Sports and American Society

How sports affect American culture

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Final Assessment

I chose to focus my blog on sports, specifically in relation to American society. Throughout history sports have made a significant impact on sociological issues and continue to affect culture by means of competition, exposure, and entertainment. I used to play sports frequently and now enjoy watching as a fan, so I was especially anxious to use this blog as an opportunity of exploring specific areas within the field. The separate essays allowed me to include important aspects that comprise sports, including athletes who play the games and media outlets who feed constant information to the public. Within these essays I hoped to supply interesting and informative, scholarly material as well as present a distinct and analytic point-of-view.

Overall I am confident that my essays are focused and achieve the goals outlined above, however they could still be improved. My essay analyzing ESPN.com took a unique look into the number one source for online sports information. ESPN is a very active site so obviously not every detail could be mentioned but I covered at least the main page and subsequent options. The essay would benefit from more actual written examples, but I was able to include a paragraph featuring one of Bill Simmons’ columns. The second paper involved choosing a candidate to argue in favor of receiving an honorary degree from USC. Initially I thought of several names and then researched their biographies in order to ensure that I was selecting the best possible choice. It became clear that David Robinson showed outstanding public service in addition to his historic career in the NBA. I was able to write about Robinson’s many accomplishments that I had never known about, while also highlighting his key athletic achievements. The challenge in this paper was integrating material from the Martin and Freedman readings. Freedman related to the process of selecting honorees while Martin was less obvious. I would have liked the quotes to be more integrated into the essay but I did my best to use the readings whenever appropriate. I prefer this paper to the other because it has a better flow and I enjoyed writing about Robinson because he truly is deserving.

I far prefer the process of keeping a blog as opposed to turning in separate essays. Having the essays displayed in order forces each to relate back to the overall topic and work in tandem with the other posts. Blogs utilize the Internet through links and graphics, making the essays more complete and interesting to read. In addition, the essays were much less tedious to write.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

USC Honorary Degree: A Worthy Nomination

Every year USC awards an individual with an honorary degree, “the highest award that the University of Southern California confers.” This individual is nominated by “any faculty, staff, student, alumni or USC Trustee” and then selected by the Office of the Provost to deliver the commencement speech to the graduating class. As a USC student, I have evaluated each of the requirements and components necessary to be awarded an honorary degree. Based on these criteria, I nominate David Robinson to be this year’s award recipient in humane letters for the spring of 2007. As stated by James Freedman in his book Liberal Education and the Public Interest, “in bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most" (117). Robinson personifies these high ideals by excelling in his athletic profession and continuing to inspire through his various contributions and community efforts. When choosing a candidate, Freedman warns that “there are of course risks to colleges in the granting of honorary degrees. Perhaps the greatest risk is that a recipient will turn out, in retrospect, to have been ill-chosen" (130). Throughout his career and into retirement, Robinson has demonstrated the same reputable character and integrity that is upheld by this university. I am confident that Robinson is a solid and deserving candidate who would embody a positive example and present a dynamic speech to the graduating class of 2007.

David Robinson is a former NBA basketball player who is considered to be one of the greatest to ever play the game. Freedman touches on those concerned with celebrity nominations, stating that the honor is “trivialized by decisions to garner a fleeting moment of public attention by awarding an institution’s ultimate accolade to mere celebrities-who are often famous principally for being famous…In recent years, athletes have [even] come into favor" (126). While Robinson’s success within the NBA is not the full extent of his nomination, it is nonetheless significant and commendable. Athletes are an example of individuals taking something that they love and making it a career. While some may feel that athletics do not require adequate intellect to garner such acclaim, the high level of competition, strategy, and physical exertion certainly makes the profession credible. In this capacity, professional sports can be considered what Mike Martin calls in his book, Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professional Ethics, a craft motive. When describing sources of satisfaction within this category, he states that “individuals will tend to embrace professional ideals that evoke their interests and talents with sustained challenge and complexity” (22). Sports reflect this occupational concept by translating the action to the eager audience. Furthermore, USC’s reputation as a prestigious university benefits from selecting a candidate who is "highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor." Robinson had a historic career, even being selected in 1996 by the 50 Greatest Players in National Basketball Association History, indicating his place among the elite. During his time in the NBA, which lasted until 2003, Robinson made significant contributions both to his team and to the San Antonio community.

