As Twitter has grown the sports media has become, for the most part, an echo chamber. Sure, there are exceptions — quite a few of the people that I follow on Twitter are solid exceptions — but by and large the sports media is one of the most conservative examples of group think on the Internet today. Everyone has pretty much the same opinion with a bit of subtle difference here and there. I noticed this over the past two years when I did my own college football top 10 each Monday.
If I had Ohio State ranked three places below where the consensus placed Ohio State — I was right by the way — I WAS CRAZY AND TROLLING!
As social media has grown in popularity “trolling” has become — any time you have an opinion that differs from the mainstream opinion. In most other parts of life, we’d call that refreshing, since, you know, the conventional wisdom is often totally and completely wrong. But in the sports media it’s better to be wrong and part of the herd than right and outside the herd.
The sports media’s fear of risk-taking or difference in opinion is wildly entertaining to me because you’d think, if anywhere, sports would be the area where people could take a few risks. It’s not like we’re debating Fed monetary policy here and our opinions have a great deal of practical consequences. We’re talking about an opinion about sports. Outside of the games themselves our opinions about sports are why sports matter. I talk for 18 hours a week about sports on the radio, I write ten thousand words a week about sports, I talk on television about sports — very little of any of this has to do with actual games. Most of it is opinion or analysis or just having fun.
Sports is entertainment, after all, where most of us retreat to hide from the more serious issues facing us in life.
All of this brings me to Ron Jaworski’s opinion of Johnny Manziel as an NFL quarterback — Jaws said he wouldn’t take Manziel in the first three rounds of the draft.
Cue the usual outraged responses on the Internet, which, when you analyze them, basically boil down to this: HOW DARE HE HAVE A DIFFERENT OPINION THAN EVERYONE ELSE ABOUT A PLAYER IN SPORTS?!
Based on the reaction to this opinion, you’d think Jaworski advocated the NFL eliminate touchdowns and only have field goals.
But what did Jaworski actually say? That instead of being a top three quarterback — sports media opinion makers will allow you to believe that Manziel is, at worst, the third best quarterback in the draft — Jaworksi believes that Manziel is the sixth or seventh best quarterback in this year’s draft. So think about this for a minute, if Jaworski says Manziel is the third best quarterback in the draft, no one even blinks. But if he says he’s the sixth best quarterback in the draft, three whole spots lower than the consensus CBS Sports draft experts rank him, the Internet world comes undone.
HOW DARE HE HAVE THIS RADICAL OPINION! ESPN IS THE DEVIL. Rinse, repeat.
Isn’t the bigger story here how little outside the consensus opinion you actually have to be to seem like a radical in sports media today?
Everyone else in sports media is so conservative that believing that a quarterback is three whole spots below where the lowest end of the consensus opinion lies, qualifies as a revolutionary opinion. But it’s just that, an opinion. You can agree or disagree with it. Given that quarterbacks have wildly divergent career outcomes that often aren’t predicated on draft status at all — Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, and Tony Romo were all third round or lower picks and first round NFL draft pick busts at quarterback are legion — is it really that outlandish of an opinion?
Of course not. Jaworski’s opinion isn’t even remotely controversial when you actually break it down — he disagrees with the consensus opinion of Johnny Manziel by three spots. The rest of the sports media is so conservative that this seems like a revolutionary opinion. The bigger question to me is this — why are sports opinions so conservative and often so similar? Why do so many people feel the need to have the exact same opinion as so many other people about sports? Because that’s really the foundation of this story, original and creative opinions in sports are rare.
So rare that ranking a quarterback three spots below where the consensus ranks him is a huge story.
That’s why one of the most boring and played out criticisms of ESPN is that they “manufacture debate.” It’s such a stupid and lazy criticism. Another way of putting this would be, “Everyone doesn’t have the exact same opinion and they talk about it on television.” Which is, you know, pretty much the foundation of sports in this country. You and your buddies sit around and debate things that you disagree about. If everyone agrees the conversation is boring and over quickly. So, just like ESPN, you move on to something you don’t share the exact same opinion on. Sure, some opinions are better argued than others, but sports lends itself to debate. There are two easy sides to take, one team is playing another, who ya got? It’s the most elemental of sports debates, our modern day caveman version of sitting alongside a fire and debating which direction is the best to hunt.
Isn’t it more amazing that every other person that ESPN employs to have an opinion on the NFL believes that Johnny Manziel is a top three quarterback? Why are so many people so afraid to have a different opinion than the consensus? All it takes is Ron Jaworski to say, “Actually guys, I got him at six or seven,” for the NFL world to spin off its axis. For the Internet to lose its mind, for the most played out criticism possible to rear its ugly head: “Oh, Ron Jaworski is trolling!”
Really? Or have we all just seen the same exact opinions so many times, we forget how often the collective wisdom is completely wrong.
Can’t wait to see y’all at Akili Smith and Ryan Leaf’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Anyone who doesn’t agree these guys are definite top five picks is trolling.