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Why Modern American Sports Media Sucks (Especially in Football)

When it comes to browsing for sports news and updates, the frank reality of it now is that in general, modern American sports media is a dumpster fire. There still (thankfully) remain journalists and sites that focus on what sports reporting should be about, reporting on the events of a game or season and offering deep insight that can inform the reader so they can make informed statements themselves about their favorite teams and keep in the loop about any major updates. Sadly, the majority of modern American sports media, especially on social media, is an absolute mess. Now it is glaringly obvious that hot takes and click farming are the name of the game and we’re all frankly worse off for it.


Where It Began

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to many that ESPN’s First Take is where the decline in sports reporting quality for the most part began. First airing in 2007, First Take, at the time, was a breath of fresh air for audiences since it was a major departure from the average sports reporting and media of the time. For the most part, if you tuned into your local news or ESPN, you’d be getting a very similar style of reporting, very professional and succinct with the emphasis on what had happened and in the case of SportsCenter, a little extra, such as top play countdowns and Chris Berman’s charismatic quick rundowns. For the first couple of years, First Take was nothing special until 2011 when Skip Bayless had his role increased immensely and later in 2012 Stephen A. Smith was brought on in a more permanent role. This is where the true decline began.

Ever since Smith and Bayless became the leads of First Take, the show has become more known for its wild hot takes, including ones that dived right into the realm of insensitive. In 2012, First Take fell into controversy as they made Tim Tebow a central subject of their hot takes, even when he threw a grand total of eight passes the entirety of the season with the New York Jets. Later on we had Bayless’ infamous flip flopping on LeBron James, constantly switching from calling him overrated to calling him over hated, which eventually led to him betting blasted by Mark Cuban, then majority owner of the Dallas Mavericks, in 2013. In 2021, we were treated to Stephen A. Smith making a clown of himself by claiming that MLB superstar Shohei Ohtani’s need for an interpreter was detrimental to the game of baseball, a statement that received immediate backlash for its insensitivity and blatant privilege. Smith later apologized, but the statement was said, and the impact was already felt.


The Role of Social Media

To say the least, First Take became synonymous with ridiculous controversies such as the ones above and even more hot takes of wild degree. This fact wouldn’t be so bad if First Take was the only show that did this, but the ratings boom seen with the show led to ESPN replicating the style of show all over the network and then other networks began to jump on the bandwagon. Now, the majority of what you see on ESPN, NFL Network, and so on are focused on producing hot takes in order to get more eyes on the screen. With the growth of social media and the ability to display these hot takes everywhere and get access to more advertising revenue away from the dwindling TV subscriptions, the incentive to throw out spicy takes to generate clicks has only grown. Just reflect for a second on how many times you’ve gone onto social media and seen a one minute clip from one of the many “sports news” shows that ends up being a wild statement that has very little basis besides it coming from a former player or coach (despite how bad their career might have been). Chances are, that one post has thousands of comments, likes, and shares, all of which put money right into the pocket of the network thanks to advertising revenue. Chances are, most of those comments are people responding to the wild take, keyboard warriors ready to counter Rex Ryan or Dan Orlovsky on a take they said about their favorite team’s quarterback. The reality is, those people were baited, baited by the take to interact and feed the revenue machine. That is the root of the issue. Modern mainstream American sports journalism is no longer about actual journalism, but rather what outrageous statement can we make that will get more people to click onto our article, tweet, or channel so we can bask in the ad revenue.


The 2023 NFL Season

While all American sports have this issue, the NFL season brings this issue to a forefront, largely due to the fact the NFL is the largest league in the US, meaning it has a much brighter spotlight and these takes find their way to the surface much easier. This season alone has seen the hot take and inconsistency machine run in full force. Earlier this year we were inundated by analysts claiming that Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields, who has largely done nothing notable in his career, was going to miraculously be a frontrunner for the MVP and that the Bears would be relevant. Unsurprisingly, Fields continued to play as bad as he did his last couple of years in the league, the Bears are currently in possession of the fifth overall pick in the next draft, and the media promptly dropped their hyping up of Fields after multiple disaster games.

This NFL season has also treated us to the media then choosing the Philadelphia Eagles as their darling team, hyping them up into the stratosphere despite a suspect 24th ranked defense and none of their ten wins coming by a convincing margin. Despite the flukiness of some of their wins, the officiating in their favor, and the fact they lost to the lowly New York Jets, the media hyped them up as if they were a team of destiny to make it and win the Super Bowl. Then last Sunday came and they got absolutely spanked by the San Francisco 49ers 42-19 at home and suddenly the media, who had made every excuse for the Eagles narrowly winning, was silent. The constant drum beating of Jalen Hurts being the frontrunner for the NFL MVP dried up and suddenly the narrative around Niners QB Brock Purdy shifted from “system QB” to new MVP frontrunner. Why the sudden change? My hunch is that the media no longer saw the Eagles as a stable source of clickbait. At least until they probably beat the Dallas Cowboys (who are also pretty suspect) on the road this coming Sunday night and then the cycle will begin all over again.

And lastly, don’t even get me started on the constant beating of the dead horse that is the Tom Brady vs Bill Belichick “debate”.


Wrapping Up

To say the very least, I really don’t like modern American sports journalism, especially when it covers the NFL. Every NFL season nowadays is a more or less five month long period of being constantly reminded that modern American sports media is a mess and that I’m better off just ignoring any headline that I don’t see come directly from NFL.com. If you’re someone who feels like I do, then we share the same pain. If you’re someone who doesn’t like this modern style of “reporting”, my best advice is to not interact. Don’t go and click and try to fight an argument over these wild takes, because in the end you’re only justifying to the network through ad revenue that they should keep doing it. Find yourself some news source that focuses on actually giving insight like we used to have on SportsCenter and run with it. You’ll be better off using your energy reading or watching that news than hearing another awful hot take from the main networks. Maybe one day things will change, but I doubt it. Until then, I shall ignore the takes and keep writing myself.

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