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Stick to Sports, Please

July 7th, 2017 · No Comments · Sports Journalism

I happened on a web entry recently that suggests the long history of sports reporters “sticking to sports” is over.

We have entered an era, the author wrote, when your favorite sports correspondent should feel free to work into his or her Twitter feed his or her opinion on the political side of current events. Any old time.

Which comes with the suggestion that openly political sports journalists is a good development … that the people in the business had been self-censoring for far too long and now can be free, free, free!

Wow. What a horrible idea.

Any sports journalists who works for something larger than his or her personal blog are likely to find that allowing politics into the room is divisive and probably destructive to the bottom line.

Sticking to sports should be the game plan of everyone in the sports journalism business — and probably already is the organizational policy of executives who employ sports journalists.

The way the system has worked in the sports pages for at least century, is a significant degree of freedom of analysis for reporters, growing to a freedom to bluntly criticize, for senior writers.

On sports topics, that is.

Politics? To be avoided. Other parts of the news organization handle that. Editorial writers from the editorial board. Commentary authors on the op-ed pages. Specialists for specialties.

Also, many consumers search out sports journalists because they perceive sports to be a politics-free zone. A safe space in an Age of Loathing.

Often, it is a relief to discuss who should play third base, which quarterback ought to be a trade target, which general manager is an idiot. People of good will can be on either side of those arguments — those on the left, those on the right, everyone in between.

We do not need to know the political preferences of sports journalists — because it is sports and political preferences rarely are germane.

That does not mean sports journalism is unimportant. Sports journalists sell lots of newspapers and attract lots of listeners and viewers, in part because talking about sports generally is a politics-free zone. Thank goodness.

If sports journalists now begin to toss political commentary into their communiques, from 40-60 percent of their consumers (given typical splits in the U.S. electorate) will hold opposing political views and quite likely will be put off — and possibly will disengage from that source of information.

That is a high price to pay for sports journalists who can’t keep their politics to themselves.

Going political could be actively alienating and driving away people who previously had no clear idea of the journo’s politics and may not have even thought about it.

This is an era of extreme partisan divides. Red states, blue states and everyone shouting at everyone else. Each side holds the other in contempt.

In any room of a dozen people, at least one someone will disagree strongly with what you believe to be your righteous and unassailable opinions. To assume everyone exposed to your opinion will agree … is foolish.

The “walls” put up around sports news organizations, when it comes to politics, have worked well for a very long time.

Knocking down those walls can lead only to messy results.




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