As an avid consumer of sports media, I read an overwhelming number of sentences that look a lot like this one I just wrote:
“Philip Rivers is a dynamic quarterback with explosive arm strength and a high football IQ, but the rest of the Chargers’ roster is lined with question marks on both sides of the ball, and at the end of the day, San Diego must bring their A-game week-in-week-out if they want to raise their game to the next level."
What do you notice about this chunk of text?
Does anything about it bother you?
Is that how you would write it?
The New York Times and Associated Press, two of the most respected news outlets in the country, write their articles in simple enough language so that they can be easily understood by anyone equipped with a sixth-grade education. Their stories communicate information effectively and with precision, occasionally using some more obscure language but only when the surrounding context implies the meaning of the word in question.
They ensure that the material they publish is accessible to the average reader while also maintaining the highest level of professionalism.
One crucial aspect of this professionalism is that they absolutely do not tolerate the use of clichés.
In sports writing, though, the opposite seems to be true, and it pains me.
Somehow, the public perception of what constitutes acceptable sports journalism has been reduced to the level of the italicized text above, a set of cliché phrases that are not only boring and repetitive, but ultimately communicate nothing.
Clichés ruin otherwise good writing. They take unique and interesting ideas and opinions and strip them of their meaning.
They also teach good readers to be bad writers, and therein lies the problem.
If every media outlet we trust and respect uses the same overused idioms to describe everything, then of course when we sit down to write, we will follow the same pattern because that’s what’s been reinforced throughout our lives as being proper and compelling.
I strongly believe that individual sports writers, both amateur and professional, are more intelligent and creative than that. Yet the bar has been set so low that laziness and unoriginality have crept in and quietly embedded themselves in our work.
I know we can all do better than this.
The obvious culprit is ESPN, which dominates the sports media landscape both on television and online.
Even if you get your sports news elsewhere, don’t worry, the vast majority of media outlets you do use operate almost invariably in ESPN’s image in a flailing attempt to mimic its success.
Well, it’s not happening. Only ESPN can do ESPN.
No media outlet that follows this strategy can compete with ESPN’s vast network of member stations and advertising contracts and the amount of revenue they produce.
The only way to counter the effects of this unfortunate phenomenon is to promote a better kind of sports journalism.
We must hold ourselves accountable and challenge ourselves to make fundamental improvements to our craft. We must devise new ways to discuss old concepts and present them to fans as a fresh alternative to ESPN’s rotten eggs.
I present this challenge to sports writers—start thinking about sports journalism differently.
If this doesn’t happen, we condemn ourselves to producing and consuming subpar sports news, and succumb to inheriting counterproductive habits from the people who get paid far too much to excrete it.