Flyovers Perfect for Sports – Bad for News

First of all a confession.

I was reading something in USA Today this morning.

No – I didn’t buy the Gannett flyover news. I bought the local rag. A couple months back the local daily added a USA Today section to the paper and doubled the size of its sports section by inserting national coverage from you-know-who. It’s part of the continuing dumbing-down of American newspapers.

But my opinions on USA Today and the current state of local coverage and the news business in general are no secret. I offered them in a commentary (OK diatribe) on “McNews” when the local rag boosted the sheer bulk of its ‘content’ by adding more flyovers – these from USA Today.

But to mangle Shakespeare I am here not to bury the local rag but to praise it.

As bad as flyovers are for coverage of ‘real’ news, they are perfect for sports. In the artificial worlds of the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball (and I assume in other sports I don’t pay much attention to) simply printing box scores and tossing in a few comments about highlights is, in fact, perfect. Context, history, balance, detail, nuance…none of these matter much in sports coverage.

More confession:

I don’t watch the NBA. I grew up in Kentucky, and basketballs bounce in my brain. I played in high school and in college. I played league and pick-up ball until it became obvious even to me it was time to hang it up. I will spare you all my curmudgeonly reasons for not watching the NBA.

But the other day I was going through the box scores in the USA Today sports section of the local rag. Yes, I’m still a hoops geek. Can’t help myself.

Anyway I was looking at the box for the Toronto Raptors. I noticed right away that there were lots of shots taken by guards and damn few by forwards and centers. And the ‘bigs’ (the taller guys that play closer to the basket, for the uninitiated) made a much higher percentage of their shots.

This is typical for the generation – actually two generations in basketball terms – that learned to play by watching SportsCenter.

But I stray from my point. My point is that flyover coverage is perfect for sports.

So I checked a few Raptor box scores, purely as an academic exercise. I do recognize a name or two on that roster, but not most. What I noticed was a trend: guards shooting 4 for 15 on a regular basis and big men shooting 6 for 8.

This again is not uncommon. A player with the ball in his hands is far more likely to shoot it than one without. The guards bring the ball up and therefore have the ball in their hands far more often than the bigs.

And when the 3 was added the percentages of the game changed. A bad percentage shooter can convince himself he’s a contributor just by making one occasionally.

Again I wander from my point.

I once again was perusing the USA Today sports section in the local rag this morning, and came across a list of weekly NBA power ratings voted on by Gannett’s own panel of NBA geeks.

The Raptors weighed in at 17th among the league’s 30 teams. The comment was “The key bigs shoot better than 50 percent. The key guards shoot under 42 percent. Guess who’s shooting more?”

So reading the flyover coverage had told me all I needed to know about the Toronto Raptors. Flyover coverage is perfect for sports.

But I do not vote for who runs the Toronto Raptors. If their players or coaches perform poorly, or don’t understand their jobs, or are oblivious to empirical evidence that challenges their own prejudices and preconceived notions, even if they benefit themselves personally and their associates by doing things that are against the best interests of their organization – if for example the guards never figure out they should be striving for better shots, not more shots – it doesn’t impact my life in the slightest.

That is not true of ‘real’ news.

And that, at long last, is my point.

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