I like sports more than most people. Last Saturday I accidentally turned on the TV and a women’s college basketball game was on; I didn’t turn it off. If someone needs a sixth for pond hockey, I will call in sick and play. I have wagered heavily on high school lacrosse games, and over 60 percent of my net worth is invested in Carlos Quintana and Junior Felix rookie cards. I even believe, in my more sentimental moments, that sports is capable of making the world a better place.
That said, sports has its limits, and in recent years, these limits have been strained by the over-saturation of media. There are plenty of things to say about sports — that the WNBA is terrible, that Bronson Arroyo is better than Carl Pavano, that the Brookline High School girls’ hockey team and all-state defenseman Hannah Jackson will have a tough time with Austin Prep this Friday. There just aren’t enough things to fill every minute of every day.
Take Antoine Walker. Now that the Celtics won the first two games after his return to Boston, he is a media darling, and NBA scribes are pushing each other out of the way to be the first to write articles about his newfound maturity, about how he is an heir to Larry Bird, about how he is the second “all-star” that the Celtics need to compete in the East.
In three or four weeks, when the Celtics are still stumbling around .500 and Toine has just put up a 4-for-19 against the Raptors, the media machine will churn out a new series of regurgitated analyses: He plays too much on the perimeter; he turns the ball over too much; the Celtics should have kept Darius Songalia.
Maybe Antoine will bank in a game-winning three-pointer in the playoffs and change everybody’s minds again. Maybe he won’t. Regardless, the writers could have saved us all a lot of time and simply written at the beginning of the year: “Antoine is a good but not great player. He has above-average ball skills for a big man but terrible shot selection. He is black, although Larry Bird was white, which is ironic because they both played for the Celtics, and yet one was black and the other was not black, being in fact, white.”
Overreacting is just one of the media’s problems, however. When they can’t hyperbolize a small sample size of events, they invent intangible qualities to debate.
Among the most grating of these nonsensical talking-points is the idea of “being a winner.” Note: “a winner” may also be “someone who knows how to win,” “someone who just wants to win,” “someone who’s been through the wars,” “someone who has that extra something you can’t teach,” “someone willing to lay it all on the line” or any baseball player wearing pinstripes with slightly effeminate, self-conscious mannerisms.
Prominent media-appointed winners include: Robert Horry, Enrique Wilson, Victor Green and Steve Kerr. What exactly is it about this mediocre group that makes them winners apart from the fact that they have played on teams with very good players? Only the “experts” know.
Consider Derek Jeter, America’s favorite winner. We would expect “a winner” to perform better in the playoffs where every hit and fist pump counts. Jeter’s career post-season average is .306, .009 points lower than his career regular season average. We would expect someone “who knows what it takes” to perform better against his team’s most important rival.
Jeter has slugged an Enrique Wilson-esque .392 against the Boston Red Sox during the last three years. Is he so special that his presence inspires his teammates, other professional athletes with millions of dollars and their own pride at stake, to perform at a higher level? Unlikely.
I could list hundreds of other equally baseless ideas that Sportscenter anchors throw around on rainy days: the need for baseball teams to “play small ball,” the importance of “chemistry,” that “defense wins championships.”
All of these ideas are intangible enough that they can be applied to almost any team. None has any empirical grounding. But they do fill time slots and word quotas.
The best sports commentators are the ones who do the least talking and let the game speak for itself. The same should be true of sports journalism. If the Celtics end up losing to the Lakers this Wednesday night, it does not mean that Kobe Bryant has finally gotten over his legal troubles or that Boston can’t win big games at home or that Antoine Walker is an undisciplined cancer. It means that the Celtics ended up losing to the Lakers Wednesday night. Sometimes there’s nothing more to say.
And if you really want to talk sports, I’ll take the proud town of Brookline and the under on Friday.
Nat Jackson is a senior in Silliman College.