These Kinds of Stories Don’t Tell Us Who They Really Are

I have learned two things about athletes in my sport watching life.  The first is we do not know these people and the second is we love the story of these people.

My least favorite time of the sporting year is the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.  Because there is two weeks and there is only so much you can talk about with the game strategy and analysis we get a lot of flummery.  ESPN and the NFL network get bored talking about blitz pickups and try to find anything else to fill time.  The other networks are just looking for an angle to pull in more viewers.  So, every player or coach who may have some kind of impact on the game gets the NBC Olympic treatment.

If you have ever watched the Olympics you know that every athlete gets to tell their inspiring story of how they have overcome all these obstacles to get to the pinnacle of the most important moment in their lives.  Pure sports fans pretty much hate this approach.  They love sports for sports and just want to see the athletes compete.

The thing is, these stories that supposedly get us closer to knowing the athletes aren’t for the pure sports fan who makes up a fraction of the Olympic (and Super Bowl) audience.  They are designed to bring in the non-sports fan, and they work.  Like most things on television, if people don’t watch the networks stop doing it.  There is little if anything on a television network that isn’t measured by rating and how much money it will make.

We love these stories.  They seem better then movies because they are about real people.  You will often hear an announcer say something like, “Hollywood couldn’t make this up.”  The insidious problem is these stories often give us the illusion of knowing these athletes.

We don’t know them and these stories give us a fraction of that person, at best because these are human beings.  Human beings keep secrets from each other.  Hell, human beings keep secrets from themselves.

Every time a serial killer is caught, someone who lives next door to him or works in the same office with him will come out and say, “He didn’t seem like that kind of guy.”  If you work with someone 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and have lunch with them 2 times a week, and you still don’t know they are a serial killer, how can you expect to learn anything about an athlete from a 6-minute feature with Tom Rinaldi?  You will not know who they are at the end of those 6-minutes.  You will have heard a great story about them that gives you a glimpse at a fraction of their being, but that is it.

You would think the stories about Lance Armstrong or Manti Te’o would give reporters pause in considering doing these personal stories.  However, we are entering the worse time of the year for that, the pre-Super Bowl two weeks.  So, we will be drowned in stories about Ray Lewis, the Harbaugh brothers, Colin Kaepernick, and whatever else CBS, ESPN, the NFL Network, and every other news outlet can think of over the next two weeks.  I’m glad I have Netflix, college basketball, and a Kindle to distract me.


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