Be Aware of the Dark Side of Sports Media

The sports pages of major newspapers, such as the Washington Post,are thriving while other sections of newspapers such as business sections or book review pages struggle to survive.

That doesn’t mean that the sports pages allow the fans, the consumers, the taxpayers and many of the players have their say. Over the years, the sports sections have been neglecting the dark sides of organized sports as a deliberate practice, not as an oversight.

Ken Reed, author of several books, weekly columns, and the Sports Policy Director for our League of Fans, is arguably the leading contemporary essayist of sports at its best and at its worst. Ever hear of him? Probably not. His truth telling rarely makes it onto radio, television and the sports pages or into the sports publications such as Sporting News, because he writes about the greed, the covered-up dangers, the exploitation of youngsters by greedy owners and coaches, and way in which sportsmanship is most often pushed to the sidelines—all issues that the sports industry works tirelessly to suppress and squelch.

Probably no segment of journalism makes censorship so central a part of its craft, and yet receives so little criticism for its failings; no segment of journalism so arrogantly continues to exclude vast regions of crucial reporting from its pages. In his new book, Ego vs. Soul in Sports: Essays on Sport at Its Best and Worst, Reed systematically tackles the most neglected and underreported territories of the athletic world.

And he knows what he’s talking about. He holds a doctorate in sport administration with an emphasis in sport policy. He has taught sports, played sports, worked in sports marketing, and he has a regular blog for the Huffington Post. But mostly, he can’t crack the sports media because he is onto too many serious topics affecting sports—from middle school to the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL—that the giant profiteering sports business doesn’t want to reach you, so as to preserve sports fantasies.

Reed summarizes the driving ethics of organized sports as “win-at-all-costs” (WAAC) and “profit-at-all-costs” (PAAC). Reed writes about the hidden injury epidemics (early onto concussions and how to detect and minimize them); about sports participation for all (not just spectator sports); on the serious decline in physical education in elementary and high schools and how it is connected to the rise of obesity; on the harm of encouraging specialization at age 10 in sports; on athletes’ right to protest; on women athletes still being short changed under title IX; on Division One of the NCAA with its corruption, cheating and exploitation of student athletes; on the need for creating a National Sports Commission, as other western countries have done; on taxpayer and consumer rip-offs in the subsidized construction and operation of stadiums, arenas and ballparks; on the need for oversight that can lead to the benching of tyrannical coaches; on how television and aggressive advertising are not good for sports; on deliberate, brutal fighting in NHL games; on over-commercialization, and why its time “the fans ran the show”—to name a few of these engrossing essays in Reed’s book, Ego vs. Soul in Sports.

Year after year, Reed works relentlessly to sound the alarms and urge our society to get the best out of sports. He gives many examples of efforts that are sidelined by sports media reporters in favor of gratuitous slime and reporting on petty behaviors that they revel in sensationalizing—often without denouncing the roots of the behavior itself. Why should they be critics? Get fewer favors and freebies? Get fewer doors opened to the thrilling inner sanctums of the sports owners and high-dollar players?

Most sports pages have either no letters to the editor sections or they devote very little space to letters to the editor. Why should they allow letters that might expose their incompetence, their sacred cow managers and players, their refusing to give the fans—the source of all their profits—consistent voices, beyond some selected ones calling into sports talk-radio shows with rapid-fire comments on that day’s teams, tactics and strategies. ESPN Radio, for example, needs to think about these exclusions.

Earlier this year I sent a letter to the former General Manager of the New York Yankees, and current Chief Baseball Officer for MLB, Joe Torre, detailing the incessant in-game advertisements (“this is a x company call to the bullpen,” “that’s a x company double play,” etc., breaking the spirit of the action). The letter was also sent to sports reporters and columnists, some of whom I notified in advance. Not a word came in response. Not a reply came from anyone to this longtime Yankees fan since the time of Joe Dimaggio.

People I know, who are inveterate fans, often get brushed aside with no responses to their well thought-out emails, and they are screened out when trying to make calls to talk-radio hosts.

Some impartial observers of contemporary sports trends believe that self-destruction lies ahead for most high school football (concussions, etc.), for unpaid big-time college athletes, and for pushing the commercialistic envelope too far (staggering ticket prices and other extortions) in big time sports.

We’ll see how much spectator fans will take before they demand that the tax dollars and priorities go toward neighborhood recreational athletic facilities so that sport becomes a pleasurable way of life for tens of millions of presently sedentary adults and youngsters.

Ralph Nader is a leading consumer advocate, the author of Unstoppable The Emerging Left Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State (2014), among many other books, and a four-time candidate for US President.

Read other articles by Ralph, or visit Ralph's website.