Sports Journalists and the English Language: #Fail

December 18, 2013 § 4 Comments

I just read an article on Sportsnet.ca about the Toronto Maple Leafs.  I don’t like the Leafs, and I enjoy it when they lose, something they’re doing a lot of right now.  But, something about this article seemed unfair, like it was piling on.  Chris Johnston starts off his article by saying “The word “crisis” is now being attached to the Toronto Maple Leafs and after just seven wins in the last 22 games it really isn’t much of a stretch.”  Right away, my eyebrows go up when I see language like this.  The passive voice.  The word is being attached to the Leafs.  By whom? In what circumstances?  When?  Why?  Johnston isn’t interested in answering any of that.  It turns out, the word “crisis” was pitched at Leafs’ coach Randy Carlyle by another Toronto journalist, Steve Simmons.  And Carlyle wouldn’t commit to the word.

So it turns out “[t]he word ‘crisis’ is now being attached to the Toronto Maple Leafs” by another sports journalist.  So two guys who cover the Leafs think this (I’m sure many of the fans do).  It reminded me a lot of the hullabaloo swirling around the Chicago Bears last week when news broke that starting quarterback Jay Cutler was ready to return from injury.  This would normally be a good thing, except that his backup, Josh McCown, was the reigning offensive player of the week.  One blogger for ESPNChicago began arguing that McCown should be the starter and, suddenly, all of ESPN was making this claim, arguing that “voices” had been calling for McCown.

The Leafs and Bears examples are reflective of a general shift in sports journalism I have noticed of late.  Journalists are desperate to reach readers and viewers, so the coverage gets more and more shrill.  In the case of the Bears and Leafs examples, journalists are attempting to create stories, to give themselves traction so that they can later claim they were the ones who ‘broke’ the story.  A classic example of the tale wagging the dog.

This general shift has also lead to a loose relationship between the English language and events the journalists are attempting to describe.  For example, last weekend, the Boston Bruins played in Vancouver and were hammered by the Canucks 6-2.  After the game, Bruins forward, Milan Lucic, who is from Vancouver, went out to blow off some steam.  For his efforts, he claims he was punched in the face twice by some idiot, which led to a lot of shouting and masculine preening in front of some guy who filmed it on his phone and the Vancouver police.  A Bruins journalist, Joe Haggerty, called this a “street brawl” in an article on-line.  Some idiot throwing a couple of punches is many things, a brawl it is not.

In watching highlights of the Montréal Canadiens’ game against Phoenix last night, a TSN commentator on SportsCentre claimed the Habs couldn’t “buy a goal,” about a half second before showing highlights of the Canadiens’ first goal in a 3-1 win.  Obviously, they didn’t need to buy a goal, they scored three of them.  This is like the football commentator I saw this weekend reporting that the Dallas Cowboys had scored 24 unanswered points before showing us how the Green Bay Packers came back to win the game.  Obviously those points were answered.

These are a wide variety of recent examples in the world of sports journalism of writers and broadcasters having a loose grip on reality and a dodgy relationship to the meaning of the words they use.  While I realise that we live in a somewhat post-modern world, but words do still have meaning.  But in the world of sports journalism, at least, editors and producers seem to have forgotten this.  And more’s the pity for it.

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