COLUMN: Should sports reports be taken with a grain of salt?
Collectively, sports is a billion-dollar-a-year industry. Much of this revenue is thanks to the massive media apparatuses surrounding sports: magazines, cable channels, books, websites, podcasts, radio programs, apps and movies. All feeding the insatiable appetites of a loyal fan base. Everything from basketball to curling has some kind of outlet for interested viewers with money to spend. Sports media is an unstoppable money juggernaut. When it comes to funding for football universities like OU, tuition is rivaled only by athletic royalties and revenue from cable and television rights to games.
Thus, it should surprise no one that the sports media, and sports journalists in particular, have become complacent in their profession. No recent event is more telling of this fact than the Manti Te’o hoax. Ubiquitously, sports journalists and news organizations devoted to covering sports failed to do rudimentary fact-checking on the Notre Dame linebacker’s purportedly deceased — and real — girlfriend.
The breaking of the Manti Te’o story was quite the coup for Deadspin, who only investigated further after being urged by an anonymous tipster. It is alarming that Sports Illustrated, a bastion of great sports journalism, ran a cover story on Te’o without checking the facts on his fake girlfriend at all. Pete Thamel, the journalist who wrote the story now tries to cover himself by saying there were “small red flags” in Te’o’s story, but that he simply “[wrote] around it”. Who would expect a seasoned writer such as Thamel to fail to perform such fundamental journalistic duties?
This spoon-feeding the public whatever athletes say, without even an afterthought of scrutiny, needs to come to an end. Certainly the whole sordid affair is an embarrassment for Notre Dame, and humiliating for Manti Te’o. But it reflects most poorly on the sports journalism community, whose comfortable position appears to have resulted in complacency concerning journalistic integrity.
The niche sports media occupies in pop culture is reflected on a smaller scale here in Norman. Websites covering Sooner football such as OUInsider.com and SoonerScoop.com are big business for rabid OU fans willing to pay to glean potential insider information. Even ESPN is getting in on the action with its Sooner Nation website. The Te’o hoax is a reminder to media organizations that complacency can lead to embarrassment; and worse, disserving a loyal audience. It is also a reminder to sports fans, and by extension Sooner fans, to keep their heads on a swivel about the news they receive and the sources they choose to receive it from.