Monday, June 22, 2009

An Off-Day Ramble in Defense of Baseball and Blogging

Fair warning: I'm on my soap box and about to throw out some controversy. I'll return to my regularly scheduled nonsense next time.

I was listening to the Play Ball podcast that went online 6/17, and it got me thinking. They interviewed Christine Brennan, a columnist from USA Today, for about 30 minutes, and it was fantastic. She talked about her dad, Title IX, our need to support women's pro sports, covering the Olympics, discrimination in golf, and other issues.

While I enjoyed the interview, and agreed with a vast majority of what she said, I'm going to exercise my right to respectfully disagree with her on two points.

She is quite adamant regarding re-instating softball into the Olympics, and I would love to see that as well. However, I have to disagree with her assessment that baseball does not belong in the Olympics. She claims that, because if its association with performance enhancing drugs, it should not be included. Here's a direct quote from her blog:

"Baseball deserved the ax mostly due to a word you've probably heard: steroids."
What a slap in the face to the clean guys worldwide who've participated! And while it's true that softball has a perfect record so far regarding testing, she seems to imply that the likelihood of steroid use follows gender lines. I don't buy it. And if we're going to throw out entire sports because of the sins of a few participants, then Track and Field needs a closer look. Those athletes, from both genders, have had their fair share of issues with PEDs. (To be clear, I am not implying at all that Track and Field be tossed from the Olympics; I am merely using it as an example.)

So enough on that topic. The other topic that got my undies in a bunch was a 3 minute (more or less) rant regarding blogging. Apparently, some blogger somewhere accused some athlete of using performance enhancing drugs. (I am aware of the blog post in question, but I didn't really read it carefully; I pretty much started reading it, rolled my eyes, and closed it. I don't want to address it specifically because it doesn't really matter.) I believe the main-stream media may have ran with the story, or at least linked to the blog, but I'm not entirely sure.

The bunching-undies part comes when she asserts that we should only read blogs from "legitimate, trained journalists" and that we should never pay attention to "a guy or woman in their pajamas in their basement." (Hey, that's me!) She goes on to say, "they can certainly have an opinion, but do we want to waste one moment of our time on earth reading those opinions?"

Wow. Now I admit that no one is going to confuse this blog with a "real" sports blog -- I consider myself more of a "sport fan experience" blogger -- so I don't think she was really talking about me and my peers. But there are plenty of "real" sports blogs out there that I do read and enjoy. Some of them are from trained journalists and some of them are not. However, though I don't exactly know the backgrounds and experiences of some of the "untrained" bloggers, many of them have established pretty credible reputations - I can tell they do their due diligence with research and analysis. I applaud them and will continue to read them. Being "untrained" does not equate to being "un-valuable."

While I agree that it's very dangerous territory for someone to throw out unfounded, unresearched, and unsourced accusations, especially with such an explosive subject as steroid use, I am willing to say that 99.9% of blog readers understand the difference between a credible source and an opinion. And to imply that I shouldn't waste my time reading them is akin to saying that I shouldn't waste my time chatting about sports with my co-workers around the water cooler.

I believe people watch sports for two reasons: to be entertained while the game is on, and to talk about it afterwards. Blogging is really a sophisticated way to have that water-cooler chat with more thought and a wider audience. If it's acceptable to say "I think so-and-so sucks" around the water cooler, it's perfectly acceptable to say it in your blog. If people don't like it, they'll stop reading.

The danger comes in that once opinions are out there, that bell can't be unrung. So the good ones look up the numbers, think things through, and choose their works carefully. The bad ones throw the spaghetti on the wall to see if it'll stick. As readers, it's our responsibility to keep our B.S. meters on and working. If we come across something that's just there to get attention, or worse, outright wrong, we should just ignore it. And it's the main-stream media's responsibility to choose links to blogs with the same care they use for writing their own stories.

So, those are the opinions of a girl who's usually in her sweats in her basement saying whatever she feels like on her blog. And I hope no one takes it too seriously.

I want to re-iterate that I thought Ms. Brennan's interview was terrific. She really had some thought-provoking opinions.

I also want to heap tons of praise on the Play Ball podcast. It is "ESPN's podcast by women, for women and the men who want to understand their women better," and it is a blast to listen to. Amanda and Melissa conduct great interviews, talk sports with intelligence, and have a bunch of fun. I listen to it every week. You should too.


Katie said...

The best/worst part of the whole blogger PED mess was that the original post was defending that player against allegations someone else made about PEDs. The whole thing is ridiculous.

And I too got my panties in a bunch during that small portion of the interview with Christine.

My take on sports blogging (or news blogging, or whatever kind of blogging) is that you know what it is when you're reading it. The same way you can't take anything you find on Wikipedia to be necessarily accurate (Except, obviously, Twins fan tammy's addition that Grady Sizemore enjoys being meowed at during his at-bats...a known fact which was unjustly removed from his wiki page), you should take anything you find with a grain of salt.