Robinson was a 7’1" center who was drafted as the number one pick by the 1987 San Antonio Spurs. Although drafted, he did not start his career until 1989 due to his obligation with the Navy. His father was an officer in the Navy, inspiring Robinson to enroll in the U.S. Naval Academy as a mathematics major upon completing high school. Robinson was 6’7" when he entered the Academy before growing seven more inches (students taller than 6’8" are not permitted to enroll). While at the Academy, Robinson played NCAA basketball where his final two years he was a consensus All-American. As a senior, Robinson was awarded two of the most prestigious honors in college basketball, the Naismith College Player of the Year and the John R. Wooden Awards. Even though he was drafted by the Spurs, he served two years in the Navy before being released from his final three years of service as a Lieutenant Junior Grade because he was too tall to be deployed. He remained a reserve and later participated in many recruitment campaigns for the Academy. Loyalty to his previous commitment came before his own individual pursuit in the NBA, of which he dedicated to one franchise. Throughout his career Robinson was nicknamed “The Admiral” based on his service as a United States Naval officer. The Academy helped shape Robinson to become a disciplined and educated human being.

Immediately upon entering the NBA, Robinson contributed to his team’s success. In his first year as a Spur, the team made the first round of the play-offs. His play resulted in his being honored as the 1989-1990 NBA Rookie of the Year. During the 1993-1994 season, Robinson entered the final game of the season against the Los Angeles Clippers needing sixty-nine points to exceed Shaquille O’Neal as the scoring champion. Robinson scored seventy-one, his career high, becoming only the fourth person in history to surpass seventy points in one game. The next year, Robinson was named MVP. Yet despite personal achievement and success, Robinson had not led the Spurs to win a championship. Things became worse when serious injuries in 1996 side-lined Robinson for all but six games and subsequently resulted in the Spurs finishing the season 20-62. Their horrendous season without Robinson resulted in the Spurs' ability to draft Tim Duncan as the top pick. Robinson and Duncan became known as the “Twin Towers,” quickly elevating the Spurs to success. The Spurs went on to defeat the New York Knicks to win the championship during the 1998-1999 lock-out season. When Robinson announced that he would retire following the 2003 season, the Spurs won their second championship to cap off Robinson’s celebrated career.

Robinson finished his career with an average of 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. He retired as a ten time NBA All-Star, scoring 20,790 total points. He is the only player in history to win the Rebounding, Blocked Shots, and Scoring Titles, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and MVP. In addition to these achievements, Robinson is the only American male basketball player in history to compete on three different Olympic teams. Before even playing NBA basketball, Robinson and the United States received a bronze medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In 1992, Robinson was a member of the “Dream Team” who won the gold in Barcelona. He was also part of the gold medal 1996 Atlanta Olympic team. While today NBA players are hesitant to compete in the Olympics due to the risk of injury and hostile nations, representing the USA was important to Robinson. He translated the patriotic ideals that he learned in the Navy into representing his country in basketball.

