On Michigan State, ESPN, and Our “Scan and Scroll Society”

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.

But his opening segment the other day could not be more spot on.

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.

About the Author

Steve Czaban is a 25 year sports radio veteran, who hosts an afternoon drive show in Washington D.C. He also appears on "Bob and Brian" in Milwaukee. "Czabe" also writes and edits his own commentaries for www.czabe.com and other on-line and print publications. He can be reached at czabe@yahoo.com.

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13 Comments

  1. Thanks Czabe – spot on with your analysis of ESPN “journalism”. But a little harsh on Izzo. He’s never used a bag man to buy recruits like some of the other coaches you compared him to.

  2. You gotta make the winning play. Birdie putt to win? You don’t lag it and hope your opponent misses his. Up 3 with :50 left? You don’t kick a FG then kick off.
    Losers hope the other team will blow it. Losers put games on the shoulders of kickers. Losers punt when 2 yards on 4th down WINS THE GAME!
    At some point in every game someone drives a screwdriver into the neck of their opponent, or they have it taken from them and get it but good.

  3. Thank you for this excellent report, its messed up that the masses who are mostly morons will read the dribble and then become the judge, juror and executioner all in one second.

  4. Such a great catch by you Czabe on the MSU “scandal.” As someone who listens to you every day on B&B as well as listens to the Mike Valenti show ever day, I’m glad that people are starting to question some of these sensationalized ESPN stories. They missed so many facts in this story and could cost a couple legendary coaches their careers. It’s just plain irresponsible journalism.

  5. Czabe, I agree with your take in this piece. Now apply this line of thinking to the Penn St scandal. I know far more about that than most, and I can tell you the whole “cover up” angle is pure fiction. A juicy narrative, but pure bullshit.

  6. I find it curious that you are giving Izzo and Dantonio the benefit of the doubt. You have either learned from the Penn State mess or you are being hypocritical. You and your show continue to to castigate Paterno for doing exactly what he was supposed to do, report to the proper authorities, and stay out of the way. That is exactly what the NCAA tells all coaches to do today.

    Even today, zero credible evidence exists that Paterno was aware of the actions of his former employee. The Freeh report has been discredited, the NCAA has been proven to be pulling the strings on the entire story so they could have some street cred.

    Sandusky was a pillar of the community predator and he fooled those around him, including the state of PA who approved him to adopt kids….and an 80year old football coach was supposed to investigate and contradict what the state of PA approved him to do?

    Lou Anna Simon sat in judgement on PSU but did not return to her own school and warn all department heads to be aware of nice guy predators. She could have stopped Nassar back in 2011, instead she stole the bowl revenue from PSU and had it earmarked for prevention programs at each member school….what did she prevent? Where did MSU spend their share? How she can sleep at night is beyond me.

    I ask you as a parent to please take 5 minutes from one of your shows and have Jim Clemente on to discuss nice guy predators and pillars of the community predators. He is a leading expert on how to spot these folks. Let’s take these lessons to actually learn something and prevent the next tragedy.

  7. So – now you all are seeing EXACTLY the clickbait bullshit that E$PiN stirred up back in 2011/2012 with Penn State, Louis Freeh and Mark Emmert.

    No one waited for the facts. No one said “hold the phone” and waited for due process. No one bothered to flip past page 18 and actually FACT CHECK the Freeh report against the facts already ON the record.

    Everyone picked up their pompoms, high-kicked on the sidelines and cheered on the likes of ESPN while the flames grew higher.

    Because a “football cover up” sounded so great!

    So here we are 6 years later – adjudication in the courtroom this past March proved there was no conspiracy or “cover up”, over a linchpin incident the commonwealth hinged their case on, to achieve 3 misdemeanors. It cost PA taxpayers a ton, wasted resources and the state never got off their ass to ever identify this particular victim, over a crime that never happened.

    But no one wanted to read up on the facts. It was easier to light your torch and run with clickbait headline, shouting “THEY KNEW”.

    So state prosecutors, the NCAA, Louis Freeh – along with the help of ESPN – torched the place over a “cover up” that didn’t happen, embroiled so many in costly lawsuits and ultimately shot the remaining tires out on Child Protective Services here in PA. We now have fires burning on the frontlines of our CPS in all 67 counties, caseworkers leaving, at-risk kids and families suffering – thanks to a media firestorm fueled over “football”.

    So is the arsonist ESPN going to forensically cover the smoking wreckage of Child Protective Services or nah?

  8. Who is this!? These guys want proof and evidence!? Haha the women who were assaulted were interviewed and said first hand one was hit and another raped. What more proof do you need then the victim!?!?! Idiots.

  9. Steve,

    I can accept your assessment of Izzo because of this story! I heard Valenti as well and I was wondering why I hadn’t heard that angle yet. I am a proud Spartan and I hate the constant rush to judgement. Insightful comments and analysis Steve!

    Very Respectfully,

    John Hill

  10. Where was this magnanimity and rationalism when Miami was being run through the NCAA wringer for four + years? If there was any member of the press not leading the mob with a torch, I don’t recall them. That includes you, Czabe. The things that were reported as fact, based purely on the word of a lying ponzi-schemer (who was deemed corroborated when he repeated himself more than once) were the definition of unproven sensationalism.

    You’re right to look at this current environment and this specific incident with skepticism. You just might consider applying it evenly across the board, especially when it comes to confronting your own biases.

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