If blogs are so meaningless, then one blogger's post probably isn't going to ruin an established athlete's career.

I think it's funny that the mainstream sports media was the one to blow the whole thing WAY out of proportion, drew a million times more attention to it, and then blamed the blogger.

Good post! And yay for Play Ball!

haasertime said...

agreed agreed and agreed. I think the backlash against blogs is a natural response for these mainstream journalists. They've worked their whole lives to get where they are, and now they see their newspapers dying and bloggers taking away their readership.

but here's the thing: no one is turning to blogs for breaking news and direct access to the teams. I think they read em for insight, analysis and humor. That stuff is basically harmless, requiring no journalistic integrity - - they aren't scoops or rumors that need to be sourced.

And the blogger-in-pajamas-in-moms-basement is the most cliched thing ever.

Fran said...

...and now they see their newspapers dying and bloggers taking away their readership.

That is as big a stereotype/myth as the blogger-in-pajamas.

LaVelle Neal's game stories get read by more people in a day than see his blog in a week.

Fran said...

"Baseball deserved the ax mostly due to a word you've probably heard: steroids."

I think that's nonsense. Baseball is bigger than the 'roiders. They should not be allowed to kill it as an Olympic sport.

Anonymous said...

"...and now they see their newspapers dying and bloggers taking away their readership."

"LaVelle Neal's game stories get read by more people in a day than see his blog in a week."

One beat reporter's readership at a (recently bankrupted) local newspaper hardly puts the lie to the fact that newspaper readership is declining and papers across the country are shrinking or disappearing as a result. Just read the papers -- if you can find one. Moreover, and as many have noted, a high percentage of bloggers are parasitical in the sense that they blog on stories generated by those in the professional media. What happens when the host dies?

Blogs are mostly opinion-centric content. Professional journalists break stories with research-driven pieces. Of course there's some overlap here -- some bloggers break stories with research-driven pieces, and some professional journalists opine at least as much as they report. But bloggers, and blog readers, who minimize this distinction and dismiss the importance of the professional media are biting that feeds them.

Fran said...

Anon, you seem to be arguing with yourself from one sentence to the next.

Newspaper readership is actually at an all-time high. Just because a percentage (and it's not even close to the majority for most papers) of that readership is shifting online doesn't mean you stop counting it.

Newspapers that are shrinking or disappearing are doing so because of poor (non-journalist) management and fragmented ad revenue much more than declining readership.

A little more on-topic, I would like to see more papers embrace competent bloggers, as in the Strib's too brief partnership with TwinsGeek. I think such relationships can benefit both of them.

Liz Strand said...

I have not listened to that Play Ball yet (I was behind on my 2 favorite Disney podcasts already, then added Play Ball, and I think I am in early May now in terms of listening), but I have followed Christine Brennan on Twitter.

As for baseball, I don't care if it is in the Olympics, not because of steroids (because then swimming would've been eliminated in the 80's due to the East German women with mustaches), but because baseball has a platform on a Major League Level...same reason I don't get that excited about basketball or hockey (post cold war) in the Olympics. But softball pretty much peaks with college. It needs to be in the Olympics. I'm not saying i don't want baseball in there, because I do, but I have stronger feelings about softball!

As for bloggers, that ticks me off...people have a right to read and write whatever they want. I've read a large number of blogs written by better writers than a large number of the "trained" journalists. Training doesn't make you good at something, it gives you the tools to be proficient. There's a difference. Have a teaching degree, I am well aware of the fact that there a lot of people with those degrees who had no actual talent at teaching, but they had all the training.

Fran said...

Olympic basketball and hockey were a lot better before they allowed the pro's in. I get more than enough Kobe and Shaq outside of the Olympics.

Same for baseball. Punto playing for Italy is just absurd. Would like to see all of the above sports returned to the amateurs or reasonable facsimile (college and minor leaguers) in the Olympics.

Betsy said...

Liz, I agree with you on the people who have teaching degrees but might not be actually good teachers. my ex-boyfriends old roommate just got his degree for teaching Ag-Ed...he's one of the most incompetent people i know. i think he would make children dumber if they were taught by him.

I agree with Katie when she says that you know what kind of of blog you are reading when you look at it. Seth Speaks is a "non professional" blog, but he has GREAT insight into the world of baseball and the minor league players.
Isn't Howard Sinker's blog technically a "opinion" blog too? Just like mine, K-bro's, etc? He's on the Star Tribune's site...

Katie said...

Liz, I couldn't agree with you more. I had teachers in high school that the students could have taught better.

I don't think that baseball deserves the ax for that reason. I don't think it's fair that just because some of the players thought they needed to use PED's to be better doesn't mean every player in the league did.

I always thought the purpose of these blogs was so you could voice your opinion. Some people may agree with what you say and you may piss some people off. But it's our way of talking about something we love and sharing it with others that love it just as much.