Friday, February 17, 2012

We Report What We Decide

So LeBron James has indicated that he's open to playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers again, which of course means that ESPN has exploded into ZOMGWTFBBQ mode.  Here is the quote:

"I think it would be great, it would be fun to play in front of these fans again.  I had a lot of fun times here. You can't predict the future. Hopefully you continue to stay healthy. I'm here as a Miami player and I'm happy where I am now but I don't rule that out in any sense. If I decide to come back, hopefully the fans will accept me."

A couple points:

1) A search of google, YouTube, and ESPN's web site could not reveal a transcript of the interview in which LeBron's comments were made.  Meaning we don't know what the interviewer actually asked.  Was the reporter asking soon?  Eventually?  Ever?  Why can't ANYONE post a video of this interview or a transcript to show us the exact context of the answer?

2) LeBron himself gave no time frame on such a return, nor did he list it as a certainty.  He didn't say he intended to come back, or even that he wanted to come back, simply that he wouldn't rule out the possibility.

Now, with those two things in mind, let's run through some of the reactions:

1) Michael Smith on ESPN's First Take used the language of infidelity in regards to LeBron, saying that Miami went from being the mistress to the second wife.  The panelists then discussed whether Miami fans should be offended.

2) Michael Wallace for ESPN continued the sexual talk and piled on condemnation by writing an article entitled "LeBron wrong to flirt with Cavaliers reunion."

It isn't a reaction, actually, but back in January Sam Amico of Fox Sports speculated that LeBron would return to Cleveland in 2014 when his contract in Miami is up because he doesn't like the management there.  Anyone doubt this will breathe new life into such speculation?

LeBron didn't take out an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer polling the city what they would think about him returning in 2014.  He was in Cleveland for a game against the Cavs, and a reporter asked him if he'd ever come back.  What was he supposed to say?  I mean, he had options.  He could have said "no comment."  He could have said "no way."  He could have said "as soon as possible."  He could have said "I am your Lord God and thou shalt have no gods before me."  There is an infinite combination of words in the English language, but I don't see anything in LeBron's statements to invite such sermonizing or speculation.  Maybe he will one day return to Cleveland.  Maybe if he tries Cleveland will tell him to get lost.  Who knows?  Who cares?  We are talking about something that probably won't happen ever, and even if it does, couldn't happen before 2014.  ESPN is spending hours discussing a possibility two or more years down the road when they won't spend 5 minutes out of 1440 minutes a day talking about hockey, or soccer.

That's the crux of this, is that this didn't become a story that they reported on.  They created this story.   I think the "worst" think you could say about this is that LeBron was offering an olive branch to a city and franchise he snubbed because deep down he wants everyone to like him.  Whether that's a character flaw or not isn't something I'm interested in discussing right now.  What it isn't is an invitation to speculate on the timing or probability of a return.  But ESPN ran with it anyway, which is going to lead me to punch myself in the balls by bringing up the dreaded name of Tebow.

ESPN is still, today, mentioning Tebow and Tebowmania.  They are using Linsanity to bring Tebow up.  During the regular season and the playoffs they used any excuse to bring up Tebow, going so far as to mention his name 160 times in a single hour long broadcast of SportsCenter.  Throughout all of this, they would open the discussion with a defense of why they were bringing it up by saying "it's all people are talking about."  But maybe the only reason people are talking about it, is because ESPN, as the biggest name in sports news, made such a big point of promoting him.  This blog already had one post comparing the stats of Tebow, Joe Flacco, and Alex Smith during the regular season that showed how Tebow was worse than them in every measurable way.

I am actually not hating on Linsanity, but what percentage of the people that are aware of Jeremy Lin are aware of Ty Lawson and his work with the Denver Nuggets, or Kyrie Irving in Cleveland?  But Lin plays in New York, which nets more exposure, and he is a more compelling story at the moment when you factor in the win streak and the personal struggles he's overcome.

But let's recognize that in saying that, sports reporters are making an editorial decision.  ESPN is making specific programming decisions.  They have an agenda, and they are pushing it.  By tying Tebow into Linsanity, they are explicitly using a player they didn't create to try and maintain the relevance of a player they did create.  And while they never doubted Tebow, watching First Take the past two days you'll already see the knives coming out to tear down Lin.  Yesterday they declared the death of Lin puns, and today they are already anticipating the bubble popping, the other shoe dropping.  When Lin (and the Knicks, let's not forget them) finally lose (which they will), I wonder what the story will be then.  But there will be an angle, and ESPN will be crafting it, not reporting it.  Perhaps it's inevitable, maybe it's desirable, but what it isn't is something they are blameless of doing.

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