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  • As Serious As Football

    Posted by James McCormick on January 15th, 2007 (All posts by )

    This morning was a chance to ponder the mysteries of life.

    As a New England Patriots supporter (the Calgary Stampeders having missed the NFL playoffs again this year), I’m still in shock over the Pats’ upset 24-21 win over No. 1 seeded San Diego yesterday. The Patriots had no business winning that game. Tom Brady was unexpectedly off-target with many of his passes. More than once I was yelling at the TV screen “what the [heck] are you throwing at?” The experts last week, almost to a man, picked San Diego to win. The folks in San Diego were booking airline tickets for the Superbowl in Miami in early February. The city of San Diego was advance planning their Superbowl parade celebrations on city streets. Yet somehow New England scored 10 unanswered points in the last five minutes of the game, and won the game on a missed San Diego field goal in the final few seconds of play. What planet are we on?

    And what would sports writers and fans make of this strange, strange turn of events? Of opportunities lost on both sides? Of outstanding athletes blowing very hot and very cold over the course of sixty minutes of play? Of the top seeded team, with the NFL’s MVP, losing at home?

    It was an eye-opening experience to surf the Web this morning because I don’t read much sports journalism. The game was dissected in a thousand different ways. A few writers were clearly “in the bag” for one team or another but by and large I learned a great deal more about the game through the eyes of people who know it far better than I. It was clear, however, we’d watched the same game. The reference points, and the general sense of what was important, were the same.

    It was a column by Pete King on the Sports Illustrated website which brought me up short and gave me reason to think. Here’s first-year NY Jets coach Eric Mangini’s post-season comments to the press corps:

    I want to thank all of you guys. I know it’s been a long season for you. I appreciate your patience with me. I know I haven’t been Don Rickles in here. I’m trying. I think I made some progress. I’ll continue to try to make progress. I think the things that you guys do is extremely important. You’re the conduit to the fans. I just appreciate your patience with me and your understanding and your support throughout the course of the season.

    “A conduit to the fans.” Jeez. That’s right. The media’s there to inform the fans.

    It got me thinking. Most sports writers have an opinion. And certainly the local sports writers have an investment in communicating as much about their teams as humanly possible. Fan appetite for information is insatiable and where newspapers, TV and the Internet can’t satisfy it, fans will simply manufacture it themselves. Their passion is legendary.

    Yet something still distinguishes sports media from the “current events” media — the MSM — that I usually read. Most of the sports media actually recognize that there are things that the coaches and players will not tell them. Never have. Never will. That the media do not require, and will not get, a briefing on all the details of a game plan, and certainly don’t need ongoing espionage operations to do a good job for their employers and readers. Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots is legendary for his non-informative press conferences, yet sports reporters still line up to hear his words. One reason. His team wins, mostly.

    Part of the “good guys” winning requires that the media play it straight. They can read between the lines all they want. They can dream up whatever schemes, plans, and strategies they think will prevail. They can interprete the slightest facial twitch or player limp in whatever way they want. But they cannot, must not, seek to betray confidences that would benefit the opposing team. A reporter who consistently attempted to sabotage the local team’s game plans would quickly be looking for work in a different discipline. Fans have too much invested in their teams to let that kind of behaviour continue.

    Thus my broader view for the day — America will get the MSM it wants when America takes its national security as seriously as its football.

    We don’t need “happy hacks” (to quote Mickey Kaus) but we do need media who recognize that they’ve got some skin in this game. That there are things that they do not need to know, immediately, under a system of representative government. That their role in life is not to undermine the effectiveness of the local team. Yes, we want to know the strengths and weaknesses. But winning the game … not exposing how the game is to be won … is what ultimately counts to the fans.

    Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots move on to the AFC Championship against Indianapolis next week. And the fans couldn’t care less what they discussed LAST week. Thank goodness the media in Pats’ world are actually required to love football more than themselves. Football fans can still dictate how the game is played.

    Maybe America needs a few more fans.

     

    34 Responses to “As Serious As Football”

    1. JB Says:

      Thomas Sowell has often mentioned in his writings that he wished Americans would treat politics more like sports. We are much more rational about sports than politics. For example, no one, at least that I know of, is trying to drum up an affirmative action lawsuit for whites in professional basketball.

    2. MRE Says:

      That’s a very interesting argument, one that rings true. Of course the national security folks have to keep some things close to the vest. If they didn’t, then the enemy could also see our plans and know what we know.
      It would be like Belichick calling a timeout before the start of the 4th quarter last Sunday, jogging across the field and handing Marty Shottenheimer (sp.?) a copy of the Pstriots’ playbook.

