Athletes like Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, and Wayne Gretzky are notorious for their athletic ability and admirable character on and off the field. We see them dominate their respective sports on the television, computer, and mobile devices, while showing commendable leadership that motivates us to bring out the best in ourselves. For many generations, the sports world has showcased these amazing human beings across the world. Recently, there has been an overwhelming amount of focus on today’s internet media platforms and how they play a role in sports. From television stations, to social media networks, the media has been showcasing these athletes digitally, and in the year 2017, it has expanded to affect athletes in both good and bad ways, like we’ve never seen before.
The media is broken down into three significant categories. Social media, reporters and journalists, and network providers. Social media has been a roaring platform for the past decade that has brought players and fans together in a collective community. Although, social media has also been a platform for cyber bullying, and verbal scrutiny which has forced many athletes to take a break and even delete their profile because of the torment they face online. On the other hand, social media has been a healing process for fans and players to come together in times of distress, such as this past summer during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The city of Houston was overhauled with great support from fans and players as they sent prayers and reinforcement through the social space. All the information reported on ESPN and SportsCenter is all possible because of journalists and reporters. They’re the ones that have the inside scoop with controversies around the sports world and provide us with the information to view them. Think of them as the pipeline that connects the sports world to our daily lives. Any alert, breaking news, and injury update is reported 24/7 by journalists and reports. Of course, we can’t forget network providers such as TNT, ABC, and NBC who provide us with the coverage to watch all the unforgettable moments in the sports world. Network providers are the earliest forms of online media because they’ve been around for so long. From early black and white footage, to ultra HD screening, network providers have been televising sports for over half a century.
From as far as I could remember, I first started watching sports at the age of 7, I attended my first sporting match at the age of 10, and in 2017, at the age of 17, I’m able to connect with thousands of athletes across the country just by the click of my finger, It’s an evolutionary step in the world of technology because no more than ten years ago I couldn’t imagine meeting any of these athletes, and now I can see what Lebron James is eating for breakfast through social media. The athlete to fan connection has never been more strongly bonded due to the connection social media has. For example, in 2014 Derek Jeter, a former shortstop for the Yankees, created a website where athletes can connect with fans through written pieces, podcasts, videos, and fan polls. The significance of this is to give athletes a platform to be honest without reporters bending and twisting the words they say. There’s also a downside to this because as professional as some athletes are, they have emotions and their just as human as we are. A single bad decision or inappropriate behavior because of our emotions could be taken the wrong way with fans, resulting in a social media outrage.
Take a guy like Kevin Durant, who has over 10 million followers across his social media platforms. This is a great way to interact with fans, but can also backfire hugely. For example, two summers ago Kevin Durant, arguably the game’s most dominant basketball player, was given a chance to stay with the Oklahoma City, a team and city who’ve embraced him, or start a new chapter in his career and switch teams. The news of him eventually leaving OKC caused a national outbreak with fans assaulting him verbally through social media. Death threats, physical assaults, and property damage were all threats directed to someone who made the right decision for himself. Personally, I couldn’t care what team he decided to choose to play for next season, because his decision in no way affected my life. Although, after watching countless videos of OKC fans burning his jersey, and throwing eggs at his former house in Oklahoma City, I showed some sympathy towards him. It was especially interesting to see these videos surfacing on social spaces, a place where Durant was cherished and admired by many fans of the Thunder.
However, the internet isn’t completely a place for virtual bullies to hide behind their monitors. It’s a space where athletes and fans of different backgrounds and ethnicities can come together in times of need. Just this past summer, Isaiah Thomas, an all-star point guard for the Boston Celtics, faced a heartbreaking loss with the death of his sister. The significance of this situation was even bigger because it was during the time of the Eastern Conference Finals. Now imagine having someone who you’ve known your entire life pass away when you have the biggest games of your career to play. In spite of the situation, Isaiah was not alone, he had the support of the city of Boston, and fans and players around the league. It’s significance is important, because for random strangers who you’ve never met before to reach out to you and give you support, shows us the beauty behind social media.
Of course, personal decisions that affect others isn’t the only impact on athletes. Inappropriate behavior on social media has never been acceptable, especially when you’re a college recruit. Take for example, Shedrick McCall III, a once great running back who had his scholarships revoked due to inappropriate behavior on the web. It started with his YouTube channel where he was caught using foul language and caught even drinking under the age on camera. College scouts are smart enough to not care how many touchdowns you have, but more on your attitude off the field and how you treat yourself and others around you. It’s small decisions like this that affected a high school standouts future. It’s significance is huge because Shedrick’s situation reminds us that whatever happens on the internet, stays on the internet.
