Football from a Football Fan

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Future of Sports Journalism

Sports journalism is in it’s golden age and showing no signs of slowing down. As the age of smart phones application moves in, the age of the newspaper will pass by. Newspapers are on their way out, the average age of newspaper readers goes up every year, no matter how hard they fight, newspapers will eventually be nonexistent. In an age where instant statistics and information is expected, the internet has become the premier media outlet for distributing sporting news. While ESPN and specialized sports channels seem to ensure that television will have a much longer lifespan than newspapers, the internet appears to have the most longevity of all outlets.

As technology advances, the internet has become more and more accessible. The introduction of the smart phone has made following sports on the go simple. In fact it is projected that by the end of 2011 smart phones will be more prevalent than regular cell phones. With smart phones come mobile application. Nearly every major media outlet from ESPN to Sports Illustrated to FOX Sports News has one or more smart phone applications, not to mention the dozens of individual applications. As the majority shifts towards smart phones, society will become more obsessed with instant information and accessibility. Mobile sporting applications have ensured that, for a price, a person can do anything from monitor stats, to watch live games all on a mobile phone.

The internet and mobile applications have allowed fans to pick and choose what kind of sports media they receive. If someone only wants football news, they can get only football news, if they only want news on a particular team, they can get it. Twitter started a new phenomenon, the ability to follow an individual athlete or sporting personality on a 24-hour cycle. Mobile apps took this one step further and gave individual athletes full apps completely dedicated to themselves. App developer Rocksoftware has made apps for Chad Ochocinco, Jared Allen, and Terrell Owens, with plans for dozens more in the near future. Sports Media has reached the point in its evolution where fans can have their sporting news completely catered to them.

Staying Professional

When the story broken in early September that TV Azteca reporter Ines Sainz had been harassed by the team my initial thought was somewhat conflicted. Professional football is just that, professional and players, coaches, reporters and anyone else involved in an organization should handle themselves as a professional. Players however seem to forget that they are being paid to play the sport and should abide by the league’s rules and regulations. On the other hand I was surprised that this was the first big story like this to emerge from the league. The NFL consists of nearly 1,700 male players with above average testosterone levels. When I sat back and thought about it, I was amazed that more female reporters were not sexually harassed.

After the news broke of the harassment, Redskins running back, Clinton Portis made his weekly appearance on a local radio show. Portis came out saying, “I think you put women reporters in the locker room in position to see guys walking around naked, and you sit in the locker room with 53 guys, and all of the sudden you see a nice woman in the locker room, I think men are going to tend to turn and look and want to say something to that woman.” Portis continues to share his opinions on what Sainz may have been thinking when entering the locker room when he said, “You put a woman and you give her a choice of 53 athletes, somebody got to be appealing to her,” Portis said. “You know, somebody got to spark her interest, or she’s going to want somebody. I don’t know what kind of woman won’t, if you get to go and look at 53 men’s (bodies). … I know you’re doing a job, but at the same time, the same way I’m going to cut my eye if I see somebody worth talking to, I’m sure they do the same thing.” Needless to say, the NFL cracked down on Portis immediately and he issued a carbon copy apology for the things he said. The Jets and Portis’ behavior caused the NFL leaped into action, immediately investigating the treatment of Sainz within the locker room. As a result, the NFL chose to implement a mandatory training program for all 32 teams on proper conduct in the workplace.

While there is no doubt that player are responsible for conducting themselves in a professional manner, the same must also be expected of reporters. Sainz is clearly an attractive woman, one can understand that she would receive attention from NFL players. Sainz needs to take some accountability for herself and dress more appropriately when on NFL sidelines and in locker rooms. Sainz wears skin-tight clothes that clearly show off her body, whether she does this knowing she will garner more attention from players or not, it should not be acceptable. Complaining about being sexually harassed in an NFL locker room dress like this is like getting in a shark tank and complaining when you get eaten. The incident was no one persons fault, it was the culmination of multiple professionals conducting themselves in an inappropriate manner.

