News as Food

by July 11, 2008

by Vince Thomas

If the news and information we consume is to be likened to food or a meal, then what kind of food is sports news? Your local news is nutritious and essential. You need to know what’s going where you live. Otherwise, you’re a redhead coed, walking home from the train at night, totally oblivious that the Ice Truck Killer is preying on redhead coed’s walking home from the train at night. Our local news is like vegetables or that nondescript salad you prepare on Tuesday evening. It’s boring, a little bitter, but it’s good for you. Our national news is more grandiose, more weighty, more exciting. There are high-priced chefs that cook up the news and the servers that deliver it in glitzier, better-produced entrees. Watching 60 Minutes or MSNBC’s Countdown is akin to takeout from a good restaurant.

So let’s say a day of reading the local newspaper and then watching the six and 11 o’clock local news is like, say, a well-balanced bag lunch and pedestrian, but nutritious, home cooked dinner; and a day spent reading the New York Times (for non New Yorkers), then watching evening cable news shows is like lunch from Au Bon Pain and takeout dinner from your local upscale diner. Well, then a day of ESPN and SI and FoxSports and that lot would be pizza for lunch, pizza for dinner and beer interspersed throughout. Which is cool. That won’t kill you — immediately — and it’ll probably nourish you. This would make a day of OK! and US magazines and TV tabloid shows like eating Starbursts all day.

I am all about exploring and dissecting the times when sports has social, economic, political and/or cultural impact and when those elements impact the way our games are played, leagues operate and/or players behave. But sometimes, things gets even too stupid and trifling for sports. It turns into tabloid journalism that stoops below the trifled level of “sports tabloid journalism” to the bush-league depths of “entertainment tabloid gossip.”

Here’s dumb: Me scrolling the hyperlinked headlines on my blackberry and seeing “Sources: Favre sends text message to Packers GM.” What in the heezy?! There was actually a good deal of reporting that went into nabbing this kind of factoid. But how incremental are we going to get with issues that we deem to be true news? As tired as I am of Farve, there are aspects of his tenuous retirement that are fascinating and telling, they offer insight into the psyche of HOF athletes and their inabilities to “give it up”; and his relationship with Green Bay smacks of the stuff you see in religious cults. What I don’t need to consume, is any information about text messages he sends to Thompson, unless it’s in a more substantial report about his comeback. It is news for Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to be using a publicly financed, business phone to text sex-messages to fellow city officials. It is not news for Farve to text Ted Thompson. That, my friends, is half-box of Mike And Ikes.

Here’s trifling: The recent uproar about A-Rod’s alleged affair with Madonna. I was watching CNN the other day when Anderson Cooper told me to (I’m paraphrasing) “Stay tuned for Larry King, who will have full coverage of the A-Rod scandal.” Then Lar appeared on my tube, hunched over his desk, calling it “perhaps, the biggest tabloid story of the year.” Needless to say, that bag of Funyuns didn’t interest me, so I found something else to eat.

It’s funny, but, players’ salaries used to be tabloidish fodder. In the 90s, when rookies, like LJ, were grabbing big contracts out of college and cats like Juwan Howard and Alonzo Mourning — or Ken Griffey Jr. and Albert Belle — were signing $100M contracts, people (fans, columnists, haters) used to really go berserk. The outrage contrasted the relative ambivalence toward movie stars making $20M per film and the escalating salaries of CEOs that were sending America’s blue collar gigs overseas. During the NBA summers, there was more talk about contract figures than team compositions and potential playoff-jostling. It was like eating a plate full of greasy pepperonis instead of the actual slice of pizza. But today? Within the past few days, players have signed or agreed to contracts worth almost a collective half-billion dollars. Thankfully, none of the summer coverage has degraded to the candy levels. Even when Brand bolted L.A. for Philly for 10 extra mill, the two stories that seemed to rise above the rest were: 1.) A ridiculous Clippers Curse; and 2.) Brand’s disloyalty — not the dough. And much of what I read and heard was more interested in exploring those stories’ poignancies, like this piece, as opposed to just giving me the Gummi Worm tripe and schoolgirl blah-blah.

We’re coming up on the Olympics, where the family of NBC networks plan to offer us 24-hour coverage. We tend to get a wide array of food during the Olympics, since it is so much more than a collection of sports contests. But I shudder to think of what I’ll be consuming as they try to ration the real food by pumping us with the junk food. The moment NBC hits me with some Skittles about an archer that shared a kiss with a fencer, I’m changing the channel to MSNBC. And if MSNBC telling me about Kobe’s trip to see the Great Wall with his daughters, then I’m switching CNBC, where, hopefully, I’ll be able to watch Allyson Felix, in the 200M, from behind, in slo-mo. I could tell what kind of meal that is, but I’ll digress.

Vincent Thomas an online columnist and magazine writer for SLAM.