Media Use Scandals to Disparage Entire Pro Sports Industry

     A few bad apples ruin the whole apple grove. That’s the premise the media are operating from these days.


     But an alignment of the stars with scandals in the three major American professional sports has caused the media to launch an attack on the entire $213 billion American professional sports industry beset by “shame and disgrace,” according to NBC anchor Brian Williams July 26.


     “The games fans love have a crisis of credibility just now,” wrote Erik Brady in the July 25 USA Today. “What's left to believe in? Not the results, if it's true an NBA ref fixed games. Not the records, if it's true Bonds took steroids. Not the heroes, if it's true Michael Vick drowned dogs.”


     But this is a pattern in American media coverage that one scandal is an indictment of an entire industry – the ‘Enronization’ of media coverage. 


     The most identifiable example was the condemnation of the American business in the wake of the Enron scandal. The depiction by the media often reverts to the “big, profitable companies are up to no good” premise the media have used in covering corporate America, most notably with pharmaceuticals and oil and gas.


     A more recent example is Michael Moore’s denunciation of the entire health care industry from top to bottom – health care providers, insurers and drug manufacturers. The cases in his movie “SiCKO” have allowed the media to use his anecdotal evidence to call for the end of the American free market health care system.


     And now, professional sports are getting the same treatment.


     “You just have to wonder how much longer the American sports fan can sit there and take it, because this is a crummy summer,” said NBC Sports correspondent Alan Abrahamson on the July 26 “Nightly News.”


     Some are even correlating the coincidental timing of these scandals to a role model crisis in the United States.


     “It used to be there was no shortage of sports figures for kids to look up to, but it seems today, scandal rules,” said CNN “American Morning” anchor John Roberts on July 27.


     A report on “American Morning” explored the possibility that kids altogether might get turned off to sports. “Some coaches here worry that type of disappointment might turn kids away from sports,” said CNN correspondent Keith Oppenheim.


      Even liberal politicians in Congress are politicizing the scandal.  “Rep. Bobby Rush, who heads the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, said he also is considering calling a hearing on the matter ‘should the facts warrant public scrutiny’,” wrote the Associated Press on July 26, concerning the incident involving NBA referee Tim Donaghy.


     But as Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for President Bush and communications consultant for Major League Baseball pointed out, the crisis is more of a media creation.


     “Sports is not grappling with a credibility problem," Fleischer said to USA Today. "Baseball, basketball and football are beloved.”


     Fleischer told USA Today “the media are misreading the mood of fans.” According to Fleischer, fans may be revolted by the legal charges against an individual player such as Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, but Fleischer thinks they are more likely to assign blame to an individual than an entire sport or league.


     “Fans are sophisticated. They view these stories as somebody did something horrible – not there's something horribly wrong with sports,” Fleischer said to USA Today.