Clay Travis unveiled his Mount Rushmore of coronabros last month.
Unfamiliar with coronabros? “Coronabros” is a neologism coined by Travis for sports journalists who trade in what Travis calls “fear porn.” They enthusiastically trumpet the most onerous coronavirus statistics possible in an effort to frighten sports officials from recommencing their sports leagues, and to discourage fans from insisting that sports can safely return to their erstwhile prominence in America’s everyday life.
How odd to find so many sports pundits arguing against the return of sports. It’s like movie critics hating on Cannes or Sundance or multiplexes, or restaurant critics who refuse to eat out.
And Clay Travis? He’s an author, radio host, blogger, and sports controversialist who runs a website called Outkick (formerly Outkick the Coverage) and exhibits a freedom from mainstream media cant and herd thinking that is nearly singular on the American sports scene. Currently he’s lobbying vociferously for a full return of American sports. He is such an infusion of fresh air in the stultified world of sports journalism that the Washington Post ran a lengthy hit piece on him a week or so ago. His bona fides also feature being banned from CNN.
Mount Rushmore, I assume, retains sufficient cultural cachet to obviate further definition, despite recent attacks. Travis lists four coronabros he finds egregious and nominates their names for statuary memorialization, but in reality, there are enough coronabros writing, blogging, and broadcasting in American sports media to fill a couple dozen Mount Rushmores. Any naming of names would surely hurt the feelings of those omitted.
How odd, though, to find so many sports pundits arguing against the return of sports. It’s like movie critics hating on Cannes or Sundance or multiplexes, or restaurant critics who refuse to eat out. Or, for that matter, politicians who hate their country trying to get elected to be leaders of their country.
But I digress. Antipathy toward a full return to athletic activity — motivated, at least partially, by the belief that more normalcy in American life, in the form of a full sports menu, helps President Trump’s reelection efforts — is simply the latest cause du jour of the sportswriting profession. In case you haven’t noticed, sports journalism has become increasingly politicized.
Which is not a shock, if you think about it. Once a great escape from the turmoil, or drudgery, of everyday life, sports themselves have become political. In the wake of the death of George Floyd, the major sports leagues are falling all over themselves attempting to out-“woke” each other.
Players kneeling for the pregame national anthem, anathema just a year ago, are de rigueur these days, as teams drop to their knees en masse for the song — defy the kneel-down and face ostracization. One league will be featuring an additional anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” called the black national anthem, at the beginning of week one NFL games. So, how will that work? Players kneel for the national anthem and stand in honor of the black anthem? A lot Budweiser will be coming up through the noses of die-hard football fans when they see that.
Sports uniforms, too, have gone “woke.” In the NBA, player names on the backs of jerseys have been replaced by slogans, like “Say Their Names” or “I Can’t Breathe.” The NFL is allowing players to wear personal names on the backs of their helmets — like Floyd, Breonna Taylor, et al. This in a league with a dress code right out of a military prep school: fines are levied for wearing the wrong socks or for wearing the right socks in the wrong way, or for scribing a mother’s or a father’s cancer-victim name across one’s eye black.
Even the playing fields have become canvases for social justice. The NBA has plastered the “Black Lives Matter” slogan prominently across the courts of the “bubble,” and the NFL will be featuring social-justice end-zone messages for its games.
As for coaches and players, we turn for exemplars to the wokest of the woke, the NBA. Two of the elite coaches in that league — Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich — see fit to engage President Trump in contentious argle-bargle, and the league’s best player, LeBron James, might consider installing a podium and teleprompter in front of his locker, so voluble on things political is he.
Reporters covering the major sports leagues are forced to at least acknowledge the political element in the stories they cover. The problem is, the mainstream sports media, like their counterparts on the local and national desks, march lockstep to a leftist drum. Writes Bryan Curtis, in a lengthy 2017 piece on lefty sports reporting in the Ringer: “Today, sportswriting is basically a liberal profession, practiced by liberals who enforce an unapologetically liberal code.”
That code entails near-unanimous agreement on politically tinged issues, to wit: college athletes should be paid; hard-hitting play in the NFL is bad; team names that putatively offend must be stricken; pay equality should be demanded for women soccer and tennis players; players who leave their teams during their seasons to be with wives having babies are to be applauded; gay athletes are to be celebrated, even when they are mediocre at their chosen sport; refusing to visit the Trump White House as part of a championship celebration is to be commended.
Curtis unpacks the reasons for the leftist slant in sportswriting, some of which deal with the ubiquity of the internet. The web has rendered game stories redundant — most fans have watched or listened to games themselves, or can access web stories in real time, and don’t need to read an account of the proceedings — which frees sportswriters to write features and analyses … and to include their slant on politics. It’s pretty difficult to insert political opinions into “Phillies 4, Reds 3; Harper Homer in 10th Wins It” but not so hard into “Steph Curry Endorses Biden.”
The web has also made every writer from every market a national writer. While this packs obvious benefits — you can read your hometown columnist — an opinion that might play well in the author’s home area, because it’s posted online, is also read by scold squads at national sports websites that impose their morality on their readership. This has the effect of neutering speech, or silencing it. Writes Curtis: “I suspect a lot of sportswriters who might be right-leaning either get on the train or don’t write about politics at all.”
And then there’s the “toy department” angle — the stigma sportswriters feel of being consigned to write about ephemera. Sports reporters have always wanted to be more than sports reporters, and many pine for a spot on the political beat. The confluence of sports and politics scratches that itch and allows them to wax political all they want and remain in the sports department.
But Occam’s razor applies here. The principal reason sports reporting trends left is that sports reporters are lefties. They are simply the branch of social-justice-warrioring in journalism devoted to sports. They are the woke that write about sports.
Clay Travis is one boot kicking a hole in that woke world. In the Washington Post piece, Travis claimed the woke sports establishment was fighting for a mere 20 percent of the consumers of sports and sports reporting. “I think people are cutting each other left and right, battling to be the media company that serves that left-wing component.” On his website he elaborates: “I think [Outkick is] serving the 75 or 80% of sports fans who feel like sports has become far too serious and political.”
That 75 or 80 percent is a big, and good, number. Maybe the organs that dispense sports to us will see it and attempt to satisfy those customers.