David Stern Posterizes the Times

On October 14, 2007, in General, by Neil Stevens

Posterize (v): In sports, the act of making a spectacular play good enough to be immortalized on a poster, and in so doing embarassing the victim of your play with the indignity of being on your poster for all time. See Michael Jordan pushing off of Bryon Russell to make his game winning shot in the NBA Finals, or Vince Carter dunking on the Australian center in the Olympics.

For many years, professional sports leagues depended on the press for survival. Before television, the newspaper was the only way to know how your teams did, and certainly how your team stood versus the rest of the league. Before the Internet grew in popularity, it was still the only way to get in-depth information about your team’s present and future. So the leagues not only tolerated reporters but welcomed them, coddled them, and required players to do the same. Even now, leagues will fine players and coaches who show open hostility to the press.

And yet, the time of the newspapers has passed. Their circulations are dwindling, as are their staffing and utility. Many newspapers failed to cover major events in the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs, just as many California newspapers fail to cover events in Sacramento. So I’ve been wondering for a while how long it would be before sports leagues pushed back against the press when they show their biases.

As it turns out, I began wondering at just the ideal time.

The mainstream press operates with its own agenda with every major story, including those in the sports world. There are media-declared heroes and villians who either never get a fair shake, or never get the criticism they deserve. If your name is David Eckstein, Jason Kidd, or Paul Tagliabue, that’s great. If your name is Alex Rodriguez, Kobe Bryant, or Bud Selig, that’s a problem.

But now the biases have become so pronounced, that the entire NBA has become under attack as a league. Fights in the NHL are laughed off as jokes. Masses of arrests or positive steroids tests in the NFL are swept under the rug. But everything that ever happens in the NBA is, yes, spun in the worst possible way for that league, and Commissioner David Stern is sick of it.

In the most recent NBA ‘scandal,’ an employee of Madison Square Garden, the corporation that owns the New York Knicks, sued MSG and Knicks Coach/GM Isiah Thomas for sexual harassment. The press coverage of the trial was horrific: it was biased against Thomas from step one, and the reporters routinely failed to understand the difference between civil and criminal court; some headlines at the end of the trial (which was won the plaintiff) read “Thomas found guilty,” even though it was a civil trial and the jury awarded no damages from Thomas personally, but rather only from MSG.

Despite this though, the reporters continued to come after Thomas’s blood. They went to David Stern and asked if the league would punish him, and when Stern refused to make headlines, they even turned around and lied about Stern’s response to the question, judging by this quote from Stern recorded by Steve Aschburner of Sports Illustrated, made at a press conference in London:

Unfortunately, once again the New York Times headline writer said something that didn’t appear in the text of my remarks, and the remarks themselves were badly mangled. Fortunately, I have my own transcript; one has to do that with the New York Times. What I said then was it was still under consideration.

This wasn’t his only attack on the Times, either. When pressed on whether the league would take action on more referees accused of gambling by Tom Donaghy, who has pled guilty to offenses related to his cooperating with the Mafia to influence the scores of games, Aschburner quotes Stern as addressing the questions with this:

“I’ve got a bunch of hard-working, law-abiding referees and because one of their number has confessed to being a felon [Stern emphasized the word] by betting on his own games and by giving information to draw into question the integrity of the other officials … would be like me saying Jayson Blair [fabricating newspaper stories], ‘how can I trust you?’ I deal with officials as human beings.”

The NBA under Stern has made great efforts to reach out directly to its customers, making strong use of the Internet, which is only bound to get better over time. This frees the NBA to challenge the press, no longer its lifeblood, when the truth is mangled or even fabricated by those outlets.

There is a lesson here for the Republican Party and its elected leaders, if anyone looks.


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