By Pete Baxter
Whether or not they consider themselves true journalists, sports writers and pundits are in the business of entertainment.
Let’s face it, sports can be boring. Even the NFL, the top dog of sports entertainment, has an offseason and its fair share of dud games during the season. The NBA is 82 games long, many of which will mean absolutely nothing in the long run. Baseball season is 1,000,000 games long, most of which mean nothing.
So how do we fill the down time? With exaggeration and sensationalism to an occasionally epic scale. Sometimes this is through generating rumors around potential trades and locker room turmoil (see Tom Brady and Bruce Arians), but often it involves the creation of narratives. Two of the most popular narrative arcs in the history of humanity have been the positively inspiring rags-to-riches tale, and the tragic downfall of heroes.
Some of these narratives are based in reality and write themselves. Fred VanVleet going from undrafted to signing an $80 million contract is a recent example of the rags-to-riches tale, while conversely the downfall of Belichick and his Patriots dynasty is a recent tale of a hero’s fall from grace.
Sometimes, sports writers and pundits need to use a little creative embellishment to flesh out a good narrative, and unfortunately this spin on reality negatively impacts individual athletes and their legacies or reputations. It’s not fair, but it is the nature of living in the public eye.
Let’s take a quick look at three current athletes who are living examples of the narrative webs spun by the professional content generators of the ESPN’s and Fox Sports networks out there.
- Steph Curry: I literally watched Max Kellerman engage in a conversation in which they announced that Steph Curry needs to “prove himself” this year and lead the Warriors back to the playoffs, while decreeing that the Warrior’s dynasty is over. Prove himself. PROVE HIMSELF? Steph Curry won back to back MVPs just four years ago, and has three rings in the past half decade, along with a 73-win regular season. The dude led the movement re-inventing how the modern game is played. He’s only 32. The Warriors were obliterated by injuries last year but were literally in the finals the year prior. Yes, they lost KD, but they also won a ring and accomplished a record 73-win regular season without him. There is no narrative here. Steph was and is great. The Warriors are still a great team. Don’t let one wash of an injury-riddled season make you forget the reality of this man and this team. Sorry Max, you’re really reaching for this one.
- Baker Mayfield: Baker has been an absolute dream come true for the media storytellers. How many narratives has he produced already? There was the rise to greatness in College, followed by the stories of him being overrated and a terrible #1 pick by a terrible franchise (Colin Cowherd called him “undraftable”), to an outstanding rookie season in which he set records and showed unbelievable promise (and earned him commercials and endorsements) to a step back over the following couple seasons. The more his face has stayed in commercials the more the media has dragged out the “downfall of Baker Mayfield” storyline. Rex Ryan, the bloated Chris Christie of sports, resurrected his own career as a talking head by making headlines after calling Baker “overrated as hell.” Cowherd insists over and over again that Baker Mayfield is a problem for the Browns, even though the team went 0 and f*****g 16 the year before he was drafted. If you objectively look at Baker’s career, without trying to insert narratives around the peaks and valleys, Baker is a young, developing, pretty good starting quarterback. He is the best quarterback the Browns have had since coming back into existences in the 90’s, and he is about to lead them to their first playoff birth in 18 years. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, he is leading a turn around in Cleveland, and there is nothing “overrated” or trash about that. Baker’s only mistake was setting the bar way too high as a rookie and keeping his face on the TV enough to make desperate content generators use him for dead air filler/fodder. Again, no need for a dramatic narrative here, Baker is pretty good and seems to be trending up.
- Carmelo Anthony: During my commute home, I listened to local sports radio personality Tom Gozlowski express his disgust at the rumor the New York Knicks might be considering bringing back Melo for the 2020/21 season. Somehow, over the past several years, the narrative around Carmelo has allowed fans of the atrocious New York Knicks to think their back-alley pigeon abortion of a franchise is too good for Carmelo Anthony? Carmelo was the consummate professional in New York despite the chaotic worldwind of horse***t perpetually generated by James Dolan, Phil Jackson and company. Yes, he had a tough couple seasons adjusting to his slowly diminishing skillset and a lesser role, though I would argue that the coaches and management in Houston and OKC were just as to blame for the poor fit in those scenarios. Let’s disregard that brief period in Carmelo Anthony’s otherwise stellar 18 year career, and the narrative around Carmelo is all positive. There is a reason why Lebron and DWade always dreamed of teaming up with Melo. He is a great teammate and great player. Even now, at age 36, he put up 15.4 points, 6.3 boards, and 1.5 threes a game for the Blazers last year. And they brought him back for a VETERAN MINIMUM of $2.6 million. Carmelo has been great, is still very good, and should be remembered by Knick’s fans as a g*****n hero. Hopefully, he keeps up the strong play for another season or two and ends his career on a high note in Portland.
So, in conclusion, I would really just like to see sports pundits work harder to find real stories and provide actual useful, accurate information in an entertaining format, instead of sacrificing the reputations and legacies of athletes to develop false narratives as content.
Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less? Let me know! As always, thanks for reading!