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G.J. Vitale | Who’s on First?

Media’s role in sports

Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 14, 2013 22:02


ESPN The Magazine just came out with the “Music Issue” of their widely circulated publication. Featured in the issue are athletes recreating the covers of their favorite albums. Renditions included Olympic swimming sensation Ryan Lochte replacing the money-hungry baby from Nirvana’s “Nevermind” (1991), Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman as Michael Jackson on “Thriller” (1982) and, my personal favorite, U.S. Women’s Soccer star Alex Morgan lounging as Katy Perry on “One of the Boys” (2008).

I think this was one of the coolest ideas for an issue that ESPN The Magazine has had in recent memory. It’s fun, it’s different and it’s certainly something people will talk about. For a day they got to be rock stars — granted, that’s not a huge difference from their lives as big-shot athletes, but it’s a stretch nonetheless.

Which transitions into a related topic: how media outlets portray sports figures.

First, let me reiterate my absolute support of the Music Issue. I thought it was genius and gave the athletes a chance to break away from the usual photoshoots. More importantly, however, the images serve to bridge that expansive gap that sits between professional athletes and us normal people. You know the one: they get complimentary bottle service and the VIP room while you freeze outside as Pitbull is played yet again on your friend’s Pandora “Party Mix.” Yeah, that gap.

Second, I want to point out that I realize that deciding to shoot these album covers was not the idea of the athletes themselves, but instead the brainchild of those who work in the PR department at ESPN — “the worldwide leader in sports.”

Third, as a fan it isn’t hard to further adore one of your favorite athletes if they have just recreated an album by an artist you also adore. “We like the same music, too? We’re like the same person,” etc. It isn’t out of the question that Alex Morgan just tripled her fan base after being Katy Perry for a day.

Now that we have what I like to call a “relative framework” established we can talk about media’s role in the sports world.

The “Music Issue” brings to mind an obvious relationship, so let’s go there first. Music is as much a part of the big four (baseball, basketball, hockey and football) as any component. If you’ve ever been to a basketball game, you know that they continuously pump music through the sound system, even during play. Baseball has the luxury of “walk-out” songs, which hitters get to choose as their 10-20 second intro before they step up to the plate — probably the most personalized use of media by individual players during competition.

Hockey and football alike blast music during every stoppage of play and celebrate scores with an energetic fan favorite, perhaps Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400.” And no matter when the music is played at sporting events, the stadiums’ need for popular music to be played has made many artists richer than the players themselves. TV and Internet have developed a way to transform every detail of sporting events into a form of entertainment. ESPN has done the best job, by far, of delving into every means of communication and semi-journalistic possibility. Shows and websites dedicated solely to specific sports have created niches that have been enthusiastically received by the viewing public who are seeking more and more detailed analysis. Anchors like Stuart Scott and John Anderson are as recognizable as the athletes they talk about.

Media has its place in sports, and, for now, it seems like the two exist in a happy partnership, one boosting the experience of the other. At the end of the day, without the media, sports would lose their pizazz. After all, if people aren’t watching, money’s getting lost.

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