Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Don't Believe the Hype

By Tim McManus

I was in Miami a few weeks ago, sitting poolside at a bar with my buddy's friend who has helped negotiate contracts for several professional athletes, including Grady Sizemore.

The conversation twisted and turned throughout the sports world before landing for a moment on the media, prompting this guy to say:

"Sports writers are idiots."

"Actually, " I said uncomfortably, "I'm a sports writer."

"Oh, so you know what I'm talking about then."

I probably should've been insulted, but I really wasn't. He was actually onto something.

If I've learned nothing else in my time in this business, it's not that sports media members are dumb (we'll go 65 percent on that one, although my math may be off) but rather that they're not nearly as knowledgeable as people give them credit for.

This is especially true for national commentators. Think about it: You're on the air or writing several times a week about teams or individuals that you may have never seen with your own eyes. So what do you do? You research things on the Internet, browse through media guides, talk to whatever insiders you can, and then make a judgment. Problem is, the coverage of sports has grown to such a degree that it has shrunk the time for research while the demand for opinions has risen.

So instead of digging deep into said team or individual, you're forced to recall what this person or unit has done in recent memory, throw together a few stats that support an argument, and then make a bold prediction or take a specific, non-ambiguous stance.

Being right has become far less sexy than being brash, which explains why Merrill Hoge still has a job.

Examples of this observation-sold-in-an-expertise-wrapper lies littered throughout you're everyday reading. How many national personalities predicted the Eagles would take a receiver in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft for instance?

Have they met Andy Reid?

How many tout Bobby Abreu as an underappreciated superstar stuck in a tough town; think Donovan McNabb is praised because he is black; call the Phillies cheap (check the payroll); believe Terrell Owens is a winner?

Or how about the perception of the fans as a whole? How many national personalities, when responding to something that happened with Philly fans, say: "What else do you expect from a town that booed Santa Claus"?

Do they know that that Santa was actually a drunken replacement pulled out of the stands? Or how about asking them to name three other incidents off the top of their head -- you might be able to do it, but I bet you they wouldn't.

In other words, half the time they don't know what they're talking about; believe me.

I share this knowledge because I don't want Philadelphia fans to get depressed when they read the new national NFL prognostications, most of which have the Eagles finishing last in the NFC East.

It is a classic case of knee-jerk journalism, a group of people taking the results from one season and applying it to the next without thorough investigation.

The thinking goes like this: The Eagles went 6-10...The Eagles lost T.O....The Cowboys gained T.O...The Giants won the division...The Redskins got a new receiving corps...The Eagles are the worst team in the NFC East.

Not that all of these thoughts are invalid, but they don't address a couple of important facts, like that one of the top five quarterbacks in the league was hurt from the infant stages of last season, or that several Pro Bowlers joined him along the way.

It does not take into account the palpable negativity in the locker room that Owens was largely responsible for, one that is sure to infest Dallas' quarters in the very near future.

It does not factor in the key additions at several critical positions, including linebacker, the offensive and defensive lines, and quarterback. Doesn't speak of the blazing look in the eyes of this year's squad.

And, of course, it neglects the fact that prior to the one dismal year, the Eagles went to four straight NFC Championships, with or without a star receiver.

Very boldly, these national media members say that Mark Brunell and Drew Bledsoe will be competent; that Eli Manning and the Giants will make the leap; that all three teams will vie for a playoff spot while the Eagles watch helplessly.

Maybe they'll wind up being right. Just know that it won't be because they have the inside track.

At least, that's what I've heard.

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Copyright 2006 The Phanatic

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