Inappropriate behavior online is something that should never not be taking seriously, especially if you were a sports journalist. Any alert, headline, or breaking news you receive is because of the people who have a professionalism for finding information constantly happening in the sports world. Now, I personally have my own opinions on different situations, and people can choose whether to agree or disagree with them. That’s not entirely the case with sports journalists, because their voices and opinions are shared virtually with a much larger audience. Which can be very challenging, because whatever they write, is what we read and react too. Take for example a situation that happened back in 2016 right after the super bowl, where Cam Newton, quarterback for the Carolina Panther, came of a disappointing loss in the biggest game of his life. It left him shell shocked where he remained silent and in utter disbelief of the disappointing loss. Despite of the loss, he was asked post game questions by reporters and journalist, which is their job, and was still mourned by the loss so he remained silent. Of course, Cam Newton has freedom of speech but due to his behavior, reporters and journalist criticized him for being a “sore loser” and a “cry baby.” Obviously this doesn’t define who he is, but when people of great power like journalists and reporters say this about you, it leaves others to think the same as well. The significance of these articles and stories about Cam completely changed his image, and the way people view him because of one action.
This leads us to network providers where for over 70 years, network providers have always provided viewership no matter the sport. It’s how they make money by allowing teams to broadcast themselves which feature advertisements. Although, when you broadcast the same sport with two genders, finding a balance has always been a struggle. It’s sad to say this but it’s not just the media who finds a difference in gender equality for sports, it’s us too. For example, let’s take a look at viewership between the 2017 NBA Finals and the 2017 WNBA Finals. First, we have professional men’s basketball which averaged 1.19 million views per game and a staggering 20.38 million views per game during the 2017 NBA Finals. On the other side, we have women’s basketball, which was televised over three stations, and the five-game series accumulated roughly 559,000 viewers per game(ESPN). These numbers are mind-boggling to think about because an average NBA game outnumbers “the super bowl of women’s basketball.”
More than just viewership, some people don’t generally find women’s basketball interesting, which causes a huge economic struggle between the WNBA and the media. It’s even stated when Jeff Pearlman, a writer for sports illustrated, states “America’s lone professional women’s basketball league is in its 14th season of existence. Actually, I think it’s in its 14th seasons of existence. But I’m not sure. Because nobody watches the WNBA. Nobody discusses the WNBA. Nobody seems especially interested in the WNBA.” It’s a simple understanding, if people are not interested in the WNBA, then the media will start to pull away because they’ll realize that this isn’t a smart investment in the sport. So, with lack of viewership also comes a loss in profit for teams, managers, and athletes.
Lack of viewership the media asserts on sports affects athletes financially. The more coverage a sport or athlete receives benefits endorsers such as, Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour to support their athletes. Meaning that if network providers showed twice as much coverage for the NBA compared to the WNBA, then endorsers will see there’s more money to be made endorsing the NBA. Let’s take for example a company like Nike, a powerhouse sports marketing brand, which is known for endorsing every single NBA team in the league. The significance of this is that Nike has supplied teams and athletes an abundance of money to be featured on global networks around the world so that they can be broadcasted. However, this isn’t the case with women’s basketball. An article by Black Enterprise stated that, “NBA 2016 MVP Stephen Curry made a whopping $11.4 million last season. Meanwhile, Nneka Ogwumike, the reigning WNBA MVP, who is one of the highest paid WNBA players, earned a mere $95,000 in 2016—the maximum salary in the league.” These are significant statistics to think about because it shows how absurdly underpaid women are for competing in the exact same sport as men.
Personally, I’ve noticed a lot with this lack of media coverage with my favorite sport, Track and Field. Let’s take a look at the net worth, amount of money someone is worth, of Usain Bolt which is right around $100 million(TheRichest). Yes, I know that’s a substantial amount of earnings for one man, but he’s the fastest man to ever live. Now, let’s take a look at the second fastest man ever, Yohan Blake, who’s net worth is $2 million(TheRichest). You can make the argument that both are earning themselves a good amount of money, which they are, but an $98 million difference is absolutely crazy. This big difference in earnings is because of an absence of coverage in the sport of track. So, what endorsers do is pay top dollar for the best sprinter in sport, and eventually start accommodating other sprinters financially. This is because other athletes want what the fastest man alive is using, they don’t care who’s second when they want the best. This is of course not to mention other events like distance, jumps, and field events. According to the Track and Field Athletic Association, “there’s a “steep pyramid of income opportunities” for track and field athletes, with only a “select few” able to earn a very good living. Fifty percent of track athletes who rank in the top 10 in the US in their event earn less than $15,000 annually from the sport.” The numbers don’t lie and with lack of media coverage around this sport, Olympic athletes have to work a full-time job for 8-10 hours, and then come home and workout for 2-3 hours.
I’ve always been told in school that the internet is not Las Vegas, so what happens on the internet, stays on the internet. This hasn’t been more relatable than in the world of sports where athletes and fans are constantly communicating between each other. Sports have affected people in atleast one way shape or form. Whether you enjoy watching it or not, it’ll always be here forever. The media has done nothing but take advantage of this and make it apart of our lives wherever we go. We’ve cherished, remorsed, and celebrated all the great moments and it’s all been possible because of media.
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