ESPN writing its own way

ON MEDIA

October 14, 2005|By RAY FRAGER

The most famous lead in sportswriting is Grantland Rice's account of Notre Dame's football victory over Army in 1924:

"Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again.

"In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden."

What would he write today?

"Cool as the other side of the pillow, Brady Quinn avoided a big USC rush to hit Jeff Samardzija on a deep pass as Notre Dame fans shouted, `He ... could ... go ... all ... the ... way.'"

Or something like that. Maybe he'd fit "back, back, back" in there.

Analyzing the results of a new study from the University of Missouri, doctoral candidate Scott Reinardy and associate professor Earnest Perry cite the creeping ESPNism - my word, not theirs - in sportswriting. Trying to be entertaining, at times at the expense of reporting, sportswriters sprinkle their pieces with SportsCenter-like jargon.

Why? It's a matter of "identification theory," which, in non-doctoral thesis terms, is about turning into a wannabe. To paraphrase Reinardy, sportswriters "who aspire to become television and radio personalities conform to the behavior, speech and journalistic style of celebrity sports journalists on ESPN," a university news release says.

Reinardy and Perry surveyed print sports journalists - writers and editors - and their 249 respondents indicated they agreed with such statements as "Sports jargon has an influence on sports reporters" and "ESPN SportsCenter has changed the tone of sports writing."

In their paper, the authors cite editor Glenn Stout as lamenting the trend in The Best of American Sports Writing 2004, where he wrote that too much of today's sports pages have material that "is neither shocking or edgy nor provocative but sophomoric, gossipy, trivial, predictable, disposable, and utterly forgettable, as entertaining as watching someone else's child in a pool trying to learn to swim and blubbering, `Look at me!' "

(I had no idea Stout read my column.)

And what is the best part of this study? The paper is titled "Boo-yah!"

Love that synergy

In the same spirit as telecasts that show actors from a network's prime-time series who just happen to be sitting in the stands, we had this from Fox's Chris Myers after his post-game interviews from Game 2 of the American League Championship Series:

"Another Nip/Tuck game - you'll see that on Fox. They're going back to The OC - you'll see that on Fox."

So I offer this critique to Myers: It sounded like a case of Arrested Development.

Come on back

Toward the end of the Ravens' debacle against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Shawn Bryson, a 230-pound running back, burst through the defense for a 77-yard touchdown, outrunning everyone, including the former swiftest of the swift, Deion Sanders. Afterward, CBS' cameras showed Sanders on the bench, inexplicably smiling, and play-by-play man Gus Johnson launched into a plea for Sanders to get his 38-year-old body out of that football uniform and back into his snazzy suits to rejoin the network's announcing team.

Rate of way

It's the NFL, folks, and there is no stopping it. Sure, your baseball can slow it a little, but, in the end, it's kind of like what happens in science-fiction movies when they call in the Army to battle the aliens/monsters.

On Monday night, baseball offered a playoff-series-deciding Game 5 matching teams from the nation's two biggest media markets, New York and Los Angeles. The NFL had what turned out to be a compelling game between the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Despite the mismatch in home team market size and postseason vs. regular season, ABC's Monday Night Football won the ratings battle, drawing a 10.2 rating against the 8.9 Fox received for the Yankees-Angels in the AL Division Series. (Ratings measure the percentage of television homes watching a program.) In raw numbers of estimated viewers, that's 15.7 million for the NFL and 13.7 million for baseball.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

TV highlights

Golf: Michelle Wie makes her pro debut in an LPGA event tomorrow and Sunday on NBC (1 p.m. each day, WBAL/Channel 11 and WRC/Channel 4). It's the Samsung World Championship, an all-star event of 20 invitees that includes Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer.

College football: Notre Dame has been known to stop long winning streaks and the Irish have won nine of the past 11 games against Southern California in South Bend, Ind., so maybe you want to ignore that 11 1/2 -point spread that favors the top-ranked Trojans against the Irish (tomorrow, 3:30 p.m., chs. 11, 4). But none of you pays attention to that gambling stuff anyway, do you?

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