Posted on: February 17, 2009 12:26 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2009 1:21 pm

The Media and Sports

Scientists know that an observer affects the outcome of an experiment.  The media has a profound effect on sports in much the same manner.  Golf is a fine example since tournament structure and coverage often resembles a celebrity event more than a sports competition.

The media affects salary structure:   Pervasive national marketing and exposure tends to make the pinnacle of any sport top heavy.  Media focus on big league baseball provides more dollars to the top while robbing farm leagues of viewers and attendees.  In baseball Double 'A' games go unattended while potential fans watch the Yankees on TV.  The resulting salary disparity between a Triple 'A' player and even a mediocre Big League player is enormous and growing.  National coverage is the reason.  Big media demands national stars that dominate public patronage.

The media affects how the game is played and officiated:   It can be argued that headlines encourage extravagant behavior both on and off the court.  The monetary reward is high.  Sports celebrities realize they make more money when they get their name in lights just like Paris Hilton and Madonna.  The quest for headlines nurtures the natural fascination in everyone to witness a train wreck and turns.  The NBA is often ridiculed for allowing superstars to travel and foul.  Many basketball fans hate the NBA because its one-on-one exhibition of superstars is not the team game they know and love.  Certainly a team sport dominated by superstars does not advance the sport.  Recent American performance in the Olympics proves it.

Perhaps the effect on officiating is best seen in college basketball.  It varies hugely from game to game and at its extreme benefits one team much more than the other.  The fascinating trend is how often swings in officiating seem eerily sympathetic to requests from media commentators before the game.  Unfortunately one team ends up struggling to adjust to the style of play the officials allow.  Perhaps inconsistency is the largest hurdle.  But no one believes that officiating is a sole result of the referees on the court or the coaches on the sidelines.

The media affects what we learn about sports:  We are not being inundated with TV segments on the development of stellar team play.  We're not going to hear much about a great basketball defender with morals.  TV coverage of the elements of great teams is almost non-existent.  The relationship between individual character and successful teams is less explored today than it was twenty years ago.  We are definitely not learning how team sports contribute to character development from sports coverage.

Conclusion: It is impossible to erase the effect of national media on sports any more than we will erase the scientist's effect on their experiments.  But scientists have a systemic incentive to minimize their involvement in affecting outcomes.  The media has an almost immediate monetary reward when it shapes how sports are played.  It would do well for the caretakers of sports to consciously and verbally shape that effect.  The constructive character development of children, teams, and the sport itself depends on it.

Category: World Sports
Tags: Media, Sports, Team
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com