    3. Hunter McDaniel Says:

      No, I think it is Schottenheimer who carried a copy of the Chargers’ playbook over to Belichick. At least that’s the best explanation for the game result I can come up with.

    4. Jack is Back! Says:

      Heck, why not just have ESPN cover the war, the economy, the congress, the president and socio-cultural-political issues as if government was a “sport”. Actually, it is. There are always at least two teams, both or more competitive with a large substainable fan base. They both play offense (Iraq, WoT, Supreme Court,etc.) and defense (Tax breaks, monetary policy, deregulation, etc.). There are big name, high paid stars on both the Red team and the Blue Team – McCain, W, Rudi, Newt or HRC, Barack Hussein Obama, KerryEdwards, etc. Plus they have built in PR machines much like the Yankees and the LA Lakers. Better yet, lets put the Sports page as the lede for all MSM newsprint and relegate the stagnant stuff like Pelosi’s 100 hours going on 2,000 hours on the back page.

    5. Jim Kidder Says:

      But if that were to happen, we might get Keith Olbermann all over again.

    6. Blacque Jacques Shellacque Says:

      But winning the game … not exposing how the game is to be won … is what ultimately counts to the fans.

      The problem is, a win for us is not what the media wants.

    7. Dave Says:

      The optimism of Iraqis and US troops is noticably higher then Americans at home. Reporters are paranoid of appearing, even for a moment, of being a ‘happy hack’. They don’t embed their reporters, the distrust of the military runs so deep. It will be years before they address the issue.

    8. Jake Says:

      Considering newspaper subscription rates and evening news viewership, seems to me a good many people ARE voting with their feet and heading to “partisan” blogs for their war reporting.

    9. John Says:

      >>> That their role in life is not to undermine the effectiveness of the local team.

      You assume too much. I daresay 80% of the MSM wake up every morning praying for some utter catastrophe to befall the nation, the military and especially Iraq, so they can lay the blame at George Bush’ feet. And the worst part is that 40% of the electorate probably wish it too.

      We have become so rich, so secure and so successful that we can afford to hate ourselves as a nation for the pure political entertainment value.

    10. Steve R Says:

      If you don’t think that sports reporters undermine the effectiveness of the local team, you really DONT consume much sports media. Give Bill Belicheck three losing seasons in Boston, and you will see a backlash that makes coverage of George Bush look like hagiography.

    11. Big Al Says:

      Another difference between the political and sports media, is that the sports media don’t think they should control the game. They leave that to the coach and players.
      The political media think thay they should control politics.

    12. Vinnie Vidivici Says:

      Agree with the thrust of your post, although sometimes our political bickering sounds a little too much like the chatter of hyper-partisan sports fans.

      The key difference with sports is that we all get to watch the same game at the same level of detail as the sports press, and can judge for ourselves the quality of play, whereas we rely upon interpreters to describe the equivalent of rules, opponents, judges, the play-by-play — and even the outcome — in politics or in Iraq. Here, ‘game highlights’ presented by a lazy, incompetent or politically compromised intermediary don’t serve us very well.

      Same goes for America’s image abroad. People around the world don’t get to ‘watch’ the U.S. as they would an athlete’s performance. The only picture of America almost all of them will ever see is comprised of words and images selected by newsroom editors and producers, supplemented by the thoughts and words of influential politicians, entertainers and opinion-shapers. Throughout Europe, or places with state-controlled media like China or the Middle East, the absence of any narrative to compete with one of non-stop American villainy means that the answer to the question ‘why they hate us’ is that ‘they’ are given very little choice.

      Similarly, there is but one conclusion you could reach about Iraq based solely upon media coverage — but it’s the same conclusion the media had reached when our boys paused in a sandstorm on the way to Baghdad, the same conclusion the media reached after three elections, and the same conclusion they hammered at throughout 2004 and 2005, when the IMF and the World Bank declared Iraq the fastest growing economy in in the Middle East.

    13. Mark Says:

      Unfortunately for your analysis, the home team for most of the MSM is the Democratic Party — not the USA.

    14. Jacksonian Says:

      I believe that Vinnie made a good point. The MSM is equivalent to ESPN’s SportsCenter. They just show edited highlights–the big hits, the big errors, the big plays. Just like the MSM, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Just like SC doesn’t show linemen doing their jobs in the trenches, and doesn’t give them credit for LT’s big runs, the MSM doesn’t show the grunts in the trenches, successfully doing their jobs. The big difference: SC doesn’t consistently highlight all the mistakes of only one team, and only show the cheerleaders of the other.

