the vast majority of their sports information from one source with essentially a million variations thereof - sports journalists. If you regularly check out ESPN, Bleacher Report, or CBS Sports, you are reading about sports from the perspective of journalists nearly all the time. Journalists are needed for keeping the sports world updated on developments with leagues, teams, and athletes. But, they should not be the only source of information fans take in. Journalists specialize in the right now; current events are the realm of journalists in both the sports world and beyond.
However, media has now proliferated to the point that journalists are permitted to serve as the economists, sociologists, and historians for sports fans as well. When you read any national newspaper, you get commentaries from all types of experts. Political scientists write about politics, environmental scientists write about the natural world, and historians write about various historical issues. When you turn to the sports page, you get just journalists and nothing else. Save for some exceptional cases, journalists are not good at doing other peoples’ jobs. The everyday columnist almost assuredly misses a segment of the larger historical picture when they infuse history into their work, but historians do nothing to change that trend. And we see this as a problem.
On the other hand, there are plenty of sports historians out there, but they have largely chosen to separate themselves from outlets frequented by fans. The reason is that sports historians are academics, and are typically interested in sports from a perspective that doesn’t appeal to a mass fan base, and isn’t meant to. Their writing is not coming from the perspective of a fan, but from an academic who uses sports as a window into a larger issue or topic. For example, a sports historian might write a book about soccer, but they write about soccer in relation to another story about race, gender, labor, or some other non-sports topic. Their goal is to contribute to the field of history, not to help fans. Some sports historians don’t even really like sports as fans do, and write about them from a place of disdain rather than enthusiasm. As a result, sports historians are about as likely to write for Sports Illustrated as Mike Krzyzewski is to leave Duke to coach Fort Hays State.
This is a problem because the skills we historians hold have the potential to be a great benefit to fans, but fans will mostly never see them. The result is a sort of sports knowledge gap; journalists sit on one side of the gap completely obsessed with the here and now (regardless of whether the here and now matters) while historians occupy the other side, totally disinterested in competition for competition’s sake (see image above). We want to occupy the space between the two.
On this site, we are also historians by profession, trained to understand the big-picture significance of events. Applying our critical thinking and analytical skills to sports on the level of fans can produce all sorts of compelling questions that benefit fans, as long as we aim at fans themselves. We like the competition, the teams, individuals, and institutions that make watching sports interesting. We’ll leave the bigger social commentaries to the academic historians, and current events to the journalists. Instead, we will dive into how sports has worked historically, how to watch with a more critical eye right now.
In the next year, we’ll introduce new ways to engage with sports like we do. Look out this fall for our college football and NFL season “Un-Previews” that will show you some new ways to gear up for the season like thinking fans. In later articles, we’ll ask questions like, “How does Britain leaving the EU change the sports landscape we know?” and, “What is behind the disdain for sports like soccer in this country?” All the while, we hope to instill in readers a growing ability to ask your own critical questions that altogether make fandom more enjoyable and involved.
The key is keeping our focus on you rather than falling in line with sports historians generally. We don’t have any sponsors or investors- we are just a no-budget website that pursues fandom as fervently as you thinking fans do. We want to see if and how our articles provoke new thoughts from you, so feel free to post comments or email us directly with anything at all. Thanks for riding this past year with us, and we look forward to many more to come.