By Chris Tulp
A panel of distinguished sports journalists discussed the changing winds in sports among other topics Nov. 7 at the Shirley Povich Symposium.
Povich’s son and talk show host Maury Povich moderated the symposium. The panel included Bob Costas, sportscaster at NBC, Christine Brennan, columnist at USA Today Sports, and Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, co-hosts of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption.
The first Povich symposium was held in 2003 and a lot has changed in sports and in sports media since then.
Maury Povich first mentioned that in 2003, there was no such thing as sports outlets like Barstool, Deadspin and Bleacher Report or networks such as the MLB Network, NBA Network, or NFL Network.
Povich posed the question of what has changed in the last 14 years.
“Social media and the speed with which things happen,” Brennan said. “The news cycle is now 15 minutes, maybe 10, so everything is sped up and we know everything quicker.”
A lot of the conversation among the panelists involved social media and how social media has affected sports journalism and how it’s made information more accessible.
The NBA is the only major professional sports league that has seen its TV ratings soar in the last 14 years.
Wilbon said that stardom and social media are the reasons this has happened.
“The stars of basketball are international stars,” Wilbon said. “LeBron James is available every day on Instagram, on Twitter… it’s not filtered.”
He also said there are a number of NBA personalities on social media and that “they can connect with an international fanbase.”
Costas then mentioned some of the challenges that social media poses to sports journalism.
“With all the information out there,” he said, “I don’t think the average person recognizes what is false.”
According to Costas, social media has also created a place where people can “troll,” meaning they can share whatever criticism and information they want, even if it is false.
“People are always nice to you in person. It’s easier for them to be a**holes anonymously,” Costas said.
Brennan also let the audience full of young journalists know that they might come across hateful mentions on social media because of something they wrote.
“We do not want your career to stop before it starts,” he said.
Wilbon then mentioned that the hate mail he received as a black sports journalist can rival anything said today.
“If careers stop because you worry about criticism, then you better find another career,” he said.
Kornheiser then added to that.
“I think you’re a product of where and how you grow up,” Kornheiser said. “I think people are tougher now.”
He added: “They accept that these things happen all the time and it’s part of the price for the position that you take.”
One other big issue the panelists discussed was the future of football considering the game’s violent nature, the evolution of concussions and the lasting effect they have on players.
“We cannot change the nature of the game,” Costas said. “The reality is, that this game destroys people’s brains. That to me is the biggest story in American sports.”
Kornheiser then compared the NFL to other sports like boxing and horse racing that were prevalent at one time, but eventually lost popularity.
“If they don’t find a way to make it safe, the game’s not going to be around,” Kornheiser said.
Costas made it clear that the NFL is in trouble because of the issue of concussions.
“The whole thing could collapse like a house of cards if people start connecting the dots,” Costas said.