Save newspapers, save the world

I try to steer clear of politics, mostly for professional reasons.

But this, to me, isn’t about simple politics. This is about our fundamental ability to discern fact from fiction. It’s been under assault for decades — my thesis, published in 2000, warned us that we were in danger of retreating to misinformed echo chambers. (I wish that term had been in vogue at the time. It would’ve saved me some exposition.)

So please don’t interpret this piece, a roundtable with me and several other veteran journalists at Popdose, as simple Trump-bashing or left-wing fretting. We should all be concerned about attitudes toward the media.

The media need watchdogs, sure. But how did we reach the point at which we trust some obviously partisan person doing no original reporting over honest investigations requiring many people to do a lot of digging and checking?

We journalists tend not to stick up for ourselves. It’s hard to imagine another product that always prints criticisms of that product ON that product. (I’m referring to letters to the editor, and my historical research concluded that they weren’t any smarter or nicer in the 1960s.) And with rare exception, we don’t even respond. If someone calls me all sorts of nasty names — and yes, it happened even before the Internet made it easy — I’m supposed to sit back and take it.

I’m not sure we can do that any more. What we do is valuable. We can — and should — defend our work. We can’t just do the politically correct thing and listen patiently as every wingnut on the planet (and yes, this includes many on the “left” as well as the various factions fighting to be the “right” these days) takes shots at us that we can easily refute.

Call it elitist if you want. All I can tell you is that I’ve worked with hundreds of people who put their work ahead of their politics, and they make an honest effort to get at the truth. And they’ll listen to constructive feedback. If you tune them out and listen to some deranged cartoonist instead, you’re choosing unwisely.

Source: Popdose Roundtable: Saving the Media in a Post-Fact World

The NWSL final, soccer’s cruelty and the most D.C. finish ever

Most of the time, journalists are able to put aside personal sentiments in sports and just do their jobs. Most of the time.

Readers’ accusations of bias are usually wrong. I’ve been on a sports staff in which we were all accused of attending one or another of the local high schools, even though we all grew up elsewhere. That’s typical.

When I regularly covered MLS in my USA TODAY days, people assumed I was a D.C. United fan. I generally tried not to be, and I think I was successful. Sure, you’d prefer to have a playoff game to see without traveling, so it was in my own interest to see United make the final eight or 10 or 37 or however many teams get home playoff dates in MLS. But at every game I attended, I went to the visitors’ locker room. I wanted to know the whole league. I have more vivid memories of speaking with Landon Donovan and Jimmy Conrad than I have of talking with any D.C. United players.

And I had something less obvious tugging at me as a fan. Real Salt Lake represents one of my favorite places in the world, and for several years, they had two Duke grads in charge — Garth Lagerwey and Jason Kreis. I like Utah, I liked the team’s staff, and I liked the style of play. If RSL had faced DC in an MLS Cup final, I’m not sure which way I would’ve leaned.

I have other sports in which I’m content to be a fan and not a journalist. I had hockey-editing responsibility at USA TODAY for a couple of years, but since then, I’ve been able to be a Washington Capitals fan with my family. That means I really enjoy the regular season and then try to go into hiding in April.

My relationship with the Washington Spirit is unique. I wrote a book about their first season, and it certainly would’ve been better for book sales if they had (A) won a few games or (B) had something interesting to say about not winning a few games. It’s tempting to look back on that experience with a grimace and have no investment in how well they do.

But I can’t. I met too many great people in the process of writing that book. And the Spirit did a great job of getting out in the community — I’ve taken my kids to clinics and open practices, and I know people who’ve played or coached in their Super-Y youth system.

And that first season was a long run of calamities. No one deserved to go through all of that. Those players — and the staff and the incredible fans of the Spirit Squadron, who may be outnumbered by their Portland counterparts but more than hold their own in every other way — deserve some good fortune.

Not that I think fortunes ever even out in soccer. I’ve said it 100 times — soccer karma does not exist. I could break the WordPress servers with tales of woe from my youth soccer parenting and coaching experience, all of which makes me quite sympathetic to the 2013 Spirit (or the 2016 Breakers).

