Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Jockocracy ethics

The late, great Howard Cosell constantly railed against the "jockocracy" of the sports media--the fact that networks often hired former players as announcers, even when the players had little or no media training. In the celebrity culture of the 21st century the jockocracy is alive and well, and thanks to technology the athletes-turned-media stars have even more platforms on which to appear.

This isn't necessarily a rant against former athletes in the broadcast booth. Many of them, including Troy Aikman, Ron Jaworski and Joe Theismann, have become outstanding sports broadcasters. John Davidson was one of the greatest hockey analysts of all time before he took a front office job in St. Louis.

The bigger issue here is one of ethics. Athletes and former athletes see themselves as members of an exclusive and elite club. One of the club's basic rules is to protect other club members. Consider Deion Sanders' newspaper column defending Michael Vick. Without a doubt, Vick is guilty until proven innocent, but is Sanders speaking as an impartial media member or an NFL insider and club member? In a similar way,
ESPNs Joe Morgan's relatively light treatment of Barry Bonds has drawn some harsh criticism from some non-club members, especially the New York Post's Phil Mushnick.

The other club rule is to delegitimize those not in the club. Bob Costas of HBO and NBC has the reputation as one of the fairiest and most insightful sports broadcasters on his generation. But when he mildly suggested that Bonds's record performance merited closer scrutiny, Bonds responded by calling Costas "a little midget man who absolutely knows [nothing] about baseball, who never played the game before."

The jockocracy lives and the club still has its rules. But it's also good to know there are professional sports media people like Costas who, in the words of Cosell, can still "tell it like it is." By the way, Costas had a wonderful reply to Bonds's criticism--"As anyone can plainly see I'm 5-6 ½ and a strapping 150. And unlike some people, I came by all of it naturally."


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