BEST: Growing acceptance of LGBT athletes

This was a big year on the inclusivity front, with many athletes and delgations protesting Russia’s anti-gay policies at the Olympics, Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay athlete to play in the NBA in February, Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay NFL draft pick in May and the first openly gay NFL player this fall, Dale Scott becoming the first openly gay MLB umpire this fall, and more and more leagues, Olympic organizations and others jumping on board with groups like You Can Play to promote welcoming and accepting LGBT athletes. There’s been some strong media coverage of many of these events, particularly in Sochi, where numerous reporters and columnists were able to illustrate how bizarre the Russian laws were. Across sports, the conversation is generally changing to a point where athletes are welcome regardless of their sexual orientation, and positive media coverage has played a role in that. We’re also at a point where this is becoming a valuable and important topic for media outlets to address: in fact, Sirius even launched the first radio show discussing LGBT sports issues this year. The media outlets that have covered inclusivity, and covered it well, did some of the most important work out there in 2014.

WORST: LGBT reporting failures in sports

On the other side, ESPN particularly deserves examination, for their Grantland story on a transgender woman that may have played a role in her suicide, for their flawed report on Sam’s showering habits, and also for the manner in which they endlessly covered Sam in the lead-up to, during and after the NFL draft. There were undoubtedly other outlets that made big mistakes too, but nothing as high-profile comes to mind. This isn’t a vendetta against ESPN: the sheer volume of content they produce increases the odds that a problematic piece will come from them, and they also did plenty of positive work on the inclusivity front this year. However, their big mistakes illustrate how careful outlets need to be when covering these issues.

– Andrew Bucholtz, @andrewbucholtz

BEST: ESPN’s World Cup coverage

It was understated. It was Emmy Award-worthy. It was one month of how a sporting event should be covered. We have killed ESPN often for some of its editorial decisions (or lack of) or silly suspensions, but when it comes off well, we have to say so. For the World Cup, ESPN gave fans the best coverage of the year. It’s in stark contrast to the 2006 World Cup in Germany when the network thought it could throw anyone to call the games or host. ESPN turned things around starting in 2010 when it struck gold and did so again this year. When it broadcast its last World Cup game in July until at least 2022, fans were sad to see the network go. Fox has a lot to live up to.

WORST: Sports Talk Radio

Whether it was in Boston, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco or other markets, the sports radio genre which had so much potential when it began in the 1980’s is fast becoming a vast wasteland of hosts who say the absolute dumbest things. Either thinking what they’re saying is guy radio or the hosts aren’t thinking at all, sports radio has become absolutely unlistenable. There are some exceptions and there are good hosts across the country if you know where to listen, however, those hosts who say the dumbest things in order to go viral or to think they’re funny sully the entire industry and that’s too bad.

– Ken Fang, @fangsbites

WORST: First Take

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It was another banner year for the gum stuck on the bottom of the shoe of the sports world that is First Take.  From the embarrassing suspension of Stephen A. Smith for his comments on women provoking domestic violence to Skip Bayless saying Kobe Bryant’s rape trial brought him “sizzle” this year was more of the same from this travesty of a program.  Most distressing though is ESPN’s blind defense of the show in the name of money and ratings.  I wonder if ESPN exec Marcia Keegan would still say “Embrace Debate” has been a universal positive for ESPN after the abomination that it was in 2014.

BEST: BCS Megacast

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While ESPN’s World Cup coverage is always deserving of this honor, I’m going with the BCS Megacast, particularly the Film Room channel.  ESPN took a risk by doing something never seen before for Auburn-FSU and devoting nearly every one of their 429 channels to the game.  It gave the viewer more options than ever before, and that’s an incredibly good thing.  The live Film Room, with analysts and coaches breaking down X’s and O’s in real-time, was incredibly informative and revolutionary.  Even former Pammies champ Matt Millen was fantastic in that role!  After 60 years on television, it’s hard to think we can watch football in a new way – ESPN accomplished just that back in January.

– Matt Yoder @myoder84

What’s your Best & Worst in sports media in 2014? Leave us a comment below.

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