That said, two of my youth teams have won postseason tournaments after finishing near the bottom of the league. So I can also appreciate what Western New York did this year or what Sky Blue did in the 2009 WPS season. Sure, Seattle fans have a right to feel aggrieved by the eccentric NWSL schedule, which saw the Reign play Portland four times while the Flash beat up on the Breakers. But the Western New York youngsters put things together at the right time, and we reward that trait in American sports with good reason.

But I know that for every scrappy underdog that wins in the last minute, there’s a favorite that feels deflated.

And for those reasons, I’m glad I didn’t have to write anything in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s NWSL final, in which the Spirit gave up a goal in time that should not have existed. (I’m sorry — who adds four minutes of stoppage time to a 15-minute extra time session unless an ambulance was called onto the field?)

The final proof that soccer karma does not exist — the three players who missed penalties for the Spirit were the three players who have been with the team since its dreadful start in 2013. That’s actually enough to make you think there is someone up there pulling the strings to determine who wins what, and it’s someone with a sick sense of humor.

Also, we in the D.C. metro area have suffered quite enough, thank you. We’d all like to get rid of our local NFL team’s mascot and owner, though we’re sick of transplants to the region showing us up every Sunday wearing their Giants and Eagles gear. (We get it. You’re jerks. Thanks for reminding us.) D.C. United won a lot of trophies before Seattle and Portland invented soccer, so no one remembers. The one really good team in the D.C. area over the past 10 years has been the Washington Capitals, where Oveckhin, Backstrom and Holtby will break your hearts right around the peak viewing time for the cherry blossoms.

So to have a heavily favored team like the Spirit, with so much talent that Jim Gabarra was desperately trying to invent the 5-5-3 formation to play everyone, lose in the fashion they did is simply the most D.C. thing that could ever happen.

And so I’m heartsick for Tori Huster, who has made my kids smile at clinics and open practices. And for Diana Matheson, who exemplifies the polite, intellectual Canadian but is also a fierce competitor. And for Ali Krieger, who hasn’t always been at her best in her Spirit tenure but shut up her critics with an excellent season and strong commitment to the team. And for Joanna Lohman, who persevered through several Dark Ages of women’s soccer and suited up once upon a time for D.C. United Women, the amateur forerunners of today’s Spirit.

I sometimes wonder why I put up with this sport. Sunday’s game was excruciating to watch. The ref called the game as if he were paid by the whistle or by the minute — some clear-cut instances in which the advantage principle should’ve applied were interrupted instead, and as much as I hate seeing refs let “physical” play go, some of Sunday’s calls were baffling. I also saw yet another painful youth soccer game. And this year, the soccer Twitterati took a hateful turn that made the promotion/relegation wingnuts seem like Zen masters by comparison.

But …

Well, I haven’t come up with anything yet. But I’m sure I will. I don’t know if I’ll continue to be a fixture in the Spirit press tent, but I’ll still be going to games. I’ve used my new Sirius XM subscription to listen to Jason Davis and Eric Wynalda today, and I’m watching somebody play a World Cup qualifier now. I’m not even sure who it is.

Maybe that’s not healthy. That’s OK.

Besides, the saving grace of being a long-suffering soccer fan is the knowledge that others are suffering with you. And maybe celebrating on occasion. Or at least commiserating.



Hope Solo: Too unique for a double standard

It’s tempting to respond to the cries of a “double standard” against Hope Solo with a segment of “Really!?! with Seth and Amy.”

Really? There’s a double standard against Hope Solo? She said something totally nasty about one of her teammates at the 2007 Women’s World Cup, but people actually like her because of it because it makes her seem like a badass. Really.

Really? A double standard? Landon Donovan quickly moved to apologize for talking in public about David Beckham — saying the same stuff that tons of Galaxy fans were saying as well — but there’s a double standard against Hope Solo? Really? Donovan and Beckham actually sorted it out while Solo still holds a grudge … and wait a minute, that grudge blew open with something she said? Really?

Really? Have any of Hope’s fans ever listened to a sports talk show? If a backup quarterback ever said, “I would have made those passes,” Colin Cowherd wouldn’t even need a microphone to broadcast his show nationwide. He’d just stand up on the roof at ESPN and yell.

