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Thursday, October 06, 2005 | It sure feels good when your team wins.
At least I think so. This past Monday morning was different because the Chargers won on Sunday. I was looking forward to getting the morning paper. When they lost to Dallas and Denver, I barely glanced at the game stories.
I feel that way because I am a sports fan. Many people – probably most people in San Diego – could not care less whether the Chargers won or lost. They are not sports fans, and that is fine. They are probably fans of other things like art, music, dance, mathematics, philosophy, because most people, I am sure, are fans of something.
People can always use something to feel good about, and the easiest and best place to look is at the professional world. We like to see someone who is beautiful the way we aren’t, athletic the way we aren’t, musical the way we aren’t, famous the way we aren’t, successful the way we aren’t.
All these things give their fans a quick, feel-good fix without having to do any work. No wonder sports is such a huge business. Their real product is not baseball, football or basketball. Their real product is drug-like, delivering euphoria in the good years and hope for euphoria in the lean years. And the dealer is the media. The city of San Diego has been so desperate for euphoria that Monday’s Union-Tribune sports section delivered almost six pages of it, though the sixth page, Sean M. Haffey’s photo, was more about art than football.
Sports is not a “sports” business; it is a media business, when you dissect it. There is a certain risk in being a dissector. The great 20th-century essayist E.B. White wrote: “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.”
If I thought it took away any of the Monday-morning euphoria, I would not talk any more about sports as a media business. But realizing it has not taken away any of my fan satisfaction this week, I feel OK about pushing on.
All the media rules and definitions were created by people, after all, and we instinctively know what is going on. But people need to know how to “read” media, too, to get an objective handle on euphoria sold as a product, so they can enjoy their sports without being manipulated at the same time.
In fact, I am developing “Reading Media” as a primer for the public, about how the media does its work. This material isn’t taught in high school, but it should be. If it were, the public would be familiar with the definition of news: “News is anything that changes, or threatens to change, the status quo.”
On this very legitimate definition hangs all the news the media brings to the public, every day, 365 days a year. It is the journalist’s core job, reporting that change, or being aware of the threat.
But the threat to the status quo is also at the heart of the media business of sports. The single question: “Who is going to win?” is responsible for billions of dollars in revenue to a media willing to pay multi-millions to sports agencies like the NFL, MLB and NBA (and the NCAA) for rights to bring the question to fans sitting on the edge of their couches. At the heart of the question are several media values: proximity, prominence, conflict and sensational.
Proximity describes either a physical or emotional/psychological attachment of a person to an event. I am a Chargers fan because they are physically close to me, and it makes an emotional difference to me (even if I try to deny it) whether they win or lose. I feel this way even though I have soured on professional football because of its commercialism, and I absolutely hate television’s obsession with trying to turn the sport (collegiate and professional) into something bigger than a game, which is, of course, manipulation targeted at young (some of them 50 years old) males.
I feel good when the Padres win, too, though I am more a football fan than baseball. They were within a couple of games of winning the National League West with more losses than wins, which has gained them national attention for the media value of novelty. Then in the playoffs’ first round, they have to play St. Louis. Talk about a threat to the status quo.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at