It’s part of being a sports fan to have that one website you go to for match reports or analysis. For old guys, it’s either sports section in the newspaper or ESPN. It’s a simple life for them, you look for your team, see if they won, and watch Sportscenter for all the rest.
For young sports fans, though, it’s a fucking black hole. You have ESPN, and then a flurry of websites that will cater to just about every kind of fan, team, and niche there are. ESPN actually matters so little these days because before you even get out of bed, you already know what you need to know about your team and some more. Sports content aggregators, like SB Nation or RealGM, almost have it all. You have articles written by sports reporters, or links to it, and fan-made content that will allow you to connect to your home team organically.
There are also websites that focuses on features, longform content that show life in and out of sports. It’s for more serious (read: older) fans who may just want a bit more than running, jumping, or throwing. These sites publish articles that you can use to definitively win that barroom argument of who’s the greatest basketball player of all time, why Barry Bonds’ steroids scandal matter (to his legacy and the sport of baseball, in general), or what makes Aaron Rodgers one of the best without winning much in his career.
Then, there are the sites and networks that put so much focus on analysis. 1,000-word articles and hour-long shows with men arguing why this player should’ve rebounded more, why this golfer’s swing led to a last-minute loss, or who should’ve made the catch. It’s actually got to a point where these analyses feel more like a televised barroom argument: it’s just men shouting at each other, hoping one would surrender. It’s all very childish.
And it’s pervading the world of sports.
The Word of the Lord
The Stephen A. Smith problem is everything in sports. You can’t turn to any channel without anyone proclaiming that they know what’s what, and what they know is gospel. He is the future, he is the greatest, and he defines excellence. It’s all very prophetic, up until the moment when you actually watch a game. As a fan, all those statistics and analysis become white noise. You just know that this guy is a good basketball player, or this guy is able to think faster than anyone in the field.
But when you sign out of a game, hot takes are just impossible to avoid. It’s on social media, it harms sports cultures, and it’s shouting at you even after the game. Everyone gets tired of it, but because of the Internet, this pseudo-macho profession of proving you know sports better is getting passed down to young fans. One hour of reading subreddits dedicated to the NBA or NFL will show you that this debating culture infects fans. If it’s proving anything, it’s unhealthy.
It Has Its Purposes
In being exposed to dangerous levels of sports analysis, fans are becoming more appreciative of good content. Content creators, and traditional sportswriters, are meeting this need for better sports journalism in knowing that what is good will shine over the tonnage of crap in the sports world.
Consider this mountaineering piece by SB Nation, a site known mostly for useless fan takes. There’s no other way to put it, this is excellent sports journalism made by a freelance writer. It gives the casual fan the hope that people who appreciate sports are still out there.
Here’s something from the vaults, a New York Times piece about the religious experience of seeing Roger Federer play tennis. The article reads like a spiritual match report, detailing the impossibility of Federer Moments. The author uses little in the way of statistics, but puts things together so well that his opinion seems like hard facts (in hindsight, they are). He portrays Federer’s plays and antics so well you’d think he’s the sport of tennis in human form.
This is an excerpt from the article:
“Nadal tucks his hair under his hankie, but Federer doesn’t, and smoothing and fussing with the bits of hair that fall over the hankie is the main Federer tic TV viewers get to see; likewise Nadal’s obsessive retreat to the ballboy’s towel between points. There happen to be other tics and habits, though, tiny perks of live viewing. There’s the great care Roger Federer takes to hang the sport coat over his spare courtside chair’s back, just so, to keep it from wrinkling — he’s done this before each match here, and something about it seems childlike and weirdly sweet.”
If you ever tried to argue with someone on the Internet, you know it’s going to be intense. You won’t know that you’ll cross a threshold where past it, you’ll never allow yourself to lose. You’ll see angles hitherto unseen, use reasoning you never knew you’ll resort to, and apply psychological tricks to “sike” this person.
You also won’t know that in your pursuit of winning an argument, you’ve delved deep in stat sheets to prove the value of Draymond Green. Welcome to the world of advanced statistics, a tool of sports scientists and pundits to find the unseen importance of certain actions in sports. It’s like quantum physics to the uninitiated, it’s undecipherable. To purists, however, it’s like a pair of glasses that allow you to see a game’s seemingly unimportant moments in a different, eye-opening light.
Championships be damned, LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of all time, said advanced stats savant and Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. While he didn’t elaborate his point, knowing Morey, who considered the brilliantly drab Shane Battier his most important player during the Yao Ming-Tracy McGrady era, we can assume he knows what he’s putting out there in the world.
The onslaught of media sometimes makes fans a little blind. Some of us start to think that for all the millions professional athletes earn, they should be doing what we want them to do. We lose track of the fact that competition makes sports nuanced, and for that, results aren’t always a given. We may turn to analysis from time to time, but we shouldn’t give in to it. Not now. Not yet. Not ever.