    15. Vinnie Vidivici Says:

      Jacksonian writes: ” . . . SC doesn’t consistently highlight all the mistakes of only one team, and only show the cheerleaders of the other.”

      And in less than 20 words distills the sports media-MSM comparison to its essence. Well done.

    16. kman Says:

      9. John

      You hit the nail straight on the head with your comment!

      We are a very apathetic nation (up to now we could afford to be).

      We always think that we can rise to the occasion if it is very, very, very serious (WWII is a good example. Have some news people — WWII could have went either way!) The current situation is a very, very, very serious one. One of these times we will lose big time with this attitude — then it is downhill from there.

    17. Jim O'Sullivan Says:

      Minor point of disagreement: I don’t think that the New York Times doesn’t realize what it’s doing. It knows full well that revealing the details of our anti-terrorist operations helps Al Queda. As as wise man once said: They’re not anti-war; they’re on the other side.

    18. Johnmeister Says:

      Unfortunately, a better comparison is baseball coverage. Football (unlike the real news) only happens about once a week. And for the playoffs, you have fewer games being focused on by the same number of people. So the analysis does get better.

      But baseball is played everyday. And the day-to-day journalism coverage of baseball is really superficial. Very rarely is strategy discussed well. Often, you get a regurgitation of what happened. Mind you, that is necessary. But some real in-depth analysis is necessary as well. You have to go to non-traditional media sources (like the web or various blogs) for that.

      That is where the MSM is stuck as well.

    19. Johnmeister Says:

      I think some of the comments on this website are a bit extreme. I think the MSM is more clueless than traitorous. The NY Times did after all publish Judith Miller’s pieces during the run up to the war. They printed on the Front Page of the paper first Iraq was making nuclear weapons and then that WMDs had been found in Iraq. Those pieces were exactly what the Administration wanted and were cited by the as a reason to attack Iraq.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Miller_%28journalist%29

    20. Ed Driscoll.com Says:

      “As Serious As Football”…

      James McCormick of The Chicago Boyz writes, “America will get the MSM it wants when America takes its national security as seriously as its football”:Most sports writers have an opinion. And certainly the local sports writers have an investment in……

    21. Jennifer Says:

      That’s pretty insightful, but I think a large portion of the problem comes from the home team itself. If the Bush Administration had half as effective a PR team as any given sports franchise, I think we would be in better shape morale-wise. The American people aren’t getting any good information because it isn’t being handed out. If Bush and his advisers were out day after day, making the pundit talking points in speeches and press conferences, it would be impossible to ignore. How many times have we who support the war banged our heads in frustration wishing for just ONE correct move, ONE good response to a situation, ONE tasty soundbite that we can throw in the faces of the opposition? It’s almost like being a St. Louis Rams fan – you can talk all you want about coverage, but in the end, the fans can’t win the game for the team!

    22. Jimmy J. Says:

      Our papers that cover sports are always for the home team winning. But the MSM doesn’t think they should be for the home team (our military forces) in the GWoT. Nosiree, got to be objective and point out all the mistakes of the home team. After all we’re journalists, we owe no allegiance to any one country. Just because we live here doesn’t mean it’s our home team. ARRRGGHHH!!!!!

      What’s going on in the U.S. right now would be like the San Diego sports writers calling for the Chargers to give up and quit after the first half of the season because they don’t like the coach and the way he’s running the team.

    23. Eric Says:

      So all this begs the question, what coach is George W most like? I’d have to say Bobby Bowden. Rewards loyalty more than performance and doesn’t make a change until its too late (like his son Jeff for Offensive Coordinator). Bobby delegates his authority and doesn’t wear a headset until his team has made so many bad plays they’re already out of the game. I guess the answer will reflect more on the answerer’s politics than illustrate anything about W, though. Its an exercise for its own sake that doesn’t produce much good analysis, much like the original post.

    24. caveat bettor Says:

      Yesterday, in posting on the U.S. economy, I asserted:

      I think that, since the press continues to give the worry warts plenty of time to share their gloom, it follows that a substantial amount of people will follow (like the sheep in this wonderful film).

      The day before, James McCormick said something similar, and aptly used recent football events to nail his point

    25. sol vason Says:

      Here is more support for your theory. In some cities “investigative” reporting is a mainstay of sports reporting. It destroys team morale and cohesiveness and sells newspapers. It normally occurs in cities which are home to perpetual losers. This includes college level sports as well.

