Media Coverage of the Modern Athlete: Who Is To Blame?

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Media Coverage of the Modern Athlete: Who Is To Blame?

Within the last seven days, two of our greatest athletes have appeared to fall from grace in the eyes of the American sports public.

The revelation that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids and Michael Phelps'  marijuana use have hit the headlines and made us all rethink the idea of the modern athlete as role model.

A-Rod the handsome baseball star and Phelps the American Olympic hero have been taken down a notch with the result being a plethora of articles detailing who is to blame for their current situations.

Of course, one could assume that the athletes themselves are to blame because they did break the law by using illegal drugs.

Others may put the blame on the media for sensationalizing athletes accomplishments and over emphasising their failures.

However, the blame for the current coverage of such athletes lies with only one group, us the American people.

This isn't to say that the athletes and the media are off the hook in this situation; however, we must look at the reality of both sports and human nature in order to get a clear picture of both cases.

Did A-Rod break the law and take shortcuts to put up the numbers he did by using anabolic steroids, of course he did, but is anybody shocked by this news?

When Jose Canseco warned us of the reality of steroid use in professional baseball he was dismissed as at best a flake and at worst a bitter liar. However, nearly a decade later (and without one libel suit being filed against him), it looks like Canseco was telling the truth.

A-Rod was in fact doing the same thing that Bonds, Sosa, Palmero, Caminetti, Clemens, and probably Mark McGwire was doing, using an illegal substance to improve his performance.

For Michael Phelps did the news of his recreational marijuana use shock anybody either?

He's a 23-year-old, who leading up to the Olympics, dedicated himself almost exclusively to eating, training, and sleeping. After his Olympic glory, with the pressure off, was anybody shocked that he was smoking weed and partying with others in his peer group?

After all, how many college age people do the exact same thing Phelps did on every weekend?

Sure, both Phelps and A-Rod broke the law, sure A-Rod took short cuts, and it could be argued that both hurt their image as role models for the young; however, does either case really shock or truly surprise anybody?

As for the media, is anybody shocked at the coverage that these stories have received in both the sports and (and in the case of Phelps) mainstream media?

The press loves nothing more than to build famous figures in any walk of society from music, entertainment, politics, and sports up only to tear them down later.

Of course, this wasn't always the case because there was a time when an athlete's life behind the scenes was kept private by the media.

It was no secret to the media that Babe Ruth was a degenerate's degenerate, it was no secret that Mickey Mantle was a raging alcoholic, nor was it a secret that Magic Johnson was one of the most promiscuous men in the NBA.

Steroid use in the NFL had been a reality for years but was never reported, and it wasn't until Jim Bouton published Ball Four that the average fan knew the majority of baseball players took amphetamines to make it through a 164 game season.

I would even be willing to assume that there were more than a few members of the local media in Cincinnati who knew Pete Rose bet on baseball.

However, none of the incidents listed above were ever reported by the sports media because they were none of our business.

The members of the press figured that it didn't matter if Mantle was a drunk as long as he was hitting .310 and blasting 50 home runs a year, and it didn't matter if athletes were using performance enhancing drugs as long as they produced.

However, at some point, that all changed and the media began tearing athletes down as quick as they built them to super stardom.

So why the change and how did the media go from looking the other way at the mistakes athletes made to reporting every single incident in full detail?

Who is to blame for the media coverage of the modern athlete?

We are.

You and me the American public is to blame because the media is a business and that business thrives on giving the people what they want.

No longer would stories about Mickey Mantle the good old country bumpkin making his name in the big city sell papers or ad revenue for Sports Center. If Mantle were alive today, stories of his drinking, nightclub brawls, marital infidelity, and how he got off the hook for so many DUI cases simply because he was a baseball star would be filling newspapers and airways.

It wouldn't be enough to enjoy Mantle's talents on the field, the media would have to tell us how flawed his is and how the fame and money corrupted such a once humble young man from Commerce, Oklahoma.

The media would run with a story of this nature because we would consume such a story and that's the business of the media to sell product.

No longer are we satisfied with good guy stories of humble and hardworking athletes we want to see them as the flawed figures they are. After all, they have so much fame and money, how could that not corrupt you?

However, make no mistake unless we first build these athletes up to the level of super stardom it does no good to tear them down.

Nobody wants to hear about how much of a jerk a utility infielder or second strong NFL quarterback might be. We only relish in stories about how the mighty have fallen.

This is why we got stories about how A-Rod was the clean cut boy next door, how Phelps was raised in a single parent home, or even how a young Mike Tyson was a feel good story because he was basically an orphan taken in and mentored by an elderly Cus D'Amato.

However, in each case the evidence of human frailty was there. A-Rod was named as a steroid user in Canseco's book but nobody wanted to believe Jose. Phelps had a DUI conviction that the media ignored, and Tyson had a rap sheet long before he ever went to live at D'Amato's Catskills retreat.

The reason those stories were persused is because we didn't want to hear them. Phelps was a largely unknown swimmer before the Beijing Olympic hype. Tyson wasn't heavyweight champion, and A-Rod while famous was playing in suburban Dallas not the nation's media center.

This isn't to say that the media should not have reported the stories of A-Rod or Phelps, but rather as sports fans each of us really needs to look at the coverage these athletes are now getting and really ask ourselves who is to blame for the sensational nature of these stories.

We each might want to start by looking in the mirror because all the media does is provide the bait that we are more than willing to take.

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