Why does everything in sports have to be exaggerated? Why do we need to sensationalize the ordinary? Blow up the miniscule? Create a mountain out of the precursor to a molehill?
If I have a complaint with all the ESPN coverage I watch (and yes, I watch my fair share), and the rest of the sports media, this is it: not everything has to be controversial and examined under every form of microscope (PTI, Around the Horn, First Take) known to man.
After a three-game winning streak for my favorite baseball team, it’s “will the Cubs ever lose again?” After a two-game losing streak for my favorite football team, I hear “should the Buccaneers fire Jon Gruden?” The Lakers have a successful road trip: “do you buy the Lakers as NBA champions?”...never mind that it’s still preseason!
And it goes on. Appalachian State/Michigan was the greatest college upset ever. Until USC/Stanford a few weeks later. Until Fresno State/Georgia baseball. Yes, I said Fresno State/Georgia baseball.
I guess I would just find it refreshing to read about a story without it being the greatest/most amazing/most shocking/most unique/most insert-your-adjective here...and that brings me to today’s sports section. I just finished perusing an article in USA Today about 18-year-old “one-of-a-kind” Brandon Jennings, a basketball player who graduated from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
The writers, Steve Wieberg and Jim Halley, did a fine job explaining the story of Jennings, who is planning to play hoops overseas for a year until he is eligible to enter the NBA draft. However, I don’t think Brandon’s plan is quite as earth-shattering an idea as it appears at first glance.
Consider this quote of caution Wieberg and Halley included from Louisville coach Rick Pitino: "You have to understand...you're going over to Europe, on foreign soil, where people don't speak your language. It becomes a job. It's not college.”
Or this warning from Jay Bilas, also quoted in the USA Today article: “It was a totally different culture [when I played overseas], and I was 22 years old and had a little bit of experience behind me. It's a lot harder when you're 18 years old ... and you're playing against men and expected to carry a professional load. I'm not saying the kid can't do it. But he's still a young man."
I found it interesting that the article quoted sneaker guru Sonny Vaccaro regarding the many potential endorsements Jennings could reel in from what seems to all involved to be a groundbreaking decision. The media coverage can’t hurt the endorsement opportunities, I’m guessing.
Which brings me to my biggest problem and question: is this really as rare an event as we're being led to believe? An 18-year-old American athlete choosing to ply his trade overseas: is that a “brave undertaking” (as Donn Nelson of the Mavericks said) worthy of SportsCenter, USA Today, and every other main media outlet? I mean, it NEVER happens, right? Wieberg and Halley even quoted Doug Gottlieb as saying “I’m not sure anybody (emphasis mine) is ready to go over there as an 18- or 19-year-old”.
Well, um...before we anoint our young pioneer Mr. Jennings as “US Ambassador to the Foreign Sports World”, let me draw your attention to one more article... one I read less than an hour before I opened the sports section! It’s a great piece by SI.com’s Grant Wahl, and it describes Jozy Altidore, a young American soccer player. Altidore, formerly of the New York Red Bulls in MLS, starred in the U-20 World Cup last year for the United States national team.
The interesting thing about Altidore: he’s eighteen years old...and going to play professionally in Europe.
What? As a teenager? I hear Doug Gottlieb’s voice echo: “I’m not sure anybody is ready to go over there as an 18- or 19-year-old”.
Jozy Altidore is not the only American soccer player headed to a country where...gasp...people don’t speak English...
The name Freddy Adu may ring a bell.
And I won’t even begin to look at other sports (tennis, baseball, etc.) where kids not that far from their senior prom (if they’ve had it yet) are competing all around the globe at the highest levels. It happens...so let’s not make Brandon Jennings into a groundbreaking hero for heading to Europe instead of good ole State U as he chases his athletic dreams...just because it's basketball instead of any other sport.
I'm off my soapbox now.