At the height of the Michael Sam and Donald Sterling controversies, I received a one-line email from a reader in St. Louis. All it said was this:
“Could someone please tell me who won the Cardinals game?”
It was accompanied by a link to a story from the British tabloid, The Daily Mail, that reported a study in which 97.5 percent of heterosexual, male British college athletes reported that they “spooned” and cuddled with a man.
It was the reader’s way of asking if someone could possibly take a break from all the political and cultural arguments raging around sports and just tell him who won the ballgame already. Give him the score and the stats, not another sociological study or intrusive social issue that wormed its way into the sports world.
But of course you’re going to get more than the Cardinals score whether you want it or not. You’re going to stumble into things that belong in the Too Much Information Department or the A section of the newspaper. It’s been this way for a long time, but lately more than ever.
Remember when the sports page was where you found, you know, sports?
You get Michael Sam with your NFL news, complete with a video of him kissing his man friend. (I quote Seinfeld: Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) You get Ray Rice dragging his unconscious girlfriend out of an elevator. You get concussion lawsuits, Richie Incognito, a program to bring political correctness to the locker room, and the Aaron Hernandez murder case. It sounds more like a made-for-TV movie than football.
You look for news about college sports and there’s the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State perversity staring at you and three Oregon basketball players who were suspended for sexual assault.
Pardon the real-world intrusion.
I’m not saying this intrusion is right or wrong. After all, it is reality and for many decades the media gave the people who inhabit the sports world a free pass. But it seemed a lot simpler when sports were just sports and didn’t read like the 6 o’clock news or a tabloid or a police report or a never-ending forum for people with political agendas.
The sports page changed a long time ago — we all know that. You can blame (or credit?) the marriage of the entertainment world and sports, TV money, increased news coverage, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, texting and the rest of it, not to mention a general decline in ethics and integrity and the rise of political correctness.
I started reading the sports page when I was 12. I did this for one reason: to find information about my favorite teams. It was pure entertainment and I looked forward to it every morning. I had lived overseas for several years and was just catching up on American pop culture. I looked for box scores and stories about a baseball player named Mickey Mantle and his team, the New York Yankees. Later, I looked for news about Bob Gibson, and watched him glowering from the mound in the World Series, which was beamed into our classroom at school. I read about a team called the Boston Celtics and a player named Bill Russell. I especially scanned the pages for anything I could find about the Green Bay Packers.
When I read the sports page today — online or print — I wonder what it is like now for 12-year-old boys looking for news about their favorite teams and athletes. I imagine they’re asking their parents a lot of questions.
Why is everybody talking about a seventh-round draft pick named Michael Sam?
What are P-E-Ds?
Why did someone bomb the Boston Marathon?
Is the NCAA really an evil empire?
Who is Donald Sterling and why is everyone mad at him?
Why did Richie Incognito pick on another football player? Or: How can a football player be picked on?
What happened at Penn State?
The saddest thing is not that these things intrude on the sports page, of course; it is that they reflect a changing world, and not one that has changed for the better. The world has changed so much that it has spilled over into our fun and games.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org