Perhaps even more impressive than his skills on the basketball court is Robinson’s dedication to sportsmanship and the contributions he has made to the San Antonio community. USC is looking for candidates “who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities, whether or not they are widely known by the general public.” This also includes individuals “who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which they are a part.” Robinson has taken the same work ethic that made him one of the top centers in history and translated those values into community efforts. He has demonstrated moral concern, which Martin describes as professionals “provid[ing] opportunities to make ongoing contributions to the well-being of others” (23). In 2001, Robinson won the NBA Sportsmanship Award for the free time that he had dedicated to various charities. Two years later, upon his retirement, the NBA renamed its award for outstanding charitable efforts in his honor. Every month a deserving player is honored with the NBA Community Assist Award and given the David Robinson Plaque, which is inscribed: “Following the standard set by NBA Legend David Robinson who improved the community piece by piece.” USC’s own code of ethics promotes behavior that is “fair and honest,” as well as “respecting the rights and dignity of all persons.” The NBA has recognized these behaviors in Robinson and hopes to encourage other players to emulate his efforts.

David Robinson has given back to San Antonio, helping improve the impoverished areas and encouraging children to pursue academics. In 1991, Robinson visited fifth graders at Gates Elementary School and challenged the students to continue their education, promising to give a $2000 scholarship to anyone who went to college. In 1998 Robinson awarded the students who met the challenge with an $8000 scholarship. Martin states that "in addition to earning money to pursue interests outside work, we seek activities and relationships at the workplace that are inherently meaningful in terms of our fundamental values" (11). Robinson has expressed his own values through the community work in which he has participated in order to help others benefit. He has been actively involved in many various charitable events which support the principles that he emphasizes. For example, arlier in his career he started the program “Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood,” which helped discourage kids from drug use, as well as the David Robinson Foundation. Additionally, he has been involved in the Make-A-Wish foundation, was a member of the NBA All-Star Reading Team, helped with the Tim Duncan Bowling For Dollars Charity Bowl-A-Thon, gave testimony at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Night, and participated in several awareness campaigns.

Robinson’s most commendable effort to date has been the school that he and his wife Valerie founded in 2001. The Carver Academy is a private elementary school for kids that is named after George Washington Carver, a respected botanist and teacher. The school was developed to help children of diverse backgrounds receive a quality education and an improved way of life. Robinson told Christianity Today that he especially had “a real concern for black and Hispanic boys having a hard time of it and living in crime-ridden areas…Our vision was to give children an education that would prepare them for success not only in their work, but also in their relationships with their families and communities.” Much of the curriculum and standards are based on the virtues outlined in the “Judeo-Christian scripture,” specifically “integrity, initiative, discipline, faith, and service.” Robinson states that “education is one of my big things. When you see kids' eyes light up when they've just learned something, that's exciting.” The Carver Academy follows many of the same ideals as USC, whose “central mission…is the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit” through “teaching, research, artistic creation, professional practice and selected forms of public service.” The Robinsons have donated more than $9 million to date, considered to be one of the largest donations given by any professional athlete. Through the cultivation of the Carver Academy, Robinson has demonstrated the qualities of “intellectual distinction and public service” (118) which Freedman stresses to be of chief emphasis when selecting an honorand.

In addition to his responsibilities as chairman of the Carver Academy, Robinson has devoted much of time to pursuing his Christian faith. Robinson was not active in any particular religion until he spoke with a minister in his second year of the NBA. Hearing the minister speak about his own faith and beliefs inspired Robinson to learn more about Christianity, and subsequently convert. In an interview with Christainity Today, Robinson remembers exactly when he began to integrate religion into his life: "I felt like a spoiled brat. Everything was about me, me, me. How much money can I make? It was all about David's praise and David's glory. I had never stopped to honor God for all he had done for me.” Today Robinson is even a part of the staff at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio. While religion is a very personal and somewhat controversial topic, Robinson celebrates his faith in a very appropriate and private manner. He is eager to inform those are curious about the Christian faith but certainly does not deliver unsolicited sermons at inappropriate times. Living his life as a Christian influences Robinson’s own morals and those he teaches to his three sons.

