A People with Passion series
December 14, 2011: Sarah Spain
In the 18th installment of Jack M Silverstein's Chicago journalism People With Passion series, ESPN personality Sarah Spain explains why she views sports as entertainment first, news second, and the truth about being "unbiased."
I view sports as entertainment, not as news. I think you can split people up into one or the other. I get that it’s a business, it makes a lot of money, it’s people’s lives and jobs, it’s other people covering them’s lives and jobs. I get how that’s news. I get how you can break news in sports. But when I consume it, it’s not news like the war is news, or the presidential election is news – even though Donald Trump is now running the debates, so that’s more entertainment too. [ED. NOTE: Donald Trump pulled out of moderating the Iowa debates the day before our interview.]
I do write serious stuff. The more influence I have, the more I realize I have a platform to talk about stuff that does annoy me. I wanna write a very serious piece about head injuries in the NHL and NFL. I wrote one last year, and I want to keep pushing the idea of, Peanut Tillman, Derrick Rose, and Jonathan Toews, 20 years from now one of them kills himself, one of them kills his whole family and then kills himself, and the other one dies at age 50 and they show that he has massive brain disease. Will you be okay going back to your current self who said, “It’s part of the game. That’s what you’re signing up for.”? You can’t be inhumane anymore. We have too much knowledge about concussions to say, “Just let them play the way they’ve always played. It’s boring to watch football if they don’t hit hard enough.”
So I have issues that bother me, and I have things I want to take a serious take on, but I don’t consider that to be what I do best. It’s like the acting thing. There are people who are so much better than me at the grit. I feel more naturally compelled to make people laugh than I do to make people think.
They just unveiled this big series on the NHL enforcers that’s supposed to be really amazing – New York Times – on all those – Derek Boogaard and the guys that died this summer that were all young. So