In the bleakness that can be the time after National Signing Day and before spring practice gets going we find ourselves. There are plenty of debates, lists, and thoughts to have in the weeks and months to come, but at the moment I find myself returning over and over in my head to something in the recent past:
Last week, Steve Elmer announced he was leaving the football program to take a job in Washington, D.C. after his graduation in May. Elmer’s statement, as released through the University the day of the announcement, was wonderfully put. I could try to re-state the gist, but quite frankly, Elmer did it better:
I have no problems with the coaching staff, no academic issues, and no violations of team rules that normally come along with a statement like this. My reasons for cutting my playing career short have nothing to do with any negative experiences at Notre Dame; in fact, I would consider my commitment to this exceptional University the best decision I have ever made. Playing football here was a huge challenge, but I wouldn’t trade the experience of doing battle out there on that field with my brothers for anything.
While playing football for Notre Dame has been nothing short of an honor, I have been presented with an incredible opportunity to pursue a career doing something in which I have great interest, and at a great company to boot. The experience of balancing Notre Dame’s academic rigors with my football commitments has given me a great foundation for my next endeavor. I will graduate from Notre Dame this May and start my professional journey this summer in the Washington, D.C. area.
I could try to explain why I think this is great, but HLS commenter TERRY said it as good as anyone could:
In the dictionary under the definition of ‘student-athlete’ there should be 2 pictures – Corey Robinson and Steve Elmer.
While (theoretically) a blow to the on-field product for the 2016 Irish, Elmer’s announcement should be applauded. Here is a young man who embraced the challenges of academics and football at Notre Dame and not only survived but excelled. The University’s greatest sales pitch in recent years has been that it’s “not a four year decision, it’s a forty year decision.” Elmer embraced that mantra. Elmer will graduate…early…and immediately further a passion that will last more than a year or even a decade. This was a joyous announcement.
So what am I to be angry or miffed about? It’s the growing niche of sports journalism that has become rumor and innuendo peddling. For over a week before Elmer’s announcement, certain individuals and sites* (*that I will not mention by name because this is hardly an isolated event and this is an industry problem, not a specific actor problem) toyed with its Internet audience and either hinted at “major” news to come or outright reported that this announcement was on the horizon. Much of this information was collected, traded, and leered at behind the confines of paywalls to extract membership fees.
The problem has become that too many sites now deal solely in “breaking” these rumors earlier than their competitors. As the Columbia Journalism Review’s tremendous article points out – this fetishization of anonymously sourced rumors does not amount to actual journalism. These stories would break and become public knowledge the moment that they became factual occurrences, but in the current sports journalism landscape the brokering and “breaking” of rumor has become the profit margin for far too many sites. It’s the monetization of “I know something you don’t know.”
The CJR refers to these types of stories as “ego scoops.” I can think of no better way to describe what these sites are doing. The definition goes:
The ego scoop [is] a story that “would have come out anyway—typically because it was announced or would have been announced—but some reporter managed to get ahead of the field and break it before anyone else. From the user’s point of view, there is zero significance to who got it first. This kind of scoop is essentially meaningless, but try telling that to the reporter who feels he or she has one.”
And that’s just it – Elmer’s announcement, assuming it was real and concrete, would have become actual news at the exact same point it otherwise did. People would have been able to digest, break down, and interpret the story just as they are now. Yet, for far too long ahead of Elmer’s announcement, these rumor mongers sucked up the attention and puffed their chests about a very important and meaningful decision for Elmer.
I’m going to get on a soap box here, and I know there’s a degree of irony in me doing so since I write for a blog that primarily focuses its attention on ND football. However, I seriously question why adults continue to so callously spread gossip about 17-22 year old guys’ futures when they could simply wait for news to become actual news. Let me mea culpa….I know that I’ve on occasion been guilty of this. For that, I can only apologize and be grateful that my Internet reach is fairly limited. For larger and more prominent media outlets, this should be a greater concern.
Suppose Elmer had weighed this decision and eventually elected to stay. We heard Corey Robinson address somewhat similar concerns just before Elmer made his announcement. Suppose this same rumor whore-ing went on for weeks prior to a non-announcement. Do the passing thoughts of a young adult really amount to news? Sadly, I know the answer to this at least as it relates to the sports world is “yes.” The recruiting sites basically make a living off of making “predictions” based on their “sources” and “information” about where recruits will go months and years before the teenager ever must make a decision. Yes, this constitutes “news.”
The amount of time and attention that is spent on events that never occur in the modern sports culture is amazing…in a bad way. That we as a public sports devouring culture view this type of whisper swapping to be worth our money says more about us than about those that it impacts. The problem is, the impact on these individuals is disproportionate. If you take the time to read the CJR article, you’ll notice the primary focus is on the NBA. While I still think the “sourcing” of articles the Chris Broussard way is irresponsible, I don’t care all that much about the business dealings of very rich men.
However, when it comes to the coverage of college sports, the math changes. The decision to take (or be considered for) an athletic scholarship should *not* amount to an open invitation for grown adults to benefit on every detail of your life. That it’s a blurry line is understood. The line between journalism, blogging, and straight up note passing is not always easy to discern. That said, common sense can take you a very long way. In the weeks the led up to the Elmer announcement, I saw not one story, not one blog post, not one tweet, not one message board announcement that needed to be released ahead of Elmer’s decision. Steve Elmer should have gotten to make his announcement on his terms and without the pressure and whispering that preceded his day. He should have gotten to make his announcement without the stigma that a “major blow” was coming to the school or that there would be anything to explain. Simply put – he should have had a chance to live his life without his decisions being sold like a street taco.
I suppose at the end of the day what I’m asking us to consider is being more civil and sensitive to those we “cover.” Whether professional, bloggers, or the common fan, I can ‘t help but think we can still choose to remember that the players we analyze on the field are humans with futures and feelings both on and off of it. I would guess we’ve all had important decisions that we timed the disclosure of carefully. Maybe, just maybe, we should extend that same courtesy to 17-22 year olds we don’t know.