Through his endeavors, David Robinson has established a solid point-of-view that would make a powerful and memorable commencement address. Robinson’s message to graduates would be one of perseverance, drawing on his service in the Navy as a reminder about the importance of staying disciplined and honoring one’s commitment. Robinson’s legendary career brings him instant credibility in inspiring students to work as hard as possible to achieve their dreams in order to become the best in their respective fields. Basketball taught Robinson about perfecting his own skills while simultaneously forcing his team to learn how to work together in order to win. Robinson explains that, “you dream about having a team where everybody trusts each other.” It is this reliance and trust in others that consequently led to San Antonio’s two championships. One of Robinson’s most important points would be to remind the graduates that no matter what career they choose for themselves, it is important for them to use their time away from work wisely. Robinson devoted his own time away from the Spurs to family, religion, charity work, and opportunities like competing in the Olympics. Robinson could certainly transition to stress the importance of always working to help others through service and kindness. He has used his celebrity to give himself a platform to promote positive values and create change to benefit the community. Robinson’s message would impact graduates and certainly have them leaving USC with new insight.

David Robinson is more than just an athlete. He utilizes his position as a role model while still maintaining humility. Martin describes mixed motives by stating that “usually, though not always, work is inherently meaningful only when something more than money is gained" (21). Beyond his ability as a dominating center, Robinson has earned respect through his gracious demeanor and generosity. He has used his influence as a basketball star to present a positive influence on children and teach the concepts that he believes. Robinson recognizes his role as a public figure while still striving to uphold his integrity: “What I need to do is have a great positive attitude and a great work ethic. Those two things validate me. Yes, it's important that I have good numbers, and I'm well-respected as a player. But I think it's more important that I'm respected as a man.” David Robinson deserves an honorary degree from USC for his work as a patriot, philanthropist, humanitarian, leader, and champion.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

ESPN.com: Exploring An Effective Sports Website

Over 147 million people use the Internet, a resource that has become a universal device for people all over the world to access information and keep in touch through online social networks. According to the latest trends (as of February 2004) on Pew Internet & American Life Project, 73% of all adults use the Internet, with 43% of Internet users “check[ing] sports scores or info” and 11% doing this on a daily basis. ESPN (Entertaining and Sports Programming Network) is an advanced website that is easily the most recognizable name in sports broadcasting and information. ESPN.com reflects an online version of the television station’s main purpose of supplying scores, news updates, and commentary in every major sport from around the world. People who want to find out sports news will visit ESPN’s website because it has established logos, or credibility within the sports market. They work under the .com domain in the media genre, using their slogan as the site's banner, proclaiming themselves "The Worldwide Leader in Sports." Recently ESPN.com has been recognized by The Webby Awards, who every year compile a list of nominees representing the top websites in a particular category. This year's Webby Award Winner and People’s Voice Winner in sports were both awarded to ESPN.com. While ESPN is an established site with many strengths that make it such a popular sports resource, there are still weaknesses which could be improved to make it even more informative and user-friendly.

The demographic of the intended reader is anyone who enjoys sports, but is mostly focused on men between the ages of approximately twenty-five to fifty. This can be inferred based on the general sports-watching audience as well as the demographic of the ESPN sportswriters themselves, almost all of whom fall into this designation. The Page 2 option on the top bar of each page provides a scroll-down short-cut to some of the most popular sportswriters who write for ESPN.com. Of those fourteen names, only Mary Buckheit is a woman. Although Buckheit has the liberty to write about any topic that she wishes to cover, her mini-biography on her archives page describes her main focus as “college softball” and the “X-Games.” Neither of these two sports fall into the four majors (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) that most people want to read about. These columnists represent the predominantly white, upper middle class, male point-of-view who represents ESPN's main market.

The content is presented through a variety of different options that the reader can select. The Webby Awards describe content as being “not just text, but music, sound, animation, or video-anything that communicates a sites body of knowledge.” The homepage is used as a template designating links to each of these mediums, which include objective news stories as well as commentaries written by ESPN sportswriters. All of the content that the Web Style Guide describes as being “above the fold,” represents the most important and pertinent sports stories that viewers want to read. This includes scores, headlines, objective news stories, and commentaries by ESPN columnists.

