NBA’s Evolving Relationship With Journalism
How our athletes are now celebrities.
This piece was part of a dissertation on Celebrity and the Changing Nature of Sports Journalism. Anyone with academic interest in the synergy between basketball players and the media will want to give his report a read.—Ed.
by Brandon Robinson / @ScoopB
Now more than ever before, sports stars are looked at as celebrities.
Adena Andrews, ESPN-W contributor, believes that athletes are celebrities because they are celebrated for what they do. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on stage on Broadway or on the court at Madison Square Garden, if you’re celebrated for what you do, you are a celebrity,” said Andrews.
With 24-hour news coverage and sites like Deadspin, TMZ and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, being an athlete is a full time job that extends beyond the playing field.
“It makes it more of an uncomfortable reality of being a famous athlete in today’s modern media era where that stuff is more newsworthy than it used to be,” said AJ Daulerio, Deadspin’s editor-in-chief. “We live in a more public world and there seem to be mistakes that people make time and time again, especially in not being clear on who they’re texting with.”
NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley’s 1990s Nike commercial embodied the notion that he was not a role model when he stated, “I’m not a role model… just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
This may sum up the thinking of many athletes today who simply want to do their jobs and go home. The tension associated with being both an athlete and a public figure or celebrity can be difficult.
In November 2009, one of Charles Barkley’s good friends, Tiger Woods backed his Cadillac Escalade SUV out of his suburban Orlando home and crashed into a fire hydrant. It was alleged that his wife ran outside with a golf club to break the passenger window to rescue Woods. After the accident, rumors surfaced on TMZ that Woods had been unfaithful to his wife and had multiple sexual partners.
“If Tiger Woods has a minor car accident at his house, he is immediately in a worldwide spotlight that crosses from the sports arena (ESPN, etc.) to the entertainment arena (TMZ) and on to the more mainstream news locations (CNN, The Today Show, etc.),” says Director of Media Relations of the Utah Jazz, Jonathan Rinehart.
People are fascinated with athletes as they are celebrities and this is reflected in the media coverage they receive. Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe but this did not, at the time, have the same “celebrity making” impact it might have in the modern media environment. This is why the synergy between Khloe Kardashian and Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom is worth examining.
Does celebrity overshadow sport and does it affect it? The answer is that they both mirror one another and some handle it better than others.
According to HW Wilson’s Celebrity Culture in the United States, “Many people fascinated by the rich and famous these days love scandal and gossip. The trashier it is, the better.”
“I think the constant media attention, cell phone pictures, etc. adds another layer of anxiety for athletes,” says former WNBC sports anchor Len Berman.
This fascination with getting the news first has turned into the sports version of Access Hollywood. It makes athletes nervous about public perception and how they carry themselves.
“Everyone has this perception of you already and you have to live up to it or you’ll get judged very fast,” says former Memphis Grizzlies guard Marcus Williams. “It’s hard to joke or say certain things without being looked at in the wrong way,” Williams added. “Kids look up to you so you have to watch the things you say, the way you act and even the things you wear—it’s all influential.”
What role do bloggers play in the changing media landscape of celebrity sports journalism?
At the end of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season last year, rumors circulated on a blog that LeBron James’ mother, Gloria, had an inappropriate relationship with James’ former Cavalier teammate Delonte West. This blog post was given instant credibility as truth and was a hushed topic around the sports world.
“Things have definitely changed in the way athletes are covered and the amount of coverage they receive,” says Rinehart. “Obviously with the advent of the internet, ESPN, fantasy sports, and the 24-hour news cycles, there is much more focus on every minute detail of the lives and performance of every player on every team.”
It appears that traditional journalists in print and local TV have a certain journalistic integrity and filter, compared to some of the websites, sports radio hosts and new media.
“There are rags out there, some tabloids that just get the information whether it’s right or wrong and want to be the first to report it,” said WCBS sports anchor Otis Livingston. “You want to make sure that you’re not putting your station in danger and getting sued because you’ve said certain things and gone with the wrong information without backing it up with sources.”