On Monday news broke that several members of the Miami Marlins had tested positive for the coronavirus. The reaction on Twitter among sports media was swift: the general consensus immediately became that it was virtually impossible for the NFL or college football to play this fall and that Major League Baseball should consider either stopping the season or canceling it altogether.
It was yet another moment where it seemed to me the sports media rushed to share bad news on coronavirus testing, while typically avoiding all good news. Indeed, Major League Baseball would announce later that same day that the Marlins were the only team that had any players testing positive since the season began and that 99.6% of all tests, numbering over 6400, had been negative.
Bad news about the coronavirus in sports seems to spread like wild fire and trend for hours, good news seems to mostly disappear.
That sports media reaction I saw led me to post a poll on Twitter that was pretty straightforward: “Based on their Twitter feeds do you believe many members of the sports media are rooting against sports coming back?”
Based on their Twitter feeds do you believe many members of the sports media are rooting against sports coming back?
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) July 28, 2020
People voted for a full day and ultimately over 56,000 of you voted, with 77% of you saying that the sports media appeared to be rooting against the return of sports.
Now, no one individual poll of any one person’s audience is 100% accurate. So I acknowledged this fact and said I’d be interested to see if another member of the sports media ran the same poll what the results would be for their audience.
To his credit, Darren Rovell posted the exact same question for his Twitter followers yesterday and they had 24 hours to vote as well.
His results: 48% believed the sports media was rooting against sports returning.
Based on their Twitter feeds, do you believe many members of the sports media are rooting against sports coming back?
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) July 29, 2020
So between the two of us we had just shy of 90k social media voters answering a question on Twitter about their perceptions of Tweets and over 66% of our combined audiences felt that sports media members were rooting against the return of sports.
That’s a pretty fascinating result and a pretty substantial margin of our two audiences, again nearly 90k people voted, who believe that sports media members are rooting against the return of sports. That’s especially jarring when you consider that Twitter itself leans left pretty massively. So the sports fans on Twitter are probably more likely to agree with the sports media than the general public at large.
So how does a result like this happen?
Well, the first and most fundamental reason is because I believe there’s a very big gap between what members of the sports media, who tend to be clustered on the left wing, believe and what their sports fan audiences, who tend to be more moderate and conservative, believe. That is, the sports media and the people who consume their content see the world very differently.
Social media has exposed the disconnect between the sports media members, for instance, who sit in the press box in college football games — and tend to overwhelmingly vote Democratic — and the people who sit in the seats in college football and tend to overwhelmingly vote Republican. When sports just stuck to sports these differences were less noticeable — after all most people, regardless of politics, thankfully, can still watch a game and not see two different things happening on the field — but now that sports have effectively turned into politics the difference is becoming more stark.
That’s especially the case when everyone opines all day long on social media on a variety of different topics.
The next question that’s interesting about these results is: why would sports audiences have the impression that sports media members aren’t rooting for sports to come back? Most sports media members would argue they want sports back and the audience is mistaken in the way they take the Tweets. Those same sports media members might also say that everyone in my audience is parroting the view that I’ve shared — I have said that sports media Tweets make it appear sports media members don’t want sports back — but I don’t believe that.
Darren Rovell and I have quite a bit different audiences — and I intentionally didn’t share his poll with my audience so the results didn’t change by my followers flooding his poll. Yet nearly half of Rovell’s had the same opinion as the substantial majority of mine.
I don’t think most people follow me — or Rovell — and then become convinced that our opinions are correct or incorrect, I think most people follow me because they’re interested to see what my opinions are. And I think that’s why most people are followed on Twitter in general.
I mean, go look at the comments beneath my opinions, they almost immediately turn into a battle royale between people who agree or disagree with what I’m posting.
So, yes, on its face it seems insane for sports media members to be sharing stories that make it less likely that sports will return because that’s against their economic self interest, but that’s a bit of a misnomer because a huge percentage of the population votes against their economic self interest in every election.
