I can actually pinpoint the exact moment I realized that objectivity in sports journalism was a crock: it happened at the 2009 Super Bowl, a classic between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. In the days leading up to it, Larry Fitzgerald Sr., the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder reporter that had covered something like 28 consecutive Super Bowls, came under fire for the supposed conflict of interests the game posed to him: his son, Larry Fitzgerald Jr., was the star receiver for the Cardinals.
Could he remain objective? Debate raged. Some columns deified the elder Fitzgerald, painting him as a paragon of professionalism that could no doubt maintain balance, while others prematurely slandered Fitzgerald as a heinously loving father.
If you watched that match, you might remember that Fitzgerald the receiver put in a star performance, reeling in two huge touchdowns. You might also remember the telecast’s obsession with shots of the father in the press box every time his son did anything of merit. There he sat, staring blankly, vacant and unimpressed, careful not to let on how proud he was.
It was ridiculous. Anybody that thought Larry Fitzgerald Sr. wasn’t quietly cheering for his son to win the Super Bowl is a fool, and the silly act he was forced to put on for the cameras and media is proof that the field of sports journalism, too, has its fools.
I would have respected Fitzgerald Sr. all the more had he come right out, admitted the bias, and then remained conscious of it as he wrote. Of course, I understand why he was reticent: objectivity to sports journalists is like faith to Christians — if it even appears to waver, you can go straight to Hell. Fitzgerald would have had his press pass torn up had he been so damnably honest.
In the field of sports journalism, objectivity seems held in higher regard than anywhere else, perhaps because, without it, it’s easy to brand sportswriters as glorified fans, a label that would severely diminish the value of their work. As a result, claiming there’s a bias in sports journalism has become a little like accusing the government of a conspiracy: in an effort to protect the credibility of the institution, we turn a blind eye to obvious instances of duplicity and discredit the individual speaking out.
The moment someone suggests a conspiracy in government, he or she is branded a nutcase; the moment someone suggests a bias in sports journalism, he or she is branded a homer, the scarlet letter of sports writing.
But make no mistake: at the cost of sounding like a homer (which I can handle, as a Canucks blogger) there is a bias, and we’ve seen it in the laughably anti-Canucks national coverage of this year’s Stanley Cup Final. As the big media has descended on Vancouver, fans have been subjected to writing from individuals who rarely cover this team, don’t particularly like this team, and would rather this team didn’t win. These writers have attacked the Canucks incessantly, misquoted players, called them names, and gleefully jumped on every opportunity to paint the team in a negative light. Then, they’ve had the nerve to dishonestly claim their one-sided coverage is fair and balanced, and insulted anyone that’s tried to say otherwise.
For fans of this team, it’s been infuriating.
Some in the media, too, are taking notice. Anyone following Jason Botchford’s Twitter account can see that it’s driving the Canucks’ beat reporter absolutely mad.
Unfortunately, Vancouver’s been screaming bias for so long that, this time around, nobody’s listening. You’ve no doubt heard of the East Coast Bias, the Toronto swamp monster that feeds on the tears of Western Canada (or at least that’s how British Columbians describe it). When Toronto comes to town and puck drop gets moved up to accommodate their massive audience share, we cry bias. Heck, when any Vancouver game time is changed to allow the entire nation to watch at a reasonable hour, we cry bias.
It’s silly. The CBC and the NHL aren’t out to screw the Canucks. They’re out to make money, and maximizing viewership tends to work better than allowing their marquee event to end well past over half the nation’s bedtimes. Accomodating time zones is tricky business. It’s the same reason the games in Boston are beginning an hour later than they usually do. That’s for us.
I’m more than willing to deny a bias that doesn’t exist, and the East Coast bias is a myth.
That said, the journalistic bias against the Canucks has been clear as day. Consider, for example, the writing about the Sedins, whose manhood has been questioned for their lack of production in the Final. Anyone with an ounce of sense can see that their best series came against a team that didn’t have a dedicated shutdown pairing (San Jose), and they’ve had a tougher time against teams with Norris-Calibre defensemen that aggressively focus on shutting them down (Chicago, Nashville, Boston).
However, instead of telling this story, we’ve been subjected to a “limp-wristed Euros” narrative that smacks of embarrassing prejudice.
When was the last time someone suggested that Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews was less of a man for their relative lack of production in their respective Finals? In 2009, Crosby went minus-3 with a goal and two assists. In 2010, despite going minus-5 with no goals and three assists, Toews won the Conn Smythe. I’m sure their Canadian citizenship had nothing to do with their generous coverage.
In these cases, credit was given to the opposing defenders who shut down elite scoring threats. The Sedins, meanwhile, simply aren’t man enough. They’re hacked, slashed and impeded constantly, but any time they go down, they’re sissy divers, a narrative that stinks of xenophobia over an ethnocentric worry that Europeans have come to ruin the Canadian game. Chris Nilan claimed their “balls shrivel up when they’re on the road”, Joe Haggerty called them “Hansel and Gretel”, Mike Milbury called them “Thelma and Louise,” and a bevy of other sportswriters and fans have stuck with the much less innovative Sedin “sisters”.
Why, exactly, is it considered acceptable — professionally acceptable, even — to mock two men by comparing them to a minority group in hockey, anyway? What’s next? The Sedins play like blacks, jews, or gays?