Yeah, really! And then Solo does an interview with Jeremy Schaap, and her fans gripe that he asked her about her relationship with the older women’s national team players? After she wrote a book that talked about that relationship?

Really! If Jeremy Schaap interviewed Jose Canseco about his books, do Hope’s fans think he would not ask him about steroids? Really?

And the E:60 video is all Hope’s side! Where’s Cat Whitehill? Where’s Julie Foudy? Where’s Briana Scurry? Really!

Really! And yet Hope has fans on Twitter who say the old guard refuses to “pass the torch.” The Who can keep touring until they don’t have anyone left, but Brandi Chastain’s supposed to disappear at age 40 like some soccer-specific remake of Logan’s Run? Hope’s the one with a memoir out and the excerpts at espnW about her conflicts with the “old guard,” but they’re the ones keeping the past alive?

Really! Really? ….

(This has been “Really?! with Seth and Amy)

So yes, I’m a little skeptical of the “double standard” notion — at least in terms of how Solo and her book have been treated in the media.  The Schaap interview is labeled as “contentious” — which is often Schaap’s style, anyway — and yet Schaap didn’t really challenge anything she said in the book. Schaap didn’t fire back with, “You lost respect for Kristine Lilly? Really?” He asked her to name a name that’s named in the book so they could discuss it.

What I said the last time I wrote on this book two weeks ago is still valid — there are multiple sides to a lot of the issues in Solo’s book, and the other sides aren’t talking. That’s not acquiescence on the part of the “old guard” just because Solo’s book hit the NYT best-sellers list. A lot of NYT best-sellers are political smears, and the politicians in question often don’t respond to them, either. Silence is often a valid PR strategy in such cases.

With so few people speaking up, Solo is really getting a free pass on her unflattering portrayal of players who still have a lot of fans, no matter what Solo’s Twitter echo chamber may say. It’s all her side of the story — which, again, is the point of a memoir. If you lose respect for Lilly, Hamm, Scurry and company because of Solo’s book, that’s really your fault, not Solo’s.

So it’s difficult to make a case for a double standard in terms of the media coverage. What about elsewhere?

And here’s where it gets tricky. Would a men’s team ostracize a player the way the USWNT did to Solo?

I had a long private conversation with another journalist about this yesterday, and we couldn’t think of a case of another athlete being ostracized the way Solo was. But we didn’t know of someone saying the things Solo said in 2007. We also didn’t know of someone being benched the way Solo was — starting goalkeeper until the semifinals, then suddenly yanked from the lineup.

Maybe such a thing has happened to a hockey goaltender or football quarterback somewhere along the way. Men’s teams have their internal disputes as well, often protected by a code of silence and vague words in the media. Perhaps someone at this weekend’s Victory Tour game in Rochester will ask Abby Wambach why, as depicted in Solo’s words, she suddenly thought Briana Scurry was better-suited to the World Cup task than Solo was in 2007. I’d be surprised if the interviewer got a complete answer.

But it’s hard to come up with anything that matches every aspect of Solo’s case — the undisputed starter, with no injuries to consider, suddenly being benched.

Was Solo treated differently within the team because it was a team of women? We really don’t have enough evidence to say. We know men can be called out within the team for their practice habits — ask Allen Iverson. But even if someone were to claim flat-out that Solo was benched for her performance in practice, one of several possibilities floated and never nailed down, could we really compare Iverson’s case with Solo’s?

No. They’re just too different. And not just because they’re men and women.

Solo’s unique. That’s why she’s selling books. And that’s why people are going to discuss and debate what she says. No double standard there.

Myriad links: The Onion on water polo, dreary Americans, new Olympic sports

A few late-night links that I haven’t had a chance to work into full-fledged posts today:

1. The Onion brought the funny on water polo and other sports (if you consider baseball a sport) in one of their video segments.

2. At Fox Sports, Jen Floyd Engel ponders the difference between American “thou shalt not cheer in the pressbox” journalists and those from elsewhere, who cheer, hug, get kisses from athletes, etc.

