Mike Greenberg wears an Aaron Rodgers Jets jersey. Screengrab via ESPN.

The days of Walter Cronkite and the straight-laced journalist being the most prominent figures in media are well behind us and they aren’t coming back anytime soon. In today’s day and age it’s all about entertainment, volume, and debate. It’s all about leaning in towards opinion and away from fact. And it’s all about stirring up a reaction, whether it’s positive or negative from viewers and consumers.

In a sports media context, there’s a reason why ESPN is having Stephen A. Smith produce a documentary about the rise of sports debate and canceling Outside the Lines.

Of course it’s not just sports, probably the seminal moment that summarizes modern media is Jon Stewart’s 2004 evisceration of CNN’s Crossfire. Two decades later and political media mostly consists of both-sides political hackery and one of those Crossfire hosts has gone to such an extreme that he does interviews with Vladimir Putin… and Aaron Rodgers.

But sports media has gotten more partisan in its own way. The rise in importance of personalities has meant that sports coverage is sometimes just as much about the people covering the games than it is the games themselves.

But from a bigger picture perspective, should sports fans have to deal with the rooting interest of those personalities having an impact on what they watch? It’s a conversation that hasn’t ever really been considered until very recently given how the media landscape has changed so drastically, but there are several examples.

For instance, Smith and Skip Bayless play up their hatred and love of the Dallas Cowboys as gimmicks. How many times can we see Skip throw the same jersey in a trashcan after a brutal Cowboys loss? We hear Mike Greenberg is a Jets fan pretty much every weekday morning on Get Up. Michael Wilbon is a Chicago native. And if you want to draw the circle wider, shows like CBS’s Champions League Today make no bones about the allegiances of their stars like Jamie Carragher to Liverpool. Ned Jarrett famously called his own son Dale win the Daytona 500 and it’s one of the most famous moments in NASCAR history.

To some extent, it helps the entertainment value of these shows and makes the personalities more relatable because they’re willing to wear their true colors and not have to pretend to be totally impartial. But on the flip side, it can just as easily become an annoyance and a distraction as we saw on Sunday.

ESPN’s Knicks-Pacers coverage drew widespread criticism for leaning alllllllll the way in on Stephen A. Smith’s Knicks fandom including an MSG arrival shot and pep talk with Spike Lee.

Would it have been acceptable for ESPN to play up Smith’s fandom and have a little bit of fun? Sure. Was it acceptable for ESPN to basically ignore one of the teams playing in the game because of it? No.

Very few would be offended if Tony Romo or Troy Aikman took a moment of personal privilege to say if it meant more to them to call the Cowboys winning the Super Bowl someday. But if they criticized every call against them and started pulling a Hawk Harrelson it would probably be a different story. By now we’re very familiar with Greeny’s love of the Jets, it probably doesn’t need to be mentioned every show.

So where’s the dividing line that separates what is within reason and what isn’t? Like so many things in life, you’ll know it when you see it.

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