It's no secret that the media, and more specifically, media-related technology, has changed the arena of pro sports. The argument can even be made that technology has affected the strategy employed in the games. Prior to the "TV time-out" in hockey, for instance, teams were forced to use all their players on a somewhat equal basis due to the constant high pace of the game. Now, the top line may play a shift, catch a 30-second breather during the timeout, and return immediately to the ice for another shift. Check the stats after any game and you'll see a minority of players recieved the majority of playing time, while the fourth-liners may have gone in for three or four shifts. It's unlikely that many of the big stars would be able to play 25, 28 or even in some cases 30 minutes of a 60 minute game without the benefit of three or four time-outs every period. Huge video screens hanging in the arenas have changed the perspective of the game for the players as well. A player foiled by the goalie on a breakaway, for example, can immediately watch a replay on the screen and take note of what move he made and how the goalie reacted, and thus devise a plan to try something a little different if he gets the chance again.
Perhaps the biggest change of all, however, has come in the way the media reports on sports. Before satellites and video tape and television, sporting events were broadcast once, in real time, over the radio. If you missed the broadcast, or lived beyond the reach of the radio waves, your only recourse was to read about the game the next day in the paper. So the story the print reporter told often became the replay, and stories were written about the game action, describing each goal in detail:
At 14:07 of the third period, Smith collected the puck behind his own goal, and, weaving a path through two opposition players, and fighting off the stick check of a third, carried it into the Canadiens half of the ice. Cutting sharply to his left just before the Habs blueline, the diminutive centre laid a perfect pass onto the stick of onrushing linemate Johnson, who proceeded to take ithe black disc deep into the corner. Unable to shake the dogged check of defenseman Cloutier, the left-winger suddenly skidded to a stop, and fed the puck back to Anderson, who, unchecked, pinched in from his position on the blueline, swung across the front of the net, and at 14:38 lifted a backhand shot that turned out to be the game winner past startled Habs netminder Bouchard and into the top right hand corner of the net.
Nowadays the same goal would most likely be described this way in the paper:
With just over five minutes remaining, Anderson scored the game winner on a backhand after some hard work by Smith to move the puck up ice. Johnson also received an assist on the play.
Television, or so the conventional wisdom goes, has made the act of describing the play in the paper redundant. Why waste all that newsprint and ink on a story that will appear the next morning, by which time anyone who cares will have seen the goal with their own eyes several times during the broadcast of the game and again on any of the various sports channels or local nightly newscast?
So, having lost the franchise on describing the games, the sports media turned their attention on the players and their pre-and post-game comments became the stories. Occasionally you'll hear sports reporters bemoan the lack of respect they feel they get from the athletes they cover. In these instances, old-timers will point to the difference in salaries between the stars and those who interview them, and offer their opinion that things were different when the players and reporters had an affinity for each other as simple, working-class guys (there were no women reporters in those days, remember). While this may indeed be a factor, it's not the only reason for this change in the reporter/athlete dynamic. It's only a hunch, but it would be interesting to see if the gulf between the two camps began to grow when the media started to elevate the players above the games they played. Don't tell us how the game unfolded, tell us how you feel.
The unfortunate part of all this is that in focusing on the players, in trying to capture the printable sound-bite rather than analyze the action that took place between the opening face-off (we're talking about hockey here, but the same model can be applied to all major pro sports) and the final whistle, the modern sports reporter seems to have lost all ability to even come up with questions that will give the fans any real insight. The Stanley Cup playoffs, with 500 assembled members of the media in attendance, give the viewer at home a chance to witness the post-game media scrum to a fuller extent than the regular season. It also gives us a chance to witness the brilliant exchange that often goes on between the players and reporters. After the first game of the Finals, during the broadcasted portion of the post-game Q&A session, one of the reporters off camera was heard to ask Avalanche Captain Joe Sakic a question that basically came down to "Was it important to win the first game of the series?" Sakic, in a moment that could be pointed to as one of those lacking in respect, could barely contain his smirk as he confirmed that yes indeed, winning the the first game was important.
During the game, Sakic had turned in one of the top individual performances of the playoffs, scoring two goals and assisting on a third. The second goal in particular was a standout, as Sakic used his speed, agility and puck handling to leave New Jersey's Scott Stevens, arguably one of the top five defencemen in the league, sprawled on the ice, and finished it off with a shot that was by Devils' all-star goalie Martin Brodeur before he could react. Now, most Canadians who are still watching hockey in June are dedicated and fairly sophisticated fans, and, having likely played the game at some level, be it on the street, in a gym or on the ice, appreciate the skill for the game Sakic possesses. As a beer-league player whose own career peaked in mid-teens, I want to know what the game is like through the eyes of someone like Sakic. I wanted someone to ask how he saw the play unfolding, what options he might have had, what did he think about making Stevens look like a bench-warmer on a peewee team, and did he see an opening to get the puck past Brodeur or did he just shoot blindly and hope it went in. Instead, I got "Was it important to win the first game?" Well, no, dumb-ass, we'd rather lose the first one or maybe the first two, just to see how well we hold up to adversity. Really, what - when he was thinking up his insightful interrogation - did the reporter expect Sakic to say?
Media technology has changed sports, and, unless you play on the fourth line, most of the changes have been for the better. When it comes to sports reporting, however, the jury is still out. If you like to know how important it is to win the first game, or, if you're reading a story about the losers, how important it will be to win the second game, the sports media has it covered.
If you want to know about the game itself, however, you're going to be sadly disappointed.
Brent Sedo always gives 110 percent, but sometimes the bounces don't go his way.