ESPN Motion allows viewers to play interviews and various clips by selecting one of the options on the scroll-down menu. Often a commercial will immediately begin playing when the page loads, which the viewer must play through to its entirety in order to be allowed to view and listen to the desired clip. This can be a nuisance if the noise is unexpected or the visitor is forced to continue clicking it off whenever they log onto the site. If you don't include controls, users will hit your page with no way to control their viewing environment…Many users in this situation will simply close the browser window to make the sound stop, which means that they never get to see the page content.” ESPN Motion is a young feature that many sites are now trying to utilize by offering technology similar to what can be found on YouTube. This creates another level of on-demand service which especially appeals to the younger consumer.

ESPN’s homepage is structured concisely through links and visuals, but could certainly be somewhat overwhelming for a first-time visitor. The Web Style Guide describes that in terms of navigation, “in complex sites with multiple topic areas it is not practical to burden the home page with dozens of links — the page grows too long to load in a timely manner, and its sheer complexity may be off-putting to many users.” One of the difficulties in designing a page to hold such a large amount of information is the organization and ease of navigation. The consistency of the page layouts assist in familiarizing the reader with how to maneuver around the site. The scroll-down, main story, headlines, videos, and opinions are all in thesame location on the different pages, depending on what sport the reader selects. The Webby Awards elaborate that effective navigation “allow[s] you to form a mental model of the information provided, where to find things, and what to expect when you click.” Certain sports like soccer will change the main topic bar to reflect the different areas within that specific page, but the bar remains the same for the four major sports. Additionally, there is a search bar and supplied links to resources including a site map, contact information, and a help guide. These features make the website easier to use, specifically if the reader wants to find older articles or is having troubleshoot problems.

ESPN’s website has evolved favorably over the years, in terms of visual appeal and functionality. The Internet Archive allows one to view these changes to as far back as 1999 (shown below), when the homepage was more condensed and had significantly less graphics. By 2002, the page moved more towards how it looks now except that the links were on the far left. Most viewers going on ESPN will be navigating away from the homepage, which is much easier to do with the present site because everything is at the top in a scroll-down format. The older version forces the user to go down the page and click a couple of links before finding exactly what they want.












The visual design of the site is especially important for entertainment websites. "This audience needs to be grabbed immediately by compelling graphic and text presentations, or they'll simply hop somewhere else in search of stimulation." The design is very attractive and appropriate for each topic. “Good visual design is high quality, appropriate, and relevant for the audience and the message it is supporting.” The pictures are crisp and arranged in a way to make it easy for the viewer to select what they want to read. Because there is so much going on in each page, it can take older browsers longer to load but anyone with current settings should not have a delay. The links are all active and support the functionality of the site.

One of the drawbacks to visiting ESPN.com is the constant barrage of advertisements. The Web Style Guide points out that “unfortunately, content presentation in entertainment and magazine sites is consistently marred by the intrusion of banner ads, whose winking, blinking, and blaring colored boxes interfere with on-screen reading.” ESPN’s website utilizes moving advertisements, one as a banner at the very top of the page, and another near the headlines. Both are placed at the sightlines where visitors are almost certainly going to view them. Additionally, when a story is selected, a moving advertisement is placed just to the right of the text, often distracting the reader.

Some of the content on ESPN.com acts as self-promotion. The top of the homepage shows what program is on the ESPN channel at that moment as well as throughout the day. Another link enables visitors to stream ESPN Radio through their computer, allowing people to listen without a radio. In addition, many of the advertisements are marketing ESPN programs like Game Plan, College Game Day, and Sports Nation. A more indirect form of ESPN promotion is through content that is specifically linked to sporting events that can only be watched on ESPN. For example, there is a page called ESPN Monday Night Surround which focuses solely on Monday Football. This page offers predictions, analysis, fantasy picks, and previews. A large portion is devoted to “Fan Challenge,” where fans can submit their picks and climb the leader board. In addition all of the programming relating to the game is advertised, including Monday Night Advantage, SportsCenter, and Monday Night Countdown. A similar set-up was available during the X-Games, which were primarily broadcasted on ESPN.

