Spin Control: Why Objectivity is Missing in the Mainstream Sports Media
Help. We’re trapped. We love sports. We love to talk sports. And we love to hear sports talk. But every time we turn on the radio to listen to "Drive Time Sports" or "Sports Rap," we hear the same ol’ one-sided commentary. Appearing to lack any ounce of objectivity, these shows offer the football program exactly what it wants: all positive, all the time.
But should anybody be surprised? The hosts of these two shows are intimately connected to the Arkansas athletic department. Chuck Barrett, the host of "Sports Rap," is the play-by-play announcer for Razorback baseball. He also hosts the pre-game, halftime and post-game radio coverage for Razorback football broadcasts. Rick Schaeffer, co-host of "Drive Time Sports," is the color commentator for Razorback basketball and shares a booth with Barrett during the Razorback baseball season. What do you think they’re going to say?
These are the only two guys who offer a forum for Razorback fans to call and express their comments about Razorback athletics, and particularly Razorback football and basketball. So we’re stuck. If we want to hear Razorback sports talk, we have to turn it on. But we can’t listen long. It’s impossible because it seems that each show’s objective is to protect the Razorback athletic department, and to an even more apparent degree, Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt.
How many times have Randy Rainwater and Chuck Barrett cut-off a caller because he expressed a negative opinion of Houston Nutt? Remember when Rainwater invited comments about what fans thought was wrong with the football program at the end of last season? His one caveat: no comments about the coaching.
Hey Randy, maybe that is what’s wrong with Razorback football.
How many eight- or nine-win seasons has Rick Schaeffer predicted during the Houston Nutt era? And what happens when Nutt’s teams fail to meet Rick’s expectations? No accountability and a host of excuses, combined with a heaping of helping of bright-eyed talk about next season. We’re still waiting for Schaeffer to withdraw his “Houston Nutt will win a national championship” comment.
Now, those who may be on the other side of the argument will say that we think they’re not objective because we don’t agree with what they say. Maybe so. But here’s the difference. We’re not on the payroll. Our jobs (thankfully) don’t depend on our opinions.
Unfortunately, the bias doesn’t stop with the radio media. Look no further than the operators of the two Razorback pay message boards: Hawgs Illustrated operated by Clay Henry and Razor’s Edge where Otis Kirk appears as the chief recruiting commentator.
Clay and Otis have a tendency to ban people from their premium boards for expressing negative opinions about Razorback athletics, and particularly about Houston Nutt. We know. We’ve been banned from both for doing just that. Banned? Seriously. Grow up.
Of course what Clay and Otis do with these message boards is their business. After all, their sites are private and you have to pay a fee to join. But what is bothersome is that Clay and Otis, like Randy and Chuck and Rick, hold themselves out as reporters. Reporters shouldn’t push personal agendas and should disclaim conflicts of interest.
Anybody remember Kirk’s defense of Houston Nutt’s offensive schemes when compared to the offensive schemes employed by Florida Head Coach Urban Meyer shortly after Ben Cleveland of Springdale High School committed to play football for the University of Florida? Kirk, recruiting guru, spent an entire column arguing that Ben Cleveland would succeed under Nutt and not under Meyer (this was in the pre-Gus Malzahn days). While we’re glad Cleveland is at Arkansas, there’s no way that, in Nutt’s old offense, he’d be a more prepared tight end for the NFL under Nutt than he would have been under Meyer, even if he got more minutes on the field. But Kirk was there, basically criticizing Cleveland’s school decision.
And speaking of reporters, let’s talk Wally Hall. We’re just going to tell it like we think it is. Wally writes positively about the coaches he likes personally, and negatively about the ones he doesn’t.
For example, Hall argued that after back-to-back 4-7 seasons, Danny Ford had to be fired. After Houston Nutt’s second consecutive losing season, Hall argued that the same standard should not apply to Nutt because 1) Razorback fans, while very angry, are not apathetic, and 2) Nutt won five game in 2004. Hall made this second comment on his radio show “The Show With No Name” on KABZ, "The Buzz" 103.7 with Tommy Smith and David Bazzel.
Anyone who thinks Arkansas should wait before 20,000 people are attending football games or until fans are more interested in the fate of their junior high football team than the Hogs is not thinking rationally. That, or it’s someone who loves the coach too much to write objectively.
One thing has become certain when it comes to Arkansas athletics: Have no fear from your statewide media. It’s not because they lack the ability; they simply have a vested interest not to. Sometimes it seems personal, and other times it’s business.
So don’t expect much different this season. When players report to two-a-days in August, all we’ll hear is how great this season will be. And when the Hogs stumble, out will come the excuses. Spin control at its finest.
J.R. and Henry blog this sports column at Little Rocking twice a week.