I’ll admit. I’m as bad as the next guy. Maybe worse. I scan my Twitter feed, dozens of times a day. Same for my email in-box with headlines of stories people forward to me. My attention span – MINE! – that of a grown-ass 49 year old man, is probably only a few clicks better than my teenage daughters.
The internet has done this to me. To us. To everyone. The much written about “feedback loops” that the tech giants have engineered into the social media platforms we all use, make us constantly hungry for the NEXT thing. Next story. Next photo. Next response. Next, next, next…
So what happens then, when a complex story with layers, comes washing past us? Like anything else, we scan, and move on. Scan, and draw judgement. Scan, and forget. Or quite often, scan and get the whole story WRONG!
I committed just such an error yesterday, on a subject I normally consume with voraciousness, and on something very simple. I had seen in my twitter feed that golfer J.B. Holmes had taken an absurd 4:10 to hit a single golf shot at Torrey Pines on Sunday at the par-5 18th.
I could have sworn it was that he had to wait 4:10 for a ruling!
Nah. He just couldn’t decide whether to hit 4-wood, or 5-wood, finally decided to lay-up, and started to get roundly heckled by the annoyed gallery.
I went on a rant on-air about this Monday, only to be quickly corrected by listeners. Why had I assumed it was a ruling? I guess because 4:10 to hit a shot is so absurd that I just assumed that couldn’t be correct. Why didn’t I stop, read the article/watch the video of the incident when I saw it scroll across my feed?
Pffffft. Maybe later, man. I’ve got new mentions to look at, bro.
Now take the so-called “Michigan State Scandal” and apply the same dynamic. How many of us have dug through all of the reporting, from all of the outlets, to draw our own conclusions about what is going on now, what went on before? I know I didn’t, until I forced myself to dig through it.
Magnifying the problem, is known bad actors like ESPN with their OTL division swooping in for a well timed hit piece on Michigan State football and basketball, awkwardly strapping it to the Larry Nassar case with bungee cords and duct tape. “See, LOOK! It’s all one big story! We are BREAKING NEWS here, everybody!”
Except they aren’t. ESPN just resurrected a few cases at Michigan State from a decade ago, added their own “narrative sauce” and served the plate up hot with a side of subtle, muted outrage.
Detroit radio host Mike Valenti, is not a neutral observer. He went to Michigan State. He’s the guy who delivered the most epic extended rant in sports radio history (yes, ever!) when his Spartans blew a game against Notre Dame years ago.
It’s as if ESPN thought: “Hmmmm… this Nassar thing is now basically over. What can take this story that just generated our highest pageviews in 8 months, into a new realm?”
Ahah. Football. And Basketball. Boom.
And so the phrase “Michigan State Secrets” is born, interviews that were taped in the summer and kept in the can are suddenly released, and 10 year old cases which were both investigated by police and forwarded to prosecutors, are then re-animated for public consumption, and outrage.
This is not news. This is sensationalism, and storytelling. Longform clickbaiting.
Furthermore, where is the perspective on numbers? Let’s say there were 16 reported sexual assaults involving football players over 10 years. Round it up to 2 per yer, per 125 players on MSU’s roster. What’s the campuswide rate of reported sexual assaults among NON athletes at Michigan State? If that rate exceeds that of the football team, should the headlines read: “Michigan State Football Leads the Fight Against Sexual Assault on Campus?”
This scene in the movie “Neighbors” pretty much sums up how headlines can be spun in many directions depending on what side of the desk you are on.
And to expand it even further, can we get some context as to Michigan State’s number of reported sexual assaults by football and basketball players, as compared to all similar D1 programs across the country. What if it’s in the bottom 3rd compared to everybody else?
Do you still have a story? Does ESPN even care? Hell, they spent time and money interviewing people for this piece back in August. What are the chances they’ll just delete the tape? Right.
Lastly…. a quick thought on D1 college hoops coaches.
Personally, I think Tom Izzo is an egomanical asshole. Or to put it another way, a necessary trait for any successful D1 basketball coach. Sorry to paint with a broad brush, but I’ve come to accept the fact they are all basically millioniare hoop bosses, living on the razor’s edge of recruiting rules, and frantic to keep Johnny (who maybe can’t read) or Jimmy (who abuses his girlfriend) eligible long enough to make one more Final Four. Whether it’s Slick Rick Pitino, Calipari The Con Man, Coach K the Rule Bender, Ol’ “Easy Course” Roy, “What’s the Take” Calhoun, Bobby “The Chair Slinger” Knight, they are all different shades of awful.
It’s only the constant shine from Dick Vitale’s on-air worship of them, that glosses over the warts.
If Tom Izzo or Mark Dantonio did something wrong, then make that charge clearly. Now that I’ve done some reading, I am yet to see it.