The Cowboys' Poor Start Illustrates Major Problem in Today's Sports Media
For the past week, countless fans and analysts have conducted a funeral for the 2010 Cowboys season, and with good reason.
Despite ranking in the top five in both offense and defense, the Cowboys have managed to beat themselves so thoroughly that they are 1-4 and a game-and-a-half out of third place.
It’s an unexpected and downright embarrassing debacle. However, this is not the issue that this article will address. Dallas’s swoon is indicative of the disturbing media trend of bandwagoning, one that I’ve recognized ever since I began to consider a sportswriting career roughly three years ago.
I’ll be blunt about this: There is very, very little foresight in the sports media business.
This issue has been a thorn in my side for a while now. It is incredibly irritating to hear an analyst, in the beginning of October, give me reason after reason why a team has no shot of making the playoffs; then, after a two-game winning streak, definitively explain why the same team is on the verge of being considered elite.
I think to myself as I watch the master flip-flopper, "This guy gets paid to bandwagon and provide 'insight' that is occurring right in front of our eyes?"
We see it happen all the time. Analysts on television and in the newspaper rarely go against the grain, and instead write pieces composed of clever sentences and cute metaphors to prove that their opinion reigns superior over everyone else.
But in reality, within the text, they are really saying the same things we were thinking before we clicked the link to their article or popped open the morning newspaper.
It’s gotten to the point that, on the rare occasion I do read a column that contradicts the common belief, I am pleasantly surprised.
Of course, there are exceptions to this pattern.
This past Monday, I read a column by Joel Sherman that, unlike hundreds of thousands other journalists and analysts, agreed with Joe Girardi’s willingness to start A.J. Burnett in Game 4 instead of pitching C.C. Sabathia on three days rest. "You know," he said, "there is not an actual law that states the Yankees can’t beat Lee or win when Burnett starts."
As it turns out, this move blew up in Girardi's face about as badly as it could have, but Sherman did raise a valid point. He expanded on his argument by saying that, even if the Yankees do lose those two games, they will have Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte starting on regular rest in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the season.
We’ll see how the rest of the series transpires, but things are very bleak in the Bronx. Nonetheless, I still believe Sherman deserves credit for providing a new angle on an issue everyone was quick to bash Girardi for. His job should be to get you to think, after all.
Conversely, I vividly remember Randy Galloway of the Star-Telegram (as well as ESPN 103.3) all but declared the Cowboys season over following the Cowboys' shocking loss to the Bears in Week 2. Galloway is a very respected columnist—in my wildest dreams, I might reach one-twentieth of his status—but as I read his column, I thought, "Is this really the best that could be said right now?"
I understood that the shock of going from surefire Super Bowl contender to 0-2 leads to some knee-jerk reactions from a demanding fan base, but it should be on the heralded writers to take some time and consider how the rest of the season could play out—especially given the fact it was Week 2.
Given the state of the media, it would take two consecutive wins for the Cowboys to get everyone back on the bandwagon. Two measly wins. After the convincing win against the Texans, one could sense the hype building. All of a sudden, after one win, the Cowboys had a bye, then a winnable home game against the Tennessee Titans.
Sure enough, following the domination of the Texans, Galloway inked a column titled "Redemption is the Cowboys Latest Game." He then went on to state in the article, “OK, count the Cowboys back in the hunt, but the trust factor remains on hold.” Certainly a valid statement, but where was this a week ago?
If there was even a remote possibility that the Cowboys could beat the Texans, which there certainly was, he should have made note of that in his column the previous week.
After the Vikings game, Galloway coined another headline saying, "Cowboys Are Dead (And Dumb) Team Walking." If they were basically dead in Week 2, how can they be dead again? How many times is this team allowed to resurrect?
If the Cowboys win the next two against the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars, what will be said then? Let’s say after they win those two games, they lose an embarrassing game to the Giants on the road to fall to 3-5—will they be dead again?
I hate to ostracize Galloway on this, because numerous members of the media are in the same boat as he is regarding the Cowboys. And frankly, it is the wrong approach to take.
Peter King is the arguably the country’s most respected sports journalist. And when he says something, I am sure to listen. You know why? His opinions are well-constructed and aren’t always conventional. In a preview for Sports Illustrated, he picked the Steelers to win the Super Bowl, which is looking like a brilliant pick due to its originality and the fact they are 4-1 and picking up steam.
He also picked the Carolina Panthers to make the playoffs, a selection that looks downright awful. King regularly responds to his fans on Twitter, and he takes endless heat for that selection. It's as if, when fans think of King, they associate him with that prediction.
This is where I believe the problem lies in forecasting picks and analysis in sports today, specifically football. The sports analysts, who put their necks on the line each season with their predictions, fear picking a surprise team then having that selection blow up in their face. Every year, there are countless surprise teams. Some analysts attempt to pick them ahead of time; most go with the conservative selection.
Then, when the surprise team does emerge, the analysts go, “Wow! I never saw that coming!”
Yet, in reality, there were plenty of signs that a team was ready to burst onto the scene as a contender, but the analysts avoided picking them in fear of looking like a fool when that team does what many expected them to do—such as with Peter King and the Panthers.
I know I am just an 18-year-old freshman at Hofstra University, and I really have no right to critique how some of the nation’s finest writers go about their business. But I would like to implore aspiring writers of my generation to not make determinations based only on yesterday’s events, but rather to look ahead. The role of an analyst or columnist should be to see the entire picture, not to overreact or simply reflect their viewers’ or readers’ current beliefs with a glorified vocabulary.
Don’t just take your pen after a loss and declare a team’s season over. Imagine a scenario in which the team wins a game here and there, then research if that team has a manageable schedule down the stretch before you declare their season over.
Don’t be afraid to make a prediction that won’t be looked upon favorably by your viewers and could hurt your reputation.
An analyst’s job should be to stir debate, albeit reasonable, and get viewers or readers to think. Hopefully this piece did exactly that.
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