This line of criticism is, in and of itself, childish and sexist. It’s 2011 and there are women in the Hockey Hall of Fame. If the Sedins actually were women, people might be a little more impressed with their point per game pace over the last five years, their back-to-back Art Ross trophies, their potentially back-to-back Hart trophies, or the fact that they’ve led their hockey team to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year as team leaders. As it stands, however, these accomplishments aren’t enough to escape the criticism that they’re actually women on skates — and that there’s something inherently wrong with that.
Roberto Luongo, too, has seen plenty of unfair coverage. After two consecutive winning performances in which he “outplayed” Tim Thomas, the talk was about how he was hardly challenged. Thomas, meanwhile, was already generating Conn Smythe trophy buzz in losing efforts. Then, after the two games in Boston, where Thomas, too, was “hardly challenged”, the Bruins’ netminder was again hailed as the reason his team was back in the series, even though the 12 goals his skaters registered might have had something to do with it.
Luongo, meanwhile, had played himself out of the running for the Conn Smythe, despite the fact that his 14 goals against in this series are still five less than Tim Thomas allowed in the seven-game Eastern Conference final. But no matter.
Questions raged about whether or not Luongo should start game 5, while the media took the opportunity to mock him for Vancouver fans cheering as he was pulled from game 4.
At first, I bristled at this report; it’s hard to defend a fanbase that would do that. Then, after looking again, I realized that it was CBC sports who reported it, the same network that quick-cuts to Cory Schneider any time they don’t like the goal Luongo let in, and it was CBC sports who quick-cut to Rogers Arena at the exact moment Luongo was getting pulled. Then, knowing full well the fans in the building cheer and wave towels whenever they’re on, they painted it as a fan betrayal of their goaltender. They manufactured that story, then “objectively” brought it to the public like a modern day William Randolph Hearst.
In short, the coverage of Tim Thomas has been kind. The coverage of Roberto Luongo has been mean-spirited and dishonest.
Then there’s Alex Burrows, who bit Patrice Bergeron in a scrum and has therefore earned a reputation as one of the most classless, disgraceful players in the history of hockey. This despite the admission of many hockey players that they’ve bitten a guy in the same situation. Justin Bourne said he bit a guy once, after telling the guy repeatedly to get his fingers out of his face. Don Cherry said he bit a guy once. Boston’s Marc Savard bit a guy once. No one’s talking about that.
Maxim Lapierre is classless too, because he waved a finger in Bergeron’s face. However, Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic, who tried to stuff their fingers in Lapierre and Burrows’s respective mouths in game 3 remain perfect gentlemen.
Looks to me like everybody acted pretty stupid there. Heck, both teams have been guilty of dirty play at times over this series. But the ongoing narrative that casts the Canucks as classless baddies and the Bruins as classy goodies stinks of one-sided reporting.
Lapierre’s sell job on the Zdeno Chara spear wasn’t his finest moment, but it certainly didn’t warrant Scott Burnside’s decision to mock him after the game, did it? “You looked like you were mortally wounded after the Chara spear,” Burnside said. “I wondered how you were able to carry on after that.” Burnside calling Lapierre classless after a question like that seems hypocritical, no?
Speaking of Zdeno Chara, he ran a guy into a stanchion and broke his neck this season, but that was an accident from a classy player with no history of violence. Meanwhile, Aaron Rome concussed Nathan Horton in an open-ice hit. That was a willful intent to injure.
In truth, it looked to me like both plays were accidental, but the decision to forgive one and use the other as proof an entire team is dirty seems like the conscious choice of a journalist, don’t you? There was little outrage when Jamie McGinn concussed Rome in the series prior. Why’s that? Because nobody was looking for evidence that would confirm a bias against the Sharks.
Class has been big topic of this Final. Barry Rozner said the Canucks’ names on the Stanley Cup would be a disgrace. Right. Can an organization that donated $5 million to the BC Children’s Hospital and employs two players who privately donated another $1.5 million really be that classless? Of course, it’s hard to drop a paragraph about the Sedins’ charitable contributions into an article about how they don’t have testicles. Heck, class is pretty subjective. How the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that mocks injured players, employs a kid that beat up a cab driver and a guy that broke Ryan Kesler’s nose on an intentional headshot nobody seemed to care about can be called a classy Cup winner — while the Canucks are the disgrace of the league — is beyond me.
If you’re not seeing the bias here, something is wrong. It’s the same bias fans have when they see their own teams’ players as squeaky clean protagonists and the opponents as antagonizing marauders, out to win by breaking the rules. The only difference is it’s being spewed from the mouths of those that allege no allegiance.
Heck, a number of sports journalists have even admitted a preference, though they’ve disguised personal diatribes about how much they don’t like Vancouver as objective essays on how the Canucks “aren’t Canada’s team.” How, exactly, does one person speak for Canada? Sounds subjective to me. And when the supporting evidence is entirely derived from personal opinions and attacks on players the writer dislikes, it’s a leap to claim it’s a fair and balanced report.
Truth is, I wouldn’t mind coverage like this if we weren’t being fed the party line that it’s objective. As I said at the beginning of this post, I have more respect for someone that admits and deals with their bias than somebody that insults my intelligence by claiming it doesn’t exist.Tags: Bruins, Canucks, diatribes, featured, I can't believe this has to be said, journalists, perspective, Rome, spotlight, Stanley Cup Final, There are some stupid people in the media