When it’s at its best, sports has always been two things: a catalyst for change, and a snapshot of what we are as a society.
This is one of those moments.
In a time in which journalism, the press, and the media (or whatever you want to call us) is under constant attack from politicians, the President, and society, one has to wonder if the relationship between the press and the people is one that is beyond repair.
Mistakes have been made across the board, as both parties are at fault.
Society’s growing distrust of the media started before Trump ever arrived on the scene, but were amplified as his campaign grew. And somewhere along the line, the media got away from its principles and started chasing clicks and page views, instead of staying on task by addressing the issues.
It’s been a cat-and-mouse game ever since.
Society has started to turn away, while the media is doing whatever it takes to survive and remain relevant by giving the society more of what it wants, and less of what it needs.
It’s the classic “candy vs. medicine” analogy.
And a great example of that is what’s going on right now between LaVar Ball, ESPN, and some NBA coaches.
In an interview with ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, LaVar Ball shared a scathing opinion, as usual, about Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton, and how he feels he’s lost the team that his son, Lonzo, plays for. In turn, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who is the president of the NBA’s Coaches Association, criticized the network for even running the story and their continued coverage of Ball.
According to reports, the move by ESPN ruffled the feathers of other coaches across the league, which led to Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy announcing that he plans on boycotting a league-mandated meeting with ESPN’s announcing crew prior to a nationally televised game next week against the New Orleans Pelicans.
“I’m not denying them access,” Van Gundy said of ESPN. “I’m not kicking them out of press conferences. They want extra stuff from us and they’re going to treat an NBA coach with that little respect? Then I’m going to choose not to give them extra access.”
As the journalist in the middle of this, Goodman says that he disagrees with Ball’s comment, but is defending his work and has no regrets about publishing the story.
“News has changed,” Goodman said. “I’ve been covering it for a long, long time now. What’s news today is not what’s news five years ago, even two years ago. It is completely changed, and now, LaVar Ball saying what he did about Luke Walton is newsworthy. Nobody can doubt that.”
Goodman is right.
News has changed, and absurdities have always been newsworthy. LaVar Ball is newsworthy because he does things out of the ordinary and challenges the status quo. He’s also the CEO of a growing apparel company, on top of being a loudmouth and overbearing sports parent.
People and events like Ball have always been covered and will continue to be in the future.
Readers have the right to skip that page or change the channel. But on the flip side, it doesn’t mean that the media has to make it an ongoing story, and spend exaggerated time on it just because it “gets clicks.”
Covering the Ball family in Lithuania as LiAngelo and LaMelo make their professional debut is newsworthy. But giving LaVar the platform to rant and rave about whatever he wants, is not.
However, this is ESPN we’re talking about, and people forget that the “E” stands for entertainment. It’s a network that has more debate shows than those dedicated to news and investigative reporting.
And no one has spoken to the current situation as a whole, and how it’s a snapshot of the bigger picture, which is society’s fractured relationship with the press, like Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.
“This is the world we live in now,” Kerr said. “I was thinking about ESPN, and they laid off, I don’t know 100 people. How many did they lay off over the last year? Well over 100, many of whom were really talented journalists covering the NBA. So, this is not an ESPN judgment, it’s a societal thing more than anything. Where we’re going is we’re going away from covering the game, and we’re going toward just sensationalized news. It’s not even news, really. It’s just complete nonsense. But if you package the irrational nonsense with glitter and some ribbon, people are going to watch. So I talked to people in the media this year. I said, ‘Why do you guys have to cover that guy (Ball)?’ and they say, ‘Well, we don’t want to, but our bosses tell us we have to because of the ratings, because of the readership.’
“Somewhere, I guess in Lithuania, LaVar Ball is laughing. People are eating out of his hands for no apparent reason, other than that he’s become the Kardashian of the NBA or something. That sells, and that’s what is true in politics, entertainment and now in sports. It doesn’t matter if there’s any substance involved in an issue. It’s just, ‘Can we make it really interesting for no apparent reason?’
“There’s nothing interesting about that story,” Kerr continued. “Do you know how many parents of my players have probably been at home like, ‘Man, he should be playing my kid.’ And yet, we’re sticking a microphone in his face because, apparently, it gets ratings. I don’t know who cares, but people care. Or else ESPN wouldn’t be spending what they’re spending to send reporters to Lithuania, when they laid off people who were writing really substantial pieces. People like Ethan Strauss and Marc Stein are getting laid off.
“This is not a condemnation of ESPN. It’s not. It’s a societal issue. It’s been going on for many, many years, and it’s really, I think, invading the sports world now.”
What Kerr is speaking to, is the idea that we’ve lost our way in the media. We’re not focusing on the issues with the same energy we’re exerting on focusing on the “here today, gone tomorrow” stories like LaVar Ball.
And in doing that, it can cause some publications to turn completely away from covering situations, like Ball, even when they are newsworthy in efforts to attract readers and subscribers.
The Athletic, a subscription-only based sports website, has started a new campaign recently that pushes the idea that their writers only produce quality journalism and aren’t “chasing clicks.”
“No ads, no auto-play video, no LaVar Ball. Just stories with substance,” the promotion reads. Stewart Mandel, who serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Athletic’s college football section, even recently tweeted that there is an “official no-LaVar company policy.”
The Athletic is lying.
And lies, mistruths, fake news, and alternative facts are a big part of the reason why the relationship between society and the press is so fractured. If you search The Athletic’s archives it is clear that there were columns written on Ball on Nov. 13 and Dec. 5 of 2017.
The pillars of journalism have always been objectivity, truth, balance, impartiality, accuracy, fairness, and a lack of bias. This is how it’s supposed to work, unless someone is a columnist or doing commentary, which is what I do, and their job is to share their opinion about what’s going on in the news, because it has been deemed valuable.
But then the Internet came along, and everything changed.
Somewhere along the line anybody with a blog or website who started to “report the news” or give their opinion, was now somehow looked at as part of the press and thought to be a journalist.
It’s no secret that the journalism industry has been greatly affected by technology. In some ways, it has helped, as journalists are able to do more with storytelling and reach larger audiences. But it’s also had its negative effects, as layoffs are way too common in an industry that survives on revenue from ad sales, which is greatly determined by page views.
The frustration about this predicament isn’t just centered around a few coaches in the NBA and LaVar Ball either, as it’s an example of the bigger picture. Because while “fake news” is something that was created in the era of Trump, it is society that is looking towards the press to the be ones to hold him, as well as many others, accountable during this historic political and social era we’re currently living in.
“I don’t have a solution on how to win back trust. I don’t. But in the age of Trump, I know that you guys have to be more perfect now more than ever, because you are how the president gets his news,” said “Daily Show” correspondent Hasan Minhaj during the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. “Not from advisors, not from experts, not from intelligence agencies — you guys. So that’s why you gotta be on your ‘A’ game. You gotta be twice as good. You can’t make any mistakes.”
Oprah Winfrey even spoke about how the press is under siege during her speech at last Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards, and how much she values the press during a time like this.
“I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have,” she said.”
In these puzzling times, we must all be better.
In the press, we must strive for excellence like never before, and dedicate ourselves to focusing on what’s important. I tend to believe there is a place somewhere in the middle where we can consistently provide news that “get clicks.”
And for the public, understanding that just because the news maybe something you don’t like or agree with, doesn’t make it “fake” or the facts “alternative.”
Because when you think about it, LaVar Ball really isn’t the issue.
The public’s obsession and the corresponding coverage surrounding him is.