Yellow journalism is a concept that has stuck around the world of journalism and reporting since the 1800’s. Every few years, there comes a man or woman who points out the very rampant concept of it within the industry.
Yellow journalism, otherwise known as tabloid journalism or exploitative journalism all revolves around one fundamental concept. Sensationalism, and the idea of basic hyperbole and exaggeration.
LaVar Ball, perhaps without even trying, has exposed the epidemic of yellow journalism in the sports journalism industry.
That idea may seem preposterous considering that most view Ball mostly as monotonous and mind-numbing entertainment, but he without a doubt has the eyes of the industry on him. Not only is that morally fraudulent, it’s a betrayal to the very concept of journalism.
Ever since ‘Big Baller Brand’ unveiled the Z02 sneakers, that cost $495, the sports industry has been enamored by the story and seemingly can’t stop reporting on every little detail about it.
With Ball making the nonsensical claims that: “If you can’t afford the ZO2’S, you’re NOT a BIG BALLER!”, once again the industry is engrossed with making fun of Ball rather than pointing out the ramifications in his statement.
Every word that escapes from Ball’s mouth is being talked about and discussed, but not properly. Rather than asking: ‘Why is LaVar making fun of poor people?’ we as an industry have decided to instead ask: ‘Why does that shoe cost so much money?’
Ball doesn’t leave you to read between the lines in his statement about being able to afford his shoe. He is candidly telling you, without remorse, that if you can’t afford his shoe, you are poor.
That leads to a problem in society, where a culture is established in which making fun of the poor is deemed more and more socially acceptable. Granted, LaVar Ball as an individual doesn’t have enough influence on his own to make it acceptable, but he as much as anybody else can appropriate it over time
Yet, if there exist people who don’t think that Ball has any societal influence, they can definitely think that and express that. Even Ball can express his thoughts on the shoe and say what he wants to say. However, with freedom of speech comes a massive responsibility. He, as much as you and I, can and should be held accountable for what they say.
Which leads to the next point, why is not a single sports outlet deeming what Ball says as socially unacceptable or morally irresponsible? Instead, we’re covering the cost of the shoe and saying to his statement: “Nah, you’re crazy.”
That’s the problem across sports journalism, a lack to look deeper into stories and people within them. It’s easier to write off Ball as a cartoon nutjob than it is to look into the impact of his statements and break them down. As far as sports journalism goes, it garners you more views to call a character like Ball crazy than it is to discuss the importance and responsibility of free speech.
Take us, Spark Sports, as an example. It’s my belief that we provide solid journalism on a daily basis, but providing a sensationalistic product that doesn’t have any effort or thought put into it would be the easier route for this website.
Websites like Buzzfeed and Uproxx have climbed the ladder in journalism by providing readers with articles that lack any effort or thought while journalism such as ‘The Sports Reporters’ recently got canceled and the only reason given was that ESPN was “going in a different direction.”
Yellow journalism has even seeped into ESPN, as most of their shows didn’t call into question Ball and his statements. Rather, every time he’s in Bristol, Connecticut, they prefer to have Stephen A. Smith just yell at him and have Ball yell back at him. No thought or effort is put into that, it’s laziness and it’s perhaps the greatest example of yellow journalism in a long time.
Another great example would be the highly covered feud between LaVar Ball and Michael Jordan. To be frank, this story is not even slightly important and played right into Ball’s hands’. Ball wanted the attention of being called out and despite being a story without substance, the industry had its eye on it for an entire week.
During the time of that feud, Alabama legislators tried to pass HB9, which states: “The Alabama High School Athletic Association shall adopt a rule to allow its public school members to compete only against each other for post regular season playoff games and state championships, and its nonpublic school members to compete only against each other for post regular season playoff games and state championships” which would change everything about high school sports in that state. It would undoubtedly give more power to private schools over public schools, yet almost nobody covered the bill except for Forbes.
Why is that we’ve stopped covering the World Cup in Qatar and the ramifications that it will have? After about March or April of last year, the story slipped out of the spotlight and has since then practically disappeared. That’s unfortunate considering that just last month, the first stadium that required modern-day slave labor was announced to almost be completed.
What is even more troubling is the fact that French authorities have begun investigating Qatar and Russia’s World Cup bids. With that, the infamous Sepp Blatter has stepped back into the story and is back up for questioning. Yet, that story was either barely covered or nonexistent on most outlets.
Another story that went without any coverage due to Ball controlling the airwaves was one regarding the NFL and concussions. On March 17th, a 3-year study at Arizona State concluded and with that, researchers from the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGEN) “have created the largest dataset to date of extracellular small RNAs, which are potential biomarkers for diagnosing medical conditions, including concussions.”
Yet, all of those stories received little or no coverage. Despite all of them being what real journalism is all about. Journalism should be about finding a topic or story that has substance and requires further research from every spectrum. Journalism should be able to make us think critically and force us to make interpretations about the subject past simple blanket statements.
That’s the reason why LaVar Ball and his looniness is so marginally unimportant compared to anything else covered in this piece. Ball doesn’t make you think critically or encourage you to make interpretations. All Ball and his antics do are force you to roll your eyes, call him crazy, and then move on.
But he has accomplished one thing in his time of saying absurd things, he’s exposed the industry. All of us have fallen for his antics and covered him like there’s no tomorrow. We as an industry have taken his hyperbole and put it in front of the world to see. That’s not our job, our job as journalists is to drive you to think critically and differently.
But he’s exposed our industry as being a charlatan. As the days go on, far too many outlets sound more and more like Buzzfeed or Uproxx and succumb to posting clickbait articles about Ball. As the days go on, the industry succumbs to yellow journalism.
Admittedly, yellow journalism has existed in the industry for quite some time now. But when outlets such as Bleacher Report and ESPN begin covering it with about as much care as possible and place it above every other story, there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
Websites, such as this one, take heed from what ESPN and Bleacher Report do. So if yellow journalism can seep into their outlets, it can just easily find it’s way into outlets such as this one, and that would be a crucial blow to this industry.
If we as an industry continue down the path we are going, true journalism will cease to exist on a large spectrum and will fall the same way ‘The Sports Reporters’ fell. No real reason will be given, past moving in a different direction.
Meanwhile, people similar to LaVar Ball will receive all the coverage that their hearts desire as stories like Qatar and concussions disappear from the spotlight.
As journalists, we must begin to question the ramifications of Ball’s statements and drive you as the reader or listener to think critically. Because without that motivation, we are no better than LaVar Ball.
Lacking substance without accepting our responsibilities.