Blurring the line between sports and tabloids

AP Photo/ESPN Images, Ryan Jones
AP Photo/ESPN Images, Ryan Jones

Memo to TMZ — if January is any indication of how the rest of 2013 will look in the sports world, you might want to increase funding for your sports department.

We seem to be entering uncharted territory of the marriage between sports and media in a new year that has been, so far, dominated by two huge sports stories. The funny thing, however, is that both stories had very little to do with sports, except that they were centered around athletes.

I’m talking about the Lance Armstrong confessions and the Manti Te’o fake girlfriend scandal.

Save for maybe the Alabama Crimson Tide winning their third national title in four years, January 2013 has been a fairly tame month for sports stories. We crown an NFL champion in February and basketball is in the meat of the regular season in both the NCAA and the NBA, so there’s drama, but it’s not huge drama (unless you’re a major fan of either brand of the sport). Only one thing, so far, has really captivated the attention of seemingly everyone — and that’s off-the-field drama.

(Also read: Should the Hawks pursue a trade for Dwight Howard?)

Now, I’m not naive, and I understand there have been plenty of non-sports stories featuring athletes that have captivated sports fans and non-sports fans alike. The whole world watched closely as OJ Simpson sped down the freeway in his Ford Bronco in 1994, and when Michael Vick was killing dogs, there was non-stop coverage on his trial.

This seems different, though, because we’re in a new age. An age where the public cares more about drama in a complete stranger’s life than seemingly anything else. We watch, in record numbers, a show that features a celebrity couple doing absolutely nothing for an hour. They sit on a bench at a coffee shop and gossip about their friends that we have never, and will never, meet, yet we eat it up.

So it’s no surprise that we’re enthralled with the drama surrounding the Catfishing scandal that happened to Manti Te’o. Or that we’ll sit down and watch three hours of Oprah asking Lance Armstrong 120 questions just to get him to say, “Yes, I did cheat, and I’m sorry.”

I’ll admit that I haven’t watched either scandal play out. I just don’t care. I basically assumed Armstrong was cheating, because everybody in cycling was cheating. And as soon as I heard the full details of the Te’o situation, I knew he was Catfished. I’d seen a few of those shows on MTV, and it was the exact same storyline as every episode of Catfish. I didn’t need to know more. People are weird and the Internet can’t be trusted. End of story.

I try not to get wrapped up in strangers’ lives because there’s nothing to gain by doing so. I don’t follow more than a few athletes on Twitter, because I simply don’t care about their personal lives. I watch sports to see athletic achievements, and I watch Catfish to feel bad for dumb people in their most vulnerable moment.

There’s no need to blur the two.

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