The commentary and analysis articles written by ESPN sportswriters often reflect the topics from the news stories. If a person is looking for information on a specific team beyond basic statistics and rosters, ESPN is only a good reference if that team is currently in the news. ESPN columnists approach a story from a macroscopic level, where the articles are focused more on the entire league rather than one specific team. The articles are insightful and often entertaining, but rather limited in the discussion of certain details about minor transactions, players, or team organization information.
Bill Simmons (aka the Sports Guy), unquestionably one of ESPN’s most popular writers, combines sarcasm and random pop culture tangents into his sports columns. An example would be the article "Sports Guy Seal of Approval," which summarized the summer’s most important sports moments. Simmons summarizes the US Open by divulging that he “never really liked Agassi,” while simultaneously describing “Andy Roddick, [as] the homeless man's Agassi whose career peaked off the tennis court when he hosted ‘SNL’ and dated Mandy Moore.” His article begins with the statement: “I don't care about tennis anymore. Haven't in some time, actually.” Sports fans looking for an objective opinion would not feel the need to read any further due to Simmons’ own declaration establishing his distaste and lack of interest. Simmons’ readers, on the other hand, welcome his aversion because they know that the following assessment will be honest, critical, and worth reading in terms of entertainment value.

Another important feature of an effective website is its interactivity, or “input/output, as in searches, chat rooms, e-commerce and gaming or notification agents, peer-to-peer applications and real-time feedback.” While there is a search box on each page, the interactivity of ESPN’s site is mostly reserved forESPN Insiders.” Insiders pay a monthly fee that gives them a subscription to ESPN The Magazine as well as a username and password that allow the subscriber to view any article indicated by the orange “in” box. Insider articles are written by ESPN sportswriters, usually as a commentary or analysis. This feature significantly reduces the amount of material a non-subscriber can read off of the website. Many of the writers also have chats, in which anyone can submit a question and watch live as the writers answer the ones that they select. Upon the conclusion of the chat, only insiders are able to access the contents. So while anyone can submit a question, only insiders are able to read the responses.

In terms of overall experience, ESPN’s website succeeds in informing their viewers about sports through various execution and simple navigation. The site can be used to quickly check the score in a game or to spend a more significant amount of time reading the commentaries and watching various interviews or highlights. It appeases both casual and dedicated sports fans.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Perspective on the NBA: Responses to Other Blogs

This week instead of posting a traditional entry, I will share some comments that I submitted to two other blogs relating to sports, specifically professional basketball. The first is from blogmaverick, a blog belonging to the Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban. I am always interested to read Cuban’s entries, which range in topic from business and technology to the NBA. This particular post is in reference to Team USA and the frustration over international rules after their recent loss to Greece. The best basketball players in the world play in the NBA, which is comprised mostly of American talent. Yet, Team USA has not dominated worldwide competition.
The second blog entry I responded to was from True Hoop, a basketball website belonging to sports writer Henry Abbott. This topic dealt with the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program, which requires rookies attend a series of lectures about what to expect in the NBA and how to make the right decisions regarding finances, the media, and even groupies.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Andre Agassi Retiring: A New Shift in American Male Tennis

Yesterday Roger Federer won his third straight U.S. Open title, but the match to watch had long been over. Earlier in the week Andre Agassi ended a twenty-year career at age 36, losing 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-5 to qualifier Benjamin Becker. It took Agassi four cortisone shots in five days in order to finish his run at the tournament he won just three years ago.

