Why can't mainstream sports journalists get it right?
by Ralph Molesworth
Div. 1 S/G
Try to imagine a sports journalism universe in which this is true:|
Bizarre? Unbelievable? Grotesque? How about these ...
Fall 1996 - at a local Virginia dragstrip a car loses control, jumps the guardrail and kills a spectator. Local Maryland and Virginia TV news crews descend on this story like a duck on a June bug. They broadcast copies of an amateur video that details the horrible accident. Their reporters do stone faced stories about the extremely dangerous nature of drag racing while using scenes from the video as a back drop. None of these stations had ever done a story about local drag racing or has done one since. No mention of winners, losers, times, speeds or any other results during any of their sports segments.
December 1996 - I hear on my local newscast that Davey Jones, Indy car driver is injured during a practice run for the Walt Disney World Indy 200. That's the news report. No mention of who eventually qualified or in what order. No results from the race either.
A recent major network weekend news edition report on illegal "Drag Racing" in California and across the nation and all the death and mayhem being caused by it. The reporter at one point actually states that "Drag Racing" is actually a sanctioned, nationally recognized motor sport and that what they're really talking about is illegal "Street Racing" and then goes right back to referring to every activity in the story as "Drag Racing" again! No mention or pictures of real, organized, safe "Drag Racing" are ever offered. Just like the local TV news, this news show had never before done nor have they done since and reporting of real Drag Racing.
What TV highlights stick out most prominently from the recent Daytona 500 or any other televised NASCAR race? Car wrecks! Car wrecks! Car wrecks!
No stick and ball jock in their right mind would sit still for any of this for one second and yet, this is the reality all too often when it comes to motorsports coverage by the major media. Why must this be so? Why should we who love motorsports have to tolerate this? My focus is drag racing but all motorsports suffers.
Well, it's not really sport - is it?
I remember one day in May of 1994. I was working in the garage on my race car and I was listening on the radio to a local sports talk show. A caller to the talk show tried to breach the subject of auto racing and in particular the recent death of Ayrton Senna de Silva, arguably one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time. The sports talk show host had never heard of this guy. It was incredibly pathetic how the caller was treated by this "Sports Guy". The caller was extremely patient and tried to go to great lengths to try and explain who this driver was and what his accomplishments meant to the world of motor sports and what a great loss his death was. It was like talking to a brick wall. Trying to come to terms with why the Sports Guy had no clue about motor sports and why they were never reported on in the "mainstream" media, the Sports Guy finally said something to the effect of "Well, it's not really sports - is it?". He went on to add that it was hard for him to think of the drivers as athletes when the "car did all the work".
If we apply Sports Guy's logic to horse racing then the horse does all the work and the jockey counts for nothing. I my home state of Maryland almost every sports report has to tell you some news about horse racing. I mean, seriously, do that many people really care about horse racing? I'll tell you what they care about. They care about betting on horse racing! Take away all forms of wagering on horse racing and let them run for trophies. See how long the horse racing industry lasts! Maybe we should lobby for extensive gambling in motorsports? Can you imagine the amount of coverage - accurate coverage we'd see then? I am not advocating this for a minute - I use it to make an example.
Maybe the problem has to do with the sportscasters themselves. Are the kinds of guys who end up being TV and Radio sportscasters the nerds who can't tell one end of a car from another? Who can't change a flat or even their own oil? Surely not every single one of them fits this stereotype. There must be some who love cars too. Maybe it's their bosses - the local TV, radio and newspaper sports editors? Do they really believe that nobody in their demograhic area is interested in motorsports just because they aren't?
A lot of the quality and quantity of motorsports coverage is tied to local culture. In the good ol' southeast you'll find out a lot more about NASCAR then most anywhere else. If you read the Reading, Pennsylvania newspapers in September you'll find quite a bit about the Pioneer Keystone nationals at Maple Grove. I wonder if they continue their coverage of NHRA championship drag racing the rest of the year? I was shocked when I traveled from the motorsports reporting challenged area where I live out to Pomona California in 1996 for the Winternationals. I picked up the L.A. Times sports section and here was a color photo of the Top Fuel final. The daily editions listed qualifying results! I can just imagine my local paper getting around to that - yeah right!
Many motorsports enthusiasts, sanctioning bodies, and yes, even journalists will tell you that it's getting better. I would agree with that up to a point but add that it's also got a long way to go! I know NASCAR, NHRA, IHRA, USAC, IRL, and all the others are trying to promote but I think we need a grass roots push as well. Let the newspapers you read , TV stations you watch and radio you listen to how you feel about motor sports. Demand better, more accurate reporting. Most of all I want to see RESULTS reported not just spectacular crashes that look like out takes from "And they walked away ...".
In recent years a local cable operator came out to tape the drag races. The guy they selected to do commentary didn't know a slick from a sock. I volunteered to help him out with terminology and jargon and procedures. Eventually he almost sounded like he knew what he was talking about!
[It just goes to show] you can make a difference.