Unsportsmanlike conduct: Examining sports-media's conscience [Sports]

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This article appears in the January 2011 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.

Cheating. Corruption. Sex scandals.

Yeah, baby, we’re talking sports in the modern age and the way the media covers athletes. Throw four touchdown passes and you’ll get coverage. But get caught texting scandalous pics to your [would be] paramour, a la Brett Favre, [link NSFW] and you’ll be the leading story.

Athlete misbehavior is nothing new, says veteran sportswriter Billy Reed, but the way the media reports it leaves him newly dyspeptic. He and Bill Crouch, president of Georgetown College, want to see some modesty and propriety return to the trade, and they’re working to launch the Academy of Integrity for Media in Sports. The first step is to give AIMS a voice through a series of televised interviews with former athletes (expected to air on KET in January). The second, Reed and Crouch hope, will be classes that explore sports media and its effect on society.

“Many of the columnists who cover sports have lost the sense of moral outrage that columnists I admired used to have,” says Reed, who’s covered athletics for 50 years, including at the Courier-Journal and Sports Illustrated. The money fueling it all, he adds, hasn’t helped. “It’s fans, too. It seems cheating is OK as long as their team wins,” Reed says.

Louisville Magazine spoke with several of the athletes Reed has interviewed.

Junior Bridgeman, former player for the University of Louisville and Milwaukee Bucks, former president of the NBA Players Association: “In my day, you heard about the great high school sophomore occasionally, but now everyone knows about him in the eighth grade. That has to have an effect on the way you view the world, when people are telling you you’re the best thing since sliced bread at such a young age. They start thinking certain rules and ethics don’t apply to them.”

Micki King, Olympic gold medal diver, former University of Kentucky assistant athletic director: “In the ’60s, we couldn’t even get paid to do a couple of dives for a show on the Fourth of July at the local country club. We had to pick up towels afterward and get paid for that! It’s all changed now. The Olympics are for professionals.”

C.M. Newton, former UK basketball player, retired UK athletic director: “Most decisions now are not made for what’s best for programs, the student athletes or the coaches; they’re bottom-line decisions. This has become big business….When you’re paying coaches so much more than deans and presidents, you have to ask yourself whether that’s right in a college setting.”

Mary T. Meagher Plant, Olympic gold medal swimmer: “When athletes do well, the media builds them up too much to be heroes. But it also sells news to tear them down when we realize they’re human after all.”

Photo: Steve Coomes

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