After the match, Agassi walked onto the center of Arthur Ashe Stadium where he addressed the crowd for a final time and wept as they gave him a 4-minute standing ovation. The speech was heartfelt and moving, with Agassi attributing the fans to much of his success. “You have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I've found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed sometimes even in my lowest moments…I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life.”

Agassi proved to be one of the most entertaining men to watch through his style of play and natural charisma. Agassi has always been a crowd favorite, with his matches frequently held at night as the headliner to close each evening. His rivalry with the all-time great Pete Sampras matches that of McEnroe and Connors before them. While Sampras perfected the serve and volley, Agassi pounded the ball in the backcourt and relied on his athletics to run to each shot across the court. As he has gotten older, Agassi has continued to get stronger and it has been inspiring to watch him keep competing even when his ranking slipped and his body gave out.

Agassi retiring marks the last of the remaining American male veterans, following Jim Courier, Michael Chang, and Sampras. Just as those names once dominated men’s tennis, the new crop of American male players including Andy Roddick, James Blake, and Robby Ginepri, have all struggled to maintain solid records. Roddick has been the most hopeful prospect, but has been inconsistent and has yet to prove himself as a serious contender against Federer. Roddick’s record against Federer is now 1-12, with yesterday’s loss the third time Federer had defeated Roddick in the finals of a major.

This is now officially the Roger Federer era of tennis, with the twenty-five year old Swiss winning his 9th major and 41st career title. Federer is quickly chasing Sampras’ all-time major record of 14, with several years left in his career and no obvious American threats to stop him.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Representation and Image: The Role of Media in Influencing the Public

Terrell Owens played his first NFL game in over ten months last Thursday, marking his debut with the Dallas Cowboys. Fans gave his performance a standing ovation, a stark contrast to the drama and questions that have followed Owens since signing with the team in March. Owens was in the news again last week when he missed practice because he “overslept.” This marked the 20th practice that Owens has missed this early into football season, leading to a fine of $9,500 from the team. Often the media is blamed by players and teams for blowing up situations into something bigger than they are. Clearly the media plays an important role in portraying athletes a certain way to the public, but when is their representation considered accurate and when is it exploitative?

Owens’ career has been dominated by his controversial comments and actions that he has taken against his former teams, most notably his much publicized fall-out with the Philadelphia Eagles that led to his suspension from the team. But despite all of the negative press he has received, Owens remained the top free agent this off-season, landing a three-year, $25 million contract that even included a $5 million signing bonus. Instead of working to rebuild his reputation as a dependable wide receiver, Owens has fallen plague to the same criticisms he has faced in the past. In case anyone is questioning how much time Owens is actually spending exercising on a bike to heal his hamstring, T.O. took it upon himself to wear a Tour de France racing uniform as a reflection of his commitment to rehabilitation. The media is looking for a perspective that will attract readers and keep them entertained. When you say something stupid, it makes a bigger headline. When you dress up to say something stupid, you risk looking like an idiot.

The media has tremendous influence over who’s going to dominate headlines, with personality now as important as talent. Sponsorships and advertising contracts continue to be a huge generator of revenue for individual athletes. Players must hold universal appeal in order to get large companies to pay them millions of dollars for an endorsement of their product. In the NBA, athletes like Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James are much more likely to head a campaign than Tim Duncan or Steve Nash. O’Neil has built a reputation within the media that allows him to say outrageous comments while still maintaining overall likeability. On the other hand, an athlete like Kobe Bryant isn’t given the same freedom when addressing the public through the media. As a result of his own circumstances that have been played out by the media, Bryant only this past year finally filmed a commercial with Nike in which he used his relationship with the media and his public image as the concept of the “love me or hate me” ad.

Regardless of what eventually gets printed, Terrell Owens’ strong debut against the Minnesota Vikings and public reception emphasizes the power balance of media control. In sports, physical performance will always indicate the value of an athlete. So as long as T.O. continues to make big plays and Kobe Bryant keeps hitting big shots, fans will consequently show their support and pay to see them perform.