    26. Word Around the Net Says:

      BROKEN CONDUIT…

      McCormick thought about that, the media’s job is to inform the fans, it is the conduit that informs them. The desire for sports news is pretty strong in a sports afficinados, especially about their home team. They rely primarily on sports writers to h…

    27. fasteddie Says:

      Your analogy is way off base. We are not the “fans” of the U.S. Government. We are the OWNERS. How many coaches do you think could survive not giving straight answers to the owners?

      The right wing all seems to want “authoritarian” government – and have the “strongman” make all of the decisions ( the “decider” ) and the people get to be “fans”. They used to have a word for that – Fascism.

      Bull$hit. This is not some third world banana republic. The is the USA, this is a DEMOCRACY. Government of the people, by the people, for the people. We are not the “fans” we are the owners. We are all shareholders and the government BELONGS to US.

      Right-wingers who buy into the tinkerbell solution – guess what – Iraq will NOT get better just by clapping harder. Snap out of it and begin taking responsibility and not just wishing that some rich guy will take care of it.

    28. James A Pacella Says:

      >The right wing all seems to want “authoritarian” government

      This is laughable. Please justify that statement. And then try to explain how Democratic efforts to bring back the “Fairness Doctrine” isn’t authoritarian.

      As far as Iraq, thankfully Bush isn’t a selfish craven coward and understands that no matter how fierce the people who hate him are, he has a responbility to the country to defend it anyway.

    29. Ginny Says:

      It is the desire to get news that isn’t slanted. A news service that has a Jamil Hussein problem isn’t speaking truth to power – it is obfuscating truth and passing that obfuscation off as truth. This implies that the media doesn’t take their role nor their subject seriously. Certainly the emphasis upon how American’s “feel” about the war is a strange (if obsessive) emphasis. How we “feel” isn’t so important – what actually is happening is.

      I like Bush, but he may not communicate well, he may not be sufficiently libertarian in his approach to big government spending, he may, in the end, not have prosecuted the war in a way that wins it. However, implying that he has not been leveling with us can only be done by completely ignoring the content of his speeches.

      Disagreeing with policy is not irresponsible – but arguing that a policy won’t work before not only has it been applied but even before it has been published, that is irresponsible. And it is not uncharacteristic not just of the left but of the tenor of the media’s questions and analysis.

      Fasteddie is confused – certainly McCormick’s point is that this news is more not less important, that it concerns & affects us more not less than sports news. But the lack of proportionality seems to always be designed to fill us with gloom and a belief there is no plan. A little more humility should come from reporters whose main expertise appears to be electoral politics. They need to take a wide-angle lens to understand the context & develop a horizon – longer in terms of military history, broader in terms of the Middle East, and more self-conscious in terms of what America can do and what it can’t.

    30. fasteddie Says:

      This is laughable. Please justify that statement. And then try to explain how Democratic efforts to bring back the “Fairness Doctrine” isn’t authoritarian.

      here’s the quote:

      That there are things that they do not need to know, immediately, under a system of representative government. That their role in life is not to undermine the effectiveness of the local team.

      The implication is that the press, by not dancing to the tune of the president, by not acting as cherleaders, is traitorous – “undermining the effectiveness of the local team”. How can that not be authoritarian? Freedom of the press is not accidentally the FIRST Amendment. The first thing any authoritarian govenment does is control the press, either by explicit) takeover or (as you are advocting) intimidation. The President should not be questioned? Should not be held accountable? Should be given the benefit of the doubt? Please.

      And the “fairness doctrine” is because the airwaves are public property. See what the wage gap between rich and poor has done since the fairness doctrine was lifted. The public airwaves should not be one-sided.

      But the lack of proportionality seems to always be designed to fill us with gloom and a belief there is no plan.

      What plan do you see? In 2003, we were told Iraq would be over in 6 months and pay for itself. That “plan” turned out to be a neocon fantasy. There is NO plan. There never was one. The only suitable plan was to NOT aggressively invade a sovereign country without provocation.

      They need to take a wide-angle lens to understand the context & develop a horizon – longer in terms of military history, broader in terms of the Middle East, and more self-conscious in terms of what America can do and what it can’t.

      You give good advice to the press here. Unfortunately, it is good advice that should have been given to the President.

      Cheney already knew – why did he change his mind?

      http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/192908_cheney29.html


      “And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth? And the answer is not very damned many. So I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we’d achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.”

      Going to Baghdad, Cheney said in 1992, would require a much different approach:
      “All of a sudden you’ve got a battle you’re fighting in a major built-up city, a lot of civilians are around, significant limitations on our ability to use our most effective technologies and techniques. Once we had rounded him up and gotten rid of his government, then the question is what do you put in its place? You know, you then have accepted the responsibility for governing Iraq.”

