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.