SportsCenter doesn’t get it. There may be no more powerful and influential force in sport, in the USA or even in the world, than ESPN and all its properties. They are ubiquitous in the world of sport and they set the tone for much of the other media in sport. They are usually at the leading edge of technology, they brand things very strongly and they sometimes determine what will be the topic of conversation at work, in the neighborhood or even at church. For those who live in the world of sport, their values are often askew from those held by participants in sport. SportsCenter appeals directly to fans, those who observe sport, not to competitors, those who live in sport. A few examples and their implications for us as we serve the men and women of sport follow.
· Their intended audience is the sports fan, their aim is to entertain. The sportsperson’s intended audience is, ideally God, but many times the sport itself as it tests the competitor’s skill, discipline and fitness.
· Their approach toward the player is that he or she is a commodity to be consumed. They will trade on the competitor’s name, image, likeness, profile in society, sexuality, weaknesses, or anything else which could generate controversy or a story which will drive ratings and profits.
· They emphasize the individual over the team. Even in intrinsically team sports they will find ways to focus on one individual and pretend that his or her success is of greater import than that of the team. This is usually in direct opposition to the competitor’s attitude and is often divisive in locker rooms, changing rooms and clubhouses.
· They search for and spew obscure statistics in order to generate contrived significance for plays, players, victories, or losses. They’ll say things like, “This was the first time in 45 years that a left handed, pitcher from Hoboken, New Jersey wearing number 23 on a blue jersey has thrown eight straight fastballs.” What they miss is that for the competitors, each play, each game, each season, and each career has significance all by itself because they are living in it. They don’t need to conjure up significance from some external source.
· They value highlights over genuine success. I cannot count the number of instances in any given “Top Ten List” of highlights in which the highlight play comes in the middle of a game where the highlighted team actually loses. The monstrous, 450 foot home run from the highlight often comes in that team’s 8-1 loss. The powerful slam dunk and following posing for the camera is many times the sole bright spot in a popular team’s twenty point loss to their rivals. The men and women of sport have a better handle on what defines success in their sport, it’s not on the highlight reel, it’s on the scoreboard.
· They show as many reactions to big plays as they show big plays. Watch any television sport show or promotional commercial this weekend. If you’ll look closely you’ll see a 1:1 ratio of plays and reactions to plays. A player will make a great play and it will be immediately followed by one or two reaction clips by the player, his teammates or even the fans. As I’ve thought about this it seems that it’s really clever. Television producers are clear about their audience, the fans. The vast majority of sports fans cannot personally relate to making the play as they lack the ability to do it, but they can all relate to the reaction shots. They can all do that. They will even mimic the reactions they saw the player make on the highlight as they chat around the coffee pot at work or in the foyer at church.
So what? Why is this important? Let’s keep in mind that the people of primary import for us are the players and coaches of sport. Rather than have our view of sport be unduly influenced by a decidedly fan oriented entity like ESPN or other sports media, let’s be sure our values for sport are more strongly oriented toward those of the actual sports community and the Lord Jesus. Be intentional about your consumption of sports periodicals of all sorts; video, television, websites, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and whatever comes next. Let’s listen to our Lord’s voice and those of the men and women we serve as we seek to represent each before the other as both prophets and priests in the world of sport. To do that faithfully will eclipse a whole millennium of “Top Ten Highlights.”