OP-EDS

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April 25, 2006

Sports pundits must stick to what they know

The recent Reggie Bush scandal has fortuitously given sports pundits something more scandalous than Keith Hernandez’s sexist remarks or the proper nickname for Lebron James in which to indulge. This scandal undoubtedly gives broadcast sportswriters the opportunity to engage in that empty investigative journalism they seem to love so much. Trey Wingo’s interview with Reggie Bush Monday afternoon proved to be particularly shameless in this regard. The analysis of the ambiguously omnipresent Woody Paige concerning the scandal brought sports journalism to even greater depths of disgrace by citing various NCAA predicates as if his eager intern had not Googled them for him a few minutes before his broadcast.

The fault does not lie in the nature of broadcast sports journalism, however. I would never dare to impugn shows like Pardon the Interruption, which, in an era of drab in-game sports broadcasting, bring an additional element of excitement and even intellectualism to American and, many times, international sports. This having been said, the treatment of the Bush situation within the media has simply gone too far.

Admittedly, I understand that the temptation to vilify Reggie Bush in this situation must be overwhelming for sports pundits. The $700,000 Southern California house that Bush’s mother and stepfather have recently moved into was purportedly leased by a shady, upstart sports promoter named nothing other than Michael Chief Michaels. Bush is no doubt a prime prospect in an upcoming NFL Draft replete with heirs apparent to various football legends. I would imagine that it is only good journalism to look for the potentiality of big lies behind the potentiality of big money.

Nevertheless, the sports-writing community has not made a reasonable attempt to sympathize with Bush’s unique vulnerability in a situation such as this. It is flagrantly opportunistic to name the Trojan warrior the next Gale Sayers in one week only to implicate him as a character in a football spinoff of the underrated sports flick Blue Chips the next. Reggie Bush has played a monumental part in the past few years of stellar college football. To abuse his willingness to appear on national television and address most likely fictitious charges is a travesty on the part of sports journalism. Sports journalists who have prospered greatly from including segments about Bush in their programs owe Bush more than trying to baffle him with obscure legal jargon.

At least the Duke scandal displayed some support for student athletes among sports punditry. Reggie Bush, perhaps the next great one in America’s most beloved game, has been given less credit than a rowdy bunch of lacrosse players. In many ways, however, the Bush scandal seems to have arisen as an opportunity for the few sportswriters who failed to cash in on the Duke fiasco to find redemption. Policy statements and amateurish interpretations of complex statutes simply do not belong in sports punditry. Both the sports pundits who sought to play and those who aspired to negate the race card, such as we have observed in the Duke situation, were blatantly out of their element. ESPN pundits have no business selfishly transcending pundit lines. Their realm is sports; leave the unqualified policy statements and amateurish legal analyses to pundits who are mildly educated in and more importantly paid to discuss such matters. I doubt that Michael Wilbon would much appreciate Chris Matthews joining the debate about whether Lebron James more closely resembles a young Magic or a young Michael.

Hopefully, Reggie Bush will survive the negative punditry to embrace his role deemed by all the positive punditry. Why don’t the pundits realize they are discrediting themselves? It is in their better interest to dismiss the Bush scandal rather than to add validity to it. A successful Reggie Bush will give them much more to talk about in the long run than a Reggie Bush disgraced and behind NCAA bars. There is a place for sports punditry but not sports sophistry.