Do the people who cover sports actually enjoy them? ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt seems to think that there are plenty who don’t.
Van Pelt was on The Ringer’s The Press Box Podcast with Bryan Curtis. Van Pelt spoke on several topics, including his recent tribute to his late dog. He also spoke on how he decides what does and does not go into an episode of SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt.
Van Pelt said, “We have the benefit of being on after games and I still like games.” At that point, he got briefly sidetracked and started talking about people who don’t seem to enjoy sports, but still cover them.
“The thing that bums me out about our business is there’s a lot of people that cover sports,” Van Pelt said. and I think, ‘You don’t even like them.’ Like, ‘Do you even like sports?’ You’re cynical and you’re just — ‘Everything sucks and everybody sucks.’ Like, do something else. Sports is the last thing we’ve got that, typically every day is pretty fun.”
There are two different ways to look at Van Pelt’s words here.
One is at media members who seem to constantly have a negative attitude towards whatever they cover. If something happens, there’s a negative spin to it. We saw this with MLB’s Field of Dreams game in 2021, which Van Pelt liked, while other people who cover sports found something to criticize. You see it when games go long, something reporters at those games rarely ever miss a chance to complain about.
There’s also a more straight forward issue of not being fan of what you’re covering. And to an extent, Van Pelt is off base here.
Not being a fan can be a good thing. One of the keys to covering a subject is remaining neutral. That doesn’t necesarilly mean that someone who covers it can’t be a fan. But if that person is a fan, he or she has to remove that fandom when covering a subject. That applies to all walks of life, not just sports. Fan is short for “fanatic,” after all, and objectivity and neutrality with aren’t often associated with fanatics.
If a close call goes against the New York Yankees, a Yankees fan might have a hard time looking at the replay and seeing that the call was correct — even if it was.
But even that argument is also limited. Because while being a fan of something you’re covering can be bad, not being a fan can do the same thing. There, Van Pelt has a point.
If a close call goes for the Yankees, a Boston Red Sox fan might have a hard time looking at the replay and seeing that the call was correct — even if it was and even if the Yankees aren’t playing the Red Sox.
If you’re goal is to be objective and neutral, you can’t let your fandom show. You also can’t let your anti-fandom show. That’s no more objective and neutral than being a biased fan.
That doesn’t mean that the people covering sports must be fans. But they must realize that their audience is. And if that audience is seeing nothing but cynicism, it’s likely to share Van Pelt’s point of view.