Rich Hollywood liberals, in theory, should never vote for Democratic politics because in doing so they are voting to give much more of their money in taxes. And very poor Southern conservatives should never vote for Republicans because in theory they are voting against their economic self interests as well.
But we all know both of these things happen all the time.
Given a conflict between economic self interest and social issues, many people choose to vote for their social issues over their pocketbook concerns.
And I think that’s what’s going on with the sports media on Twitter. This explains one of my hypotheses for why so many sports media seem to overshare negative coronavirus stories about the return of sports: most members of the sports media hate President Trump more than like sports. So the negativity of their opinions of Trump overwhelm the positive opinions they have for sports returning. Forced to pick between the two, they pick politics over their own economic interests.
Put another way, if you asked the average member of the sports media to make this choice: sports return, but Donald Trump is reelected or no sports return, but Donald Trump is defeated, I think most sports media would choose to cancel sports if it meant canceling Trump. In doing so, they would be valuing their social beliefs over their economic self interests, which we see happen all the time.
That’s my first attempted hypothesis that explains this behavior.
Okay, maybe some of you buy this as a factor, but what if you don’t?
My second hypothesis is sports media members are pretty far left wing — this is not debatable — and the farther left wing you are the more afraid you are of the coronavirus. If you’re more afraid of the virus than the average sports fan then your Tweets about the virus would appear to the majority of sports fans to be so fearful that it appears you’re rooting against sports returning.
Again, I think there’s probably some validity for this take.
My third hypothesis would be that sports media members spend too much time in their mentions and they have decided they have to prove people who disagree with them wrong. That is, if a sports media member shares a negative story about the coronavirus and their mentions ask why they are doing so, this actually makes them more likely to share negative stories in the future to try and prove the people in their mentions wrong. This is one of the real flaws, I believe, of social media. Many “conflicts” on social media don’t lead to a change in opinion, they lead to a hardening of opinion, no matter what the evidence otherwise might suggest.
This is why, in general, reading comments or mentions is a huge waste of time. Years and years ago I decided to never read the comments on any article I wrote online. Why do that? I just spent a lot of time to give you my opinion in a column, why should I care what you think about my opinion? I’m not trying to sound arrogant, it’s just eventually you end up pretty far down the rabbit hole if you worry what other people think about your own opinions. Because if I respond to your opinion of my opinion then where does this end? Eventually we’re just going around and around in circles.
It’s better to use Twitter as a megaphone, not a conversation device. A couple of years ago I made the decision to primarily use the favorite button to give props to statements I think are smart or funny when I duck into the mentions for a few minutes, but for most of the day I’m not going to read what people are saying to me.
For the same reason I don’t walk up to strangers on the street and ask them what they think of me. I don’t really care. And even if I did care, how pathetic would that be to constantly be seeking the affirmation of strangers all day long? Agree or disagree with me, that’s your right.
But I really don’t care.
Having said that, I’m not like most people. Most people really, desperately, care what you are saying about them online. Which is why social media is designed the way it is; our phones are needles and social media is the drug we inject into our veins.
Fourth hypothesis? I think there’s an element of the sports media that is insecure they’ve grown up and covered sports for a living. Compared to other journalists covering important stories in the world, being 55 years old and writing about your 9,743rd Mets baseball game, can feel like a bit of a waste. That is, the older you get the less you care about the games themselves, the more jaded you become. This story is an opportunity for sports media members to prove to the “real journalists” that they to are real journalists. Social media is mostly negative and so the sports media, covering a real story for one of the first times, is adopting the same negative posture as the real media so they don’t get accused of cheerleading. Sharing negative stories is the price to be able to sit at the big kid’s table in the cafeteria.
Of course the reality is it’s probably some of all four of these hypotheses.
And it’s also possible other people’s audiences may lead to a different result. I’d be curious to see other sports media members ask the same question that Darren Rovell and I did.
But for right now, two-thirds of sports fans on Twitter believe the sports media is rooting against sports coming back.
And that’s insanely jarring.