Deighan: Rewriting the script on sports reporting

July 24, 2013 

Some of the “story lines” from the sports world last week: Will Johnny Manziel ever grow up? Why is San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick wearing a Miami Dolphins hat? Can Tiger and his former caddie co-exist for 18 holes?

Story lines (or storylines, depending on your on-line dictionary of choice) are fine for television serials, beach reading material or Broadway musicals. They don’t -- despite the ubiquitous use of the term -- belong in sports reporting.

By definition, story lines are fictions. They are plots. Good ones keep us riveted to “Mad Men” or the latest David Baldacci novel. We tune in or turn pages to find out what’s going to happen next.

Sportswriters and other pundits have taken to incorporating the “story line” concept into their coverage of athletic events. For the most part, it’s unnecessary noise and hype. After all, the games themselves provide the drama. They are genunine reality television. Fans merely need watch.

Don’t misunderstand. Sports conversation is great. It’s of universal interest. Do you have Tiger or the field? Can Alabama win another national title? Are the Braves a World Series contender?

These are the source of great barroom debates, and we love to engage in them. They’re ultimately pointless, however, because athletic events actually have winners and losers. They reveal correct answers. It’s akin to a multiple choice test, when all other realms of interest (politics, marketing, religion) are essay.

It seems, however, in the rush to create interest, sports reporters have devolved into sports speculators. The buildup to any Super Bowl lasts months. Discussion of what actually happened when it finally gets played lasts about 12 hours.

It’s hard to say when this phenomenon began, but it probably had something to do with the explosion of real-time media availability through assorted phone or tablet platforms. Pages of newspaper sports sections used to be devoted to box scores, game stories and advances. A live television broadcast of any sporting event was a rare treat.

Now, of course, sports fans can watch events live anytime and anywhere. The need for detailed game coverage has diminished. A 24-7 news cycle needs filler, after all. Enter the story line.

It’s no longer sufficient to report the Dallas Cowboys haven’t had a winning season since 2009. It’s not sufficient to report the off-season transactions the team made to change that trend.

Report on the owner-coach dynamic. Report on the maverick QB. Develop the soap opera.

Contact Chris Deighan at cdeighan@cox.net

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