Neil Tambe

Let’s go.

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

The ESPN Effect

In my book, ESPN is the most trustworthy news source on television. I've especially noticed this when catching gulps of election-cycle news coverage on traditional news channels in public places like airports or restaurants.

To me it feels wrong to trust ESPN (or other sports media) more than I trust the channels which cover hard news. But it's not surprising.

During sports press conferences, the players and coaches answer questions candidly and admit mistakes. Interviewees on traditional news channels have this arrogant way of misdirecting their answers to sincere questions and reek of poll-tested sound bytes.

In the sports media, the vast majority of stories focus on the "scoreboard" in some way - who's winning the current game, whose offseason acquisitions make them likely to win, and which players & coaches are likely to propel their teams to championships. In sports, to focus media coverage on topics related to winning and losing is relevant and substantive. In my opinion, sports media doesn’t venture too much into locker room gossip (which in sports is a rather frivolous thing to discuss).

Traditional news seems so bush league compared to that. In covering the presidential race, for example, I feel like I hear more about polling numbers and fundraising totals than I do about actual issues. The coverage feels riddled with talk about inside baseball between politicos rather than something substantive.

Finally, sports media tells great stories. ESPN, for example, continues to do amazing documentary work in the 30 for 30 series. Heck, during the Super Bowl I probably enjoy the montages and season-recapping human interest stories more than the actual game. Sports stories have this palpable earnestness and seem to let the truth drive where the story goes. This is unlike traditional news in which the journalists - at least to me - always feels like they are subversively trying to bend the story to their own worldview.

I think it's also worth noting how caring discussions about sports can be. I've heard men in the barbershop passionately argue about sports with remarkable civility. Nobody ever insults their buddy, nor do people hold their opinions as sacred. People actually listen to each other. When talking about sports, I've actually seen people change their minds when presented with better evidence.

Of course, these days, "civil" is one of the last words I'd use to describe discourse stemming from traditional news coverage. I can't help but think the quality of the media companies, and how they approach their work, makes a difference. I can't help but think that because ESPN (and other sports media organizations) approaches its work with integrity and thoughtfulness, it leads to greater civility when everyday people hang out together and talk about sports.

Please do say hello: neil.tambe[at]gmail[dot]com