A couple of days ago, I was watching some sort of programming on ESPN when I saw an advertisement for the Little League World Series. It was the typical sports ad that showcased the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, and it really drove home how badly these kids want to win, and how they’re doing it without any glitz and glamour.
While they’re (hopefully) not being paid or coddled like professional athletes, there has been a significant rise in the celebrity of the prep athlete, with recruiting websites that now make big money and with events like the LLWS drawing well-above-average ratings for the company.
These young boys and girls bring in big money for the network and their respective schools, and while it may help launch a pro career or two, most of the profits go into the pockets of the respective networks and event sponsors.
That bothers me – a lot – but not necessarily for the reason you might think. What bothers me is not that the networks profit; it’s why they profit.
Watching a prep sporting event has become more like watching a soap opera than a baseball game. I cannot tell you how many times I saw a camera cut to a kid who had made an error and had tears in his eyes, or the closeup of a sobbing 11-year-old who had just struck out or had been pulled off the mound.
Some may argue it’s showing the passion the kids have for the sport. I vehemently disagree. We see the passion the kids have for the sport because they wouldn’t be on that stage if they didn’t.
Yes, there are cases when kids are so talented it wouldn’t have mattered if they cared about the sport, but that’s far from the norm. The fact is, most of these young men and women are probably never going to play baseball at the professional level, and very few will even play past high school.
So why do the networks chose to show the bawling second baseman or the sobbing pitcher? Because we’ve become obsessed with drama.
The morning shows on sports networks are dominated by “embrace debate” talking heads, and social media has made our opinions of our favorite – and more often least favorite – athletes all the more public.
And when you can combine the drama of a crying 12-year-old with the spectacle of sport, and you don’t have to pay them?
It’s not just the LLWS. Networks dedicate hours upon hours of coverage where kids are committing to go to college. Time after time, you see a 17- or 18-year-old sitting there with three different college hats, and they make them go through the charade of pretending to put on one hat before they ultimately choose which college they commit to.
And, yes, I do mean they make them, because I know for a fact that certain networks will only air commitments if they’re willing to go through the show of making one school a winner and at least one a loser. It’s not about a kid choosing where he’ll spend the next three or four years, it’s about why he “disrespected” the other school.
Don’t believe me? Read a message forum sometime.
I’m not saying these events shouldn’t be televised; I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase amateur athletics at their peak, and there’s nothing wrong with giving kids their 15 minutes of fame.
Just keep in mind the next time you see a closeup on a crying child that it’s not about passion, it’s about profits.Sports Editor Chris Crawford can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_chris.