There are few days of the year that make one prouder to be a sportswriter than the annual freak show known as Super Bowl Media Day. (In case you can’t detect the hidden meaning of that sentence, allow me to spell it out: #sarcasm).
In point of strict fact, the NFL doesn’t even call it Media Day anymore, nor does it take place in the daytime. In keeping with the reality-TV aspect of this most overblown of professional sports championships, The Shield has now turned this spectacle of media self-parody into a primetime special called “Opening Night Fueled by (a corporate sponsor who will have to pay me for its name to appear in my column).
And if you think Media Day was a travesty in the past, this, of course, can only make it worse. Nothing encourages a throng of self-promoting fools, often in outrageous costumes – or in some cases, as little clothing as possible – from making bigger fools of themselves than putting them on live television.
It almost makes one long for the demure days when Media Day was held on the field where the game would be played, with the assembled press held back at the gates by security guards until the designated hour, at which point hundreds, if not thousands, of pencil-wielding, notebook-carrying and microphone toting lemmings would rush the field as a 60-minute countdown clock wound down overhead.
This stampede, of course, followed an hour-long breakfast buffet provided by the league, the better to tame – and compromise — the many-headed media beast before the onslaught.
I covered 10 of these things and not once did I get the slightest bit of useful information out if it, unless you count the endless reams of ammunition for the predictable “Media Day is Dumb’’ column.
What I did get, however, was a sense of how senseless our profession sometimes is, and how complicit many of us in the media are with the hype machine that fuels and funds our professional sports leagues. At a crucial time in our history, when the media is being systematically marginalized and delegitimized by our own government, many of us use the excuse of Media Day to delegitimize ourselves.
The NFL, of course, believes it is doing the media a “favor’’ by making the players available for two hours – an hour per team – but in fact, it is the other way around; we are providing priceless free advertising for a game that loses much of its luster over the two-week cooling off period between its conference championship games and its ultimate denouement.
And yet, we do it gusto, crowding 10 deep around the quarterback’s podium, or that of a particularly outspoken wide receiver or linebacker, while ignoring the offensive lineman or special teams player who might very well have a great story in him that no one seems to want to hear. Or, more likely, are too lazy to bother trying to get.
Which is why, of course, Super Bowl Week is among the worst weeks of the year for sports journalism. It is nearly impossible to get any serious football discussion out of anyone in the crush of daytrippers who come to the Super Bowl as a junket, as way to try to provoke a viral quote for some brain-dead morning radio show or local newscast.
As a result, Super Bowl weeks has produced some of the most memorably inane questions in the history of sports journalism. A quick web search refreshed my memory on a few of them:
- To Broncos LB Danny Trevathan before SBXLVIII: “Who would you rather see in a thong, Andy Reid or Mark Mangino?’’
- To several players at the same SB: “Who has the smelliest farts in the locker room?’’
- To Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner: “Who is your favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?’’
- And of course, my all-time favorite, to Raiders QB Jim Plunkett before SB XV: “Refresh my memory, Jim, was it dead mother, blind father, or blind mother, dead father?’’
At least in that last one, the guy was trying to get the story right.
Of course, dumb and/or offensive questions are not the exclusive territory of Super Bowl Media Day; before one Yankees World Series game in the 90s, Meredith Vieira leeringly asked Derek Jeter, “Who has the biggest bat in your clubhouse?’’ drawing not only the scorn of Jeter but the everlasting and well-deserved contempt of the female sportswriters who were within earshot. Vieira, of course, fell back on that old standby, “I’m not a journalist.’’
The rest of us, however, have no such sanctuary to hide behind. Although it often doesn’t seem like it, sports journalism is journalism and our job is to provide accurate information, insight and analysis, not punchlines in a clown show.
That is why I’m glad not to be part of this annual vaudeville act, and if I’m lucky, will never have to witness it again.
That being said, I, like the rest of you I’m sure, can’t wait to see what kind of nonsense comes out of this one. As journalists, Super Bowl Media Day may embarrass us, demean us, and marginalize us. But it never disappoints.