Having spent my last Olympics sharing press tables with a corps of Russian journalists that was mostly grumpy old men (the exception was the lone woman, who looked a bit like Tori Amos and might have smiled once), I can tell you it’s not universal. But yes, many other countries are a bit more … expressive. Most of the time, it’s harmless. In soccer pressboxes, though, we’ve all seen a few really annoying situations.

3. Following up on the fun discussion we’re having on golf in the Olympics (the driving range/miniature golf biathlon has potential), I’ve seen some musing on the next wave of sports competing to make the Olympic programme. Around the Rings tells us the IOC is warning sports federations not to spend a lot on their campaigns, because that would be unfair to those who don’t have much to spend. (Imagine American TV advertising if the Republicans and Democrats had to limit themselves to what the Green Party can afford.)

Via Andrew Sullivan’s blog (Andrew’s on vacation), The Atlantic takes a look at all of the contenders. The most sensible inclusion would be karate. It has immense global popularity, and no one needs to build a new venue — just rotate it into the same arena or convention center that’s hosting judo, taekwondo or weightlifting. But no one said these decisions made sense.

Washington Post piece lectures kids about evils of MMA

If in some parallel universe I was never given a chance to appreciate MMA, I hope I still managed to avoid writing pieces like this Washington Post monstrosity bashing an activity I neither understood nor cared to research.

Let’s be clear — MMA isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Neither is boxing. Or football, rugby, Australian rules football or any sport in which people collide with malice. Or hockey or indoor lacrosse, where they sometimes toss off their gloves for bare-knuckle head punches.

But if you’re singling out MMA, the counterarguments are simple. Most boxing punches are aimed at the head; MMA targets the whole body. Chokes and armbars may look nasty on first glance, but they’re part of respectable Olympic judo, and they don’t cause long-term injuries. (Yes, we’ll make an exception for people who don’t tap when they’re in armbars or leglocks, but even then, we’re not talking about something as serious as the multiple concussions suffered by unfortunate athletes in football, hockey and soccer.) The rules used for the past decade are hardly “anything goes.”

In the Post piece, Fred Bowen offers up the odd factual clunker (boxing hasn’t had 15-round fights in decades) and an argument that would fail to impress your high school debate coach — to paraphrase, it’s basically “Excuse me, I’ve seen ultimate fighting, and it can’t possibly be more dangerous than cheerleading.”

I’ve seen triathlons, and I wouldn’t think they’re dangerous. But according to the Post, in a story I highly recommend reading, they are.

So we have the usual nightmare scenario for an opinion piece — poor/nonexistent research, misleading descriptions, personal dislike extrapolated to what the general public should avoid, etc.

Here’s the worst part: This isn’t an op-ed piece. It’s not a sports column. It’s in KidsPost, the section for children.

So instead of reading about historical figures, neat science facts or the swell things star athletes do, my kids get to read a lazy opinion piece telling them why no one should watch the sport Daddy covers.

Gee, thanks.

As always, the comments are open (within reason).

Friends, athletes, objectivity and professionalism (SEO adds: MMA and sex)

You CANNOT make friends with the rock stars. That’s what’s important. If you’re a rock journalist – first, you will never get paid much. But you will get free records from the record company. And they’ll buy you drinks, you’ll meet girls, they’ll try to fly you places for free, offer you drugs… I know. It sounds great. But they are not your friends. These are people who want you to write sanctimonious stories about the genius of the rock stars, and they will ruin rock and roll and strangle everything we love about it.

That’s the semi-fictionalized Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the classic Almost Famous, the semi-autobiographical Cameron Crowe film about a young journalist getting advice from Bangs and going out on the road with a typical ’70s band.

Though I grew up wanting to write for Rolling Stone, I’m now glad MMA journalism is about as close as I’ll ever get. Sex, drugs and rock and roll? Well, there’s a bit of rock and roll. Aside from the occasional performance-enhancing drug scandal or marijuana aficionado, we don’t have any drugs.

Sex? That’s a little trickier. And being friends? Even trickier. The Karyn Bryant-Rampage Jackson interview raised a few questions along those lines.

Continue reading Friends, athletes, objectivity and professionalism (SEO adds: MMA and sex)