by Keith Aksel
A couple of years ago, an article was penned by Chantel Jennings for ESPN.com profiling the life of Washington State’s head football coach, Mike Leach, in small-town Pullman, Washington. Titled “Mike Leach Feels at Home in Pullman,” the article didn’t garner a lot of attention, and didn’t have some huge, ambitious aim. The article just plainly explained what the daily routine was like for the eccentric coach in a place that seemed quiet and unexciting. That said, the article taught me something about the culture of football in East Washington, and the ways coaches contribute to the communities in which they work. I got smarter, ever so slightly, while reading this article.
Yet, articles like this are rare. If you’ve happened to frequent any sports information outlets in the last decade or so, you would have noticed that there’s a lot of stuff written about sports every day. You have long form articles, predictions, and game summaries from every college and pro competition out there. In fact, today some websites major in tweet analysis, simply reporting on things athletes already said on Twitter. Then there’s us. Although we try to present something different when writing about sports, we are contributing in our own way to the sports information overload. It’s safe to say that we have reached a saturation point as fans with sports reporting.
Who has time or energy to keep up with all of it? ESPN produces enough content in one day to fill entire magazine issues. Combined with CBS, Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, and the like, the sports information output is enormous. All this content should make thinking fans wonder about how much of what is written is worth reding. Is any of it of value? Or, do we need to read about sports at all?
My feeling is that, with the saturation of sports information, each article added to the heap matters less than the ones that came before it. Take this screenshot from CBS Sports from January 9th.
On a single page, you see links to articles about NFL Playoff betting lines, some kind of prediction about why you should see better playoff games in the NFL’s Divisional round, and a criticism about the why the Florida Gators are a better basketball team than the polls give them credit for. Sure, some of these articles could be compelling. But, who hasn’t already seen a million of these types of articles? Would we really learn anything new about the Gators in the “Poll Attacks” article? The article actually just analyzes why the author thinks that Florida has good losses so far this season, and should be thought of more highly by pollsters on that basis.
Fine. But, my point is that the articles on sites like CBS don’t make the good articles easy to find, and too many of them don’t add to our real knowledge about sports. It feels like a lot of fluff. Jennings’ Leach article is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to sports writing.
In general, long-form articles seem intent on actually teaching us fans more directly than other formats out there. The problem is that those types of knowledge-adding pieces are hard to find, and they come out rarely. Long form articles take research and time to write, and these outlets need tons of content STAT! This, I think, is why we see dedicated articles about Twitter wars, and equally numerous reports on the latest betting odds. Those articles are quick and easy projects, that anyone can complete.
If fans continue to drive traffic to a plurality of online articles about things like Twitter wars and power rankings, writers will meet the demand with supply. As a result, we should only expect more sports writing to emerge in the future, not less. In response, thinking fans should be conscious of their sports intake, and curate their sports reading only to those outlets that add value to their thinking about sports. Other than the obvious poignant offerings of The Tattered Pennant, there’s a bunch of other high-quality people writing about sports thoughtfully...but you might have to dig (1).
If you don’t want to do all that work (and yes, digging for decent sports articles can be annoying work), just ask yourself if the articles you read truly add anything to your knowledge. Of course there’s a place for the mindless articles you read while trying to get your mind off things (like this one). Not everything you read needs to make you smarter or challenge you. But, writers make it all too easy to make those types of articles the most common way you take in sports information. Look for stuff that makes you actually think.
1. The Player’s Tribune seems to add something on a regular basis worth reading. The Wall Street Journal sports writers like Jason Gay deliver unique pieces as well.