Those of us who write about sports for a living have a tendency to over-emphasize and over-dramatize every single thing we write about. And that goes for new media and old media. How many countless blog posts use the words “epic” or “best ever” in a headline when it probably didn’t deserve it? Guilty as charged. We all tend to make things seem more important and have much more broad and important consequences than they are in reality.
And sometimes, those of us who write about sports have a tendency to go just a little bit over the ledge and drive the hyperbole bus off the cliff.
Take this headline from AL.com about college football recruit Roquan Smith. Kevin Scarbinsky compared Smith to Rosa Parks, yes, Rosa Parks, for not signing a letter of intent to play college football.
Here’s the backstory: after UCLA’s defensive coordinator left, Smith said he wouldn’t sign his letter of intent locking him into the school after announcing his intentions of being a Bruin on signing day. Instead, he’d re-open his recruitment and choose not to sign an NLI. It’s an incredibly smart move. As Andy Staples says at SI, the Letter of Intent is the worst contract in American sports. He’s right. The letter of intent turns over a player’s rights to the school seemingly in perpetuity and the school can do whatever they want. It’s symbolic of many of the wrongs of college athletics.
So in some respect, Smith is a trailblazer. He should inspire other athletes to do the same so they don’t get screwed over by the slimeball Bobby Petrinos of the world.
But Rosa Parks?
You can sense Scarbinsky knows the trouble that is coming, because he dedicates his entire opening of the column to what a terrible idea it is to make the comparision:
You’re probably going to think this comparison is over the top, out of line, disrespectful, comparing an athlete to one of the seminal figures of the civil rights movement, and you’re probably right.
After all, Rosa Parks stood up for every African-American man, woman and child when she refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955.
If what Roquan Smith did starts a trend, it’ll no doubt open some doors for only a select number of high-profile college football recruits.
But even small steps toward freedom matter.
If you’re a columnist and you admit to your readership that your lead is over the top, out of line, and disrespectful… it probably is.
The rest of Scarbinsky’s column makes some solid points. It champions Smith’s cause and the cause of high school athletes everywhere to get a fair deal. But he loses everyone when he needlessly tries to equate a college football recruit with a civil rights pioneer. And the best part is that he even admits the false equivalence at the end of the column, “That probably doesn’t make him a modern Rosa Parks. It does make him a role model for future recruits.” Exactly! So why make the comparison in the first place?
For future reference, here’s the list of people sportswriters should compare to Rosa Parks:
That’s it, that’s the list.