Somewhere along the way for this generation, sports became about a little more than sports. What was once a game became a business, and that business has become corrupted from the inside as well as in the media.
Publicly, many of the professional athletes today are seen as role models, and people for children to look up to. The media, though, sees them not as role models but as commodities. These athletes are assets that the population want to learn more about, and the media will try to get a story about any athlete and attract viewers to their newspaper or magazine or website.
In a new-age world of social media, professional athletes are more exposed than ever and the media is thriving. Fans have been spoiled by this exposure and want more two-way communication than ever. For better or worse, they are receiving it.
But this two-way communication comes with a price.
When people get more contact with athletes and learn more about them, they also learn that these athletes are not at all what they seem. And once those athletes are exposed, the media will completely turn against them, feeding the population the story that may be trending right now.
So there are two universal problems from this. First, some professional athletes are actually naïve, immature and reckless people. Second, the media only portrays the most popular image of these people that will get them the most viewers and the most traffic to their company.
The best and most recent example of this phenomenon is Oscar Pistorius.
During the London Olympics, Pistorius became an instant icon. He was dubbed the “Blade Runner” because he attempted running track with his prosthetic legs and was fairly successful too.
I was rooting hard for him, and the media fed romanticized stories about him. ESPN.com called Pistorius the greatest feel-good story of the Games. Indeed, he is charming and charismatic, and it was easy for anyone to root for him.
But now, Pistorius is being accused of premeditated murder of his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. The case became even more interesting due to investigative blunders by the police in gathering evidence.
As of now, Pistorius has been released on bail since the investigation had not given enough evidence to keep him there.
However, now that Pistorius has been exposed as a not-so-perfect underdog overcoming the odds, stories have suddenly been flooding about Pistorius’ dark past.
Apparently, this whole time Pistorius has had a wild side.
In 2009, for example, Pistorius spent a night in jail for assaulting a 19-year-old girl. Four years ago, Pistorius crashed his boat in a river south of Johannesburg. He was severely injured and empty alcohol bottles were found in the boat, but blood alcohol content was not tested. Even more, Pistorius is a playboy and has always had a passion for beautiful women, fast cars and guns.
But where were these stories during the Olympics when everyone wanted to learn everything they could about the Blade Runner?
The simple answer is they were right under our noses. But modern sports has instead become a multinational business. As mentioned, Pistorius was the feel-good story of the Olympics and no one in the media wanted to say otherwise. No one would have listened to a story if someone dared to question his image at that time.
Pistorius, like many athletes nowadays, has now been revealed as a shameful character. But the media has fed lies to the population this entire time. This is not a case of a man suddenly showing his “true colors,” but rather a case of a man who has finally been unmasked for the world to see.
The media ate him up and turned Pistorius into a worldwide sensation at the Olympics, yet now they are quick to spit him out and rip deep into him.
Furthermore, the most frightening aspect of this trend is that no sport is sacred.
Baseball has the steroid era, football has an embarrassing supply of legally questionable characters, basketball has even more dubious characters, and soccer has match-fixing and disturbing amounts of racism.
There are too many cases to count, even in the last couple months.
Lance Armstrong has gone publicly from the face of the fight against cancer to a complete fraud who alienated teammates and cheated cycling for years. Manti Te’o was portrayed as the awe-inspiring student who overcame two quick and tragic deaths to people he loved and have an incredible football season. Now he is the man who bizarrely and inexplicably was catfished for two years.
The media is also guilty of careless mistakes.
Initially, Gio Gonzalez was linked to a newly discovered Miami clinic distributing PEDs. Gonzalez’s name became synonymous in the media with proven cheaters such as Alex Rodriguez. But a week later, someone decided to put in a little effort. Once that happened, the media reported that Gonzalez actually purchased entirely legal substances.
The media is adept at figuring out what the population wants to hear. But the evidence is overwhelmingly clear that good journalism has sometimes come second to good publicity.
This is a truly dark time for sports. Athletes are focusing less on being socially responsible adults. In addition, the media has adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward investigative journalism when there is already a hot story.
Ultimately, when does this stop? Will there be a situation where a news outlet messes up so badly that the problem finally becomes more front-and-center to the general public? And if this is the case, how badly will “badly” be?
In the end, the players are the ones responsible for their actions. But if the media keeps sensationalizing events in order to create a more compelling story, then how much can we really trust what we first hear?