      So WHY did he change his mind?

      SUPPORT THE TROOPS – BRING THEM HOME.

    31. James A Pacella Says:

      “Neocon” blah blah blah. You’re so invested in your neat little categories and unthinking prejudice that you still believe this boogeyman term has any relevance today.

      For the past 20 years (at least) the world has been undergoing profound historical realignments. These realignments are under the banner of literal Koranic Islam. On the whole, the West and the thinkers in Washington have been culturally blind to it, just as you are still blind to it.

      It’s obvious that the White House didn’t anticipate such a fierce Jihadist reaction to Saddam’s fall. But NO ONE ELSE of any prominence did either. It’s part of the same institutional failure that blinded us to 9/11.

      The “short war” “promise” you cite was indeed true.. it was regarding defeating the army of Saddam. There is no denying that. There was no lie or disingenuousness (other than those by revisionists such as yourself).

      What is going on in Iraq as a result of the tyrant’s boot being lifted from Iraq’s neck is inevitable. Whenever the day inevitably came that saw the end of Iraq, these forces were ready to pounce.

      I just finished a book called “Inside the Jihad”, written by Arab who was in the Al Qaida camps in the mid 1990s… Here is what he wrote of events that happened in 1995:

      Page 180
      “One night, one of the brothers asked what the next jihad would be. Ibn Sheikh didn’t hesitate: Iraq. Iraq was rich with oil, and the government was weak. The Gulf War and the sanctions had left Saddam Hussein almost powerless. The people were ready for a revolution because they had been oppressed for so long under Saddam. Of course there was another reason to go after Iraq: if the mujahidin won Iraq, then Iran would be surrounded. It was a tantalizing opportunity.”

      You’re going to tell us that the US is fueling Jihad? Bullsh*t. Islam fuels the jihad.

      Once the Caliphate gets established, the Jihadis will launch their global war with full Islamic sanction and zeal.

      You want us to leave so that they can do this.

      Please, shoot yourself in the head, but don’t endanger the rest of us with your appetite for suicide.

      And don’t insult our Troops by claiming to support them when you advocate their slaughter and ours.

    32. fasteddie Says:

      You’re pathetic – you start by saying that I’m invested in little categories:

      “Neocon” blah blah blah. You’re so invested in your neat little categories and unthinking prejudice that you still believe this boogeyman term has any relevance today.

      and then launch into:

      For the past 20 years (at least) the world has been undergoing profound historical realignments. These realignments are under the banner of literal Koranic Islam.

      It’s called hypocrisy!!!! How’s it taste??? Like the $hit still in you underwear since 9/11, I’ll bet!!

      You’re going to tell us that the US is fueling Jihad? Bullsh*t. Islam fuels the jihad.

      If you want to overlook that the US has killed or maimed or destroyed the lives of several percent of their country, then sure. If you ignore that, then it’s all jihad.

      Once the Caliphate gets established, the Jihadis will launch their global war with full Islamic sanction and zeal.
      And don’t insult our Troops by claiming to support them when you advocate their slaughter and ours.

      So when are you joining up to fight the Islamic Bogeyman, Jimbo?
      Are you sending your kids?

      try http://www.goarmy.com, Tell them you want 11B!! It means extra ice cream!!

      You must be joining because you really want to stop this super scary global jihad!!!

      Really, tell me when you ship off to Iraq and I’ll send you chapstick and hard candy. I send a package to Iraq every month. I’d be happy to send you one.

      As for me, I’ll trust by what I learned in kindergarten:

      No one is ever going to be nice to you because you are mean to them.

      Please, shoot yourself in the head, but don’t endanger the rest of us with your appetite for suicide.

      Again, I’ll be watching to see what FOB you’ll be at in Anbar, or Baghdad. Let me know what kind of chapstick and life-savers you want.

      Remember http://www.goarmy.com, Tell them you want 11B.

      Unless you’re just a lot of talk you want backed up by other people kids, and limbs and blood.

      SUPPORT THE TROOPS – BRING THEM HOME.

    33. James A Pacella Says:

      The men and women in the Armed Forces of the United States are not kids. No one’s sons and daughters are being “sent” there. Men and women volunteered to fight.

      They are not victims.

      Nor am I, your cheap attempts to divert from the argument is just one of many rhetorical poisons people like you wallow in.

      Stay in the mud, pig.

    34. fasteddie Says:

      [Comment deleted by admin. Fasteddie, take your insults somewhere else.]