Diamond in the Rough

The NFL is a league were those who produce win. When players consistently have great statistical season, their teams often win. Steven Jackson however is the exception to the rule. The St. Louis Rams running back has been one of the most consistent players at his position in the last 5 years. After an average rookie season, Jackson has posted 5 consecutive 1,000 yard rushing season and is on pace to do so again this year. Since his breakout year in 2006 where he rushed for 1,528 yards 13 touchdowns and added 806 receiving yards with 3 touchdowns, he has been an NFL superstar.

Despite Jackson’s success, the Rams have not produced, failing to achieve a winning record since Jackson joined the team in 2004. The 6’2″ 236 pound running back has outperformed nearly every other player on his team on his way to 2 pro bowl selections.

When one stops to consider Jackson’s abysmal team, his record of 5 consecutive 1,000+ yards rushing yard seasons is even more impressive. The Rams have had anything but consistent play at the Quarterback position during Jackson’s tenure. Mark Bulger, Jackson’s quarterback up until this year has been below average since 2004. Since then Bulger has only passed for over 3,000 yards and more than 20 touchdowns twice. Bulger’s lack of consistency coupled with the fact that St. Louis has not had a star receiver in some time, made the Rams very one-dimensional.

Steven Jackson more often than not the teams entire offense. Every defensive coordinator who faced the Rams knew that Jackson was the offenses main threat and threw 8 and 9 men in the box to try and stop him. And what happened? Jackson produced anyway. Oftentimes stats can be deceiving as elite running backs often face stout defensive fronts intent on stopping the run. This fact makes Jackson’s stats all the more impressive. In his 7th year in the league, Jackson has averages over 80 yards per game and amassed 7,518 yards on the ground and another 2,530 yards in the air. He is also well-known for his ball security as he has only 16 fumbles since his career, that to go along with the 51 touchdowns he has scored and it is clear that Jackson is an elite player on a struggling team.

The addition of rookie quarterback Sam Bradford has finally given the Rams a legitimate passing threat. With the attention drawn away from Jackson, his is on pace to rush for over 1,200 yards for the 3rd time in his career. Despite numerous injuries including a notorious back surgery, Jackson has produced and produced and produced showing no signs of slowing down.

The Worldwide Leader in Accessibility

The self proclaimed worldwide leader in sports, ESPN has indeed become a worldwide brand. Despite having no idea what ESPN stands for, millions of people throughout the world frequently visit the sports media behemoth daily. ESPN’s M.O. is accessibility is any and every major sport in the world. While there are many news and media outlets that provide more in-depth analysis and news on one particular sport, none have come close to replicating what ESPN has.

ESPN.com is the only place where one can watch highlights of every sport from the MLB to Canadian Football, to cricket. By being, the “Worldwide” leader in sports, ESPN ensures that in order to gain any access to international sports, Americans have to go through them. The media giant has also cornered the market on large scale sporting events both domestic and internationally. ESPN is the exclusive carrier of Monday Night Football, the most watched game any given week in the NFL. Every four years, ESPN hosts the most watched sporting tournament in the world as they provide constant coverage of the World Cup. Again following their mantra of accessibility, ESPN also features a unique site, ESPN3.com. The allows the visitor to watch nearly every major college sporting event for a given week, all for free. Boise State is one of my favorite teams to watch both for their unique high scoring offense and the fact that a god friend of mine plays nicklebacker for them. Sadly, given their weak schedule of relatively no name opponents and the fact that most of their games are decided by the first quarter, Boise State games are rarely televised. However ESPN3.com allows me to watch Boise week in and week out.

Not only does ESPN offer the most coverage on the most sports of any news media outlet, but they also provide fans with the most ways of accessing that coverage. ESPN has two channel on most basic cable packages, and 4 or 5 for those willing to upgrade. The channel’s main show, Sportcenter has won multiple Emmys and provides news coverage on a daily basis. In addition to channels, ESPN features it’s websites, ESPN.com and ESPN3.com as well as multiple smartphone apps. In a world where the smartphone is taking over as the on the go media and news device, ESPN has more than catered to the demands of users. News in the 21st century, especially sporting news is all about speed and accessibility, probably because ESPN has spoon fed sport fans with constant coverage, setting the bar for other media outlets.

Tabloid Athletes

One could easily make the argument that the evolution of sports media in the last 20 years has affected players much more than fans. Athletes in the national spotlight are no longer simply athletes, they are celebrities. Just ask Jerry Rice, Emmit Smith, Warren Sapp, Jason Taylor, or any of the multiple football players to appear on “Dancing with the Stars.”

While names like Brett Favre and Chad Ochocinco dominate sporting tabloids, they are frankly too easy to go after. Instead, take someone like Tony Romo, the quarterback of “America’s Team” always seems to find his way into the media during the offseason. Fans are constantly being updated on Romo’s love life. His relationship with Jessica Simpson was even brought up as a reason for his poor on the field performance. Even after the relationship ended the media bombards us with stories of Romo’s golfing ability and rumors that he is giving up football for golf. Take then someone like Peyton Manning who is in the national spotlight just as much, if not more than Romo. Manning is arguably more of a household name than Romo but his media attention comes from his brilliant on the field performance as well as his multiple product endorsements for Gatorade, Sony and many other high profile companies. Manning is a class act that has a positive reputation on and off the field, it is no wonder that he has more endorsements than any other player in the NFL.

When looking at players who are at their best on and off the field one need not look further than Raider Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. The All-Pro corner is widely regarded as the best (and highest paid) player on his team. Yet instead of letting the success and money go to his head, Asomugha has been humble, even winning the Jefferson Award. Despite all of this, Asomugha is far from a household name. On the other side of the ball is Terrell Owens who without a doubt will go down in history as one of the greatest wide receivers of all time. Yet his success off the field is marred by his actions off of it (and during celebrations). Since his days in Philadelphia, Owens has been viewed as a team cancer, a reputation that most likely led to his extended free agency this year. What is perhaps worse about Owens is that as he begins to lose a step or two it seems as if his mouth begins to pick up the slack. His recent pairing with Chad Ochocinco has caused the receiver to become more vocal than ever before, taking his personality to national television with multiple TV shows. So while Asomugha and Owens are often considered the best players on their respective teams, Owens choses to let the entire world know, while Asomugha is content just doing his job on the field and improving the lives of others off of it.

Sports News

Three years ago was around the time I became a huge sports fan. I was always considered myself a player more than a fan. I would watch games with friends on occasions, but it was only about three years ago that professional sports, especially football, became an obsession. Before this obsession I rarely watched Sportscenter and never checked ESPN.com or NFL.com. I had barely even heard of twitter and as far as I was concerned my phone was just a way to call and text friends.

While I don’t remember when the obsession hit exactly, I remember that it hit and hit hard. It was almost as if overnight I became an avid sports fan. ESPN and NFL have been bookmarks on my web browser ever since, and I can’t remember the last time I didn’t check them at least once a day. Before coming to Tufts, (which refuses to offer ESPN) my mornings always started with Sportscenter, my day could not start without my precious Top 10 Plays. Like most football fans, Sunday is my holy day. At 1pm I lock myself in my room update fantasy line-ups, monitor stats, and watch at least one game at a time. My face is glued to either my laptop or TV only turning away from a game to check on another or to check how my fantasy players are performing.

While I have an iPhone, it has never been more than a last resort to check sporting news. If I am stuck somewhere without my laptop I closely monitor games on my phone, but for news, I always wait to read the story on my laptop or hear about it on TV. It seems like the majority of my generation, or at least the people of my generation that I know don’t use twitter. To me there is just something extremely unappealing about the website and I always thought of someone my age having a twitter as hubris, after all who cares what a 19-year-old thinks?

Should Broncos Compete for BCS Title?

After a Fiesta Bowl win over TCU last year, the Boise State Broncos entered into the current NCAA football season as the number 4 ranked team in the country. It seemed as if this was finally the year that Boise would earn enough respect to make a legitimate case for the National Championship. With convincing wins over then ranked opponents Virginia Tech and Oregon State and the recent losses of Alabama and Ohio State the Broncos have moved up into the AP #2 spot in the country behind #1 Oregon. While things certainly look to be going in favor of the Broncos, there is an ever lingering question in the minds of all the BCS teams, does Boise deserve to play in a National Championship?

Since their miraculous 2006 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, Boise state has gained national recognition. They have continued to dominate the WAC since and have always performed well against ranked opponents during the regular season and bowl games. The ever-present criticism of Boise has been their lack of a consistently strong schedule. Being in the WAC, Boise must play several sub-par teams during the season. However, when given the chance to face a ranked opponent or ranked team Chris Peterson’s Broncos have always delivered a win, often in exciting fashion. Over the last few year Boise has proven themselves time and time again against ranked team, so why don’t they deserve a chance to compete against the best in the nation?

While they have been dominated in recent years many BCS skeptics wonder if they are on the same level as the BCS powerhouses that play stiff competition every week. Boise has beaten ranked teams, no one can argue that, but those games are few and far between. Put Boise in the nation’s toughest conference, the SEC, and force them to compete week in and week out against some of the best teams in the country and I wonder if they could continue their national record of 20 consecutive wins. Playing tough teams every week takes a lot out of a team so when Boise plays in their BCS Bowl game against an Oklahoma who has faces tough competition all year, Boise goes into the game without the wear and tear of a tough schedule.

There is no doubt Boise has proven themselves time and time again, and they can only play the teams that are on their schedule and so far they seem to be in the running for a national title. Although one wonders as the target on the backs of the Broncos continues to grow and they move into the more competitive Mountain West Conference next year will they be able to stay unbeaten?

Battle of the Bay: Follow-Up

A few days ago I wrote a preview of Sunday’s Raider 49er game. Both teams had struggled quite a bit coming into the game and needed a win. While I did not predict a winner for the game, I predicted the manner in which a team would win such a game. Both teams were at the point in their season where they needed to learn how to win. The Raiders clearly have not learned.

The beginning of the game looked promising for the Raiders. Jason Campbell marched them down the field on a 12 play 80+ yard drive that consumed the majority of the first quarter. The result? A field goal. Ok thats fine Raiders just get a stop on defense, which they did in fact do. Again Campbell takes the Raiders on a 14 play 70+ yard drive down the field and yet again Oakland’s redzone play calling and execution forced them to settle for a field goal. While disappointing, those drives would be the pinnacle or Oakland’s offense that day as the next next drive resulted in an interception and the next 3 drives ended in punts. Oakland’s offense was so bad in fact that quarterback Jason Campbell went 8/21 for 83 yards, 2 INT and a fumble. All of Campbell’s 83 yards came in the first and fourth quarters. That is right, Campbell had 0 yards passing in the 2nd and 3rd quarter. And people say Alex Smith is a bad quarterback. The Raiders need to execute once they enter the redzone, settling for field goals is not how a team wins games, touchdowns are how a team wins games. I would love to post some links showing you some Raider highlights, but there are none.

As bad as the Oakland offense was they still had the lead midway through the 3rd quarter, which is truly a testament to how bad the 49er offense was up to that point. As bad as Alex Smith has been this season, he has shown moments of brilliance in the latter half of games this year. While the majority of the time it was too late to mount a comeback, the Raiders’ inability to get in the endzone gave Smith a fighting chance. With 8:11 left in the 3rd quarter Alex Smith hit WR Michael Crabtree on a 32-yard touchdown pass to take the lead for the first time in the game. The Niners then looked like a team that knew how to play with a lead. After a Raider 3 and out, Niner RB Frank Gore broke off a 64-yard run to set up a Vernon Davis touchdown to take a 17-9 lead. The Raiders had one last chance to drive down the field and tie the game until 49er linebacker Takeo Spikes intercepted Jason Campbell to seal the game for the Niners.

The 49ers came out in the second half and looked like a new team. They did not commit a single turnover the entire game and fought back to take and preserve their lead. Like so many of the elite teams in the NFL the 49ers knew how to play with a lead. The Raiders had a 3-point lead and looked satisfied with it, the Niners took the lead and insisted on keeping it with production on offense and an opportunistic defense. Whether the Niners have finally cracked the winning code or the Raiders are just that bad, one thing is clear, Bruce Gradkowski and Darren Mcfadden need to get healthy fast.

Battle of the Bay

Once every four years the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers play each other in the regular season. While neither team has posted a winning record since 2002 when both teams made the playoffs. The Niners finished last year with an 8-8 record and began the year as NFC West favorites. The Raiders on the other hand finished the year 5-11 making it the 7th consecutive year that they have posted double-digit losses. Pre-season rankings and evaluations are gone, it is time to start judging teams based on what they show on the field, not their potential.

San Francisco is 0-5 no if, ands, or buts about it. While they lost close games to the Saints, Falcons, and Eagles, they were blown out by the Chiefs and Seahawks. While much of the blame rests on QB Alex Smith’s shoulders, he is not getting much help from his defense. The highly touted San Francisco defense led by middle linebacker Patrick Willis is currently only 17th in total defense, giving up 339 yards per game. While neither side of the ball has done much to help the other San Francisco’s biggest problem has been shooting themselves in the foot. As Head Coach Mike Singletary said, “The toughest opponent we have played is the San Francisco 49ers.” The Niners are ranked last (by far) in the league in turnover differential at -10. When a team goes out of its way to hurt itself that badly its no wonder why they are 0-5. Yet despite all the turnovers and questionable play at quarterback San Francisco has had close games against good teams. 3 of San Francisco’s 5 losses were by a combined total of 8 points, the bigger worry is the other two losses, one by 25 points and another by 21.

Oakland is 2-3 and currently second in the wide open AFC West. Much like the Niners, the Raiders have had some heart-breaking losses, most notably in week 3 against the Arizona Cardinals when Sebastian Janaikowski missed a 36 yard field goal (the man can make one from 61 but not 36 apparently) with 4 seconds on the clock that would have won the game for the Raiders. The following week despite giving up over 200 yards on the ground were in position to move down the field for the tying score when they turned the ball over on downs. That being said Oakland has done what San Francisco hasn’t and thats win games. Week 2 Bruce Gradkowski relieved Jason Campbell and led Oakland to a win over the Rams and last week the exact opposite happened and Gradkowski was sidelined with a shoulder injury and Campbell stepped up and delivered the win against the divisional rival Chargers.

While many could argue that both teams are just a few plays away from being 3-2 one thing is clear, both teams need to learn how to win. Oakland showed it knew how to win last week against the Chargers but needs to show it consistently. Knowing how to win means that a team is able to put a game away when it matter. This usually requires someone (like Tyvon Branch) stepping up and making a play when the game is on the line. In the 49ers case that person needs to be Alex Smith. After going up 14-0 on the Falcons the offense was stifled and did not see the endzone again. The Raiders gave up a 12-0 lead on the Chargers last week only to rebound and secure the win. The NFL is a competitive league, especially this year, knowing how to win is what separates the playoff teams from the rest. This game will come down to the 4th quarter and whoever wins the 4th quarter will win the game.

Why do we Fantasize?

Like it or not fantasy football is here to stay and everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon. From Yahoo to ESPN to CBS, everyone has their own fantasy football game that promises to deliver an experience unlike all the rest. And to be honest why shouldn’t they? Fantasy football has become a monster, the big outlets like NFL, ESPN, and Rotowire have entire staffs devoted to researching the best fantasy players from week to week. Just look at NFL.com’s Michael Fabiano whose sole purpose is to tell fans which player to target on the waiver wire and who to start every week. The man is literally making a living telling people how to play and imaginary game. Fantasy football has even reached mainstream audiences in the form of FX’s TV show, “The League.” With literally thousands and thousands of leagues taking place across the county one (particularly my girlfriend) might ask what’s the big deal? Why is fantasy football so popular?

No matter how hard it try when Sunday comes and my lineups are set and I sit in front of the TV trying to decide which early game to watch I always decide on the game that has more of my fantasy players in it. Regardless of the quality of the game, it could watching the 49ers get blown out by the Chiefs but if I have Frank Gore or Vernon Davis on my team then I need to watch them. Fantasy football ensures that there will always be a game on that I have a personal and emotion investment in. It is this excitement that created in even the most mundane games that add to the appeal of fantasy.

I originally got into it when some friends of mine needed a 10th to complete their league and after week 1 of the regular season I was hooked. Perhaps it allowed me to role play just as a Dungeons and Dragons player acts as a wizard or knight while playing I was able to act as a general manager. Or maybe it made the games on Sunday more exciting. It could just be feeding my competitive fire with the sport I love the most. Or possibly it was simply giving me someone besides my home team to root for (and trust me when you’re a Raider fan you need to be able to root for someone who doesn’t shoot themselves in the foot). All of these reasons and more are why I became hooked and fantasy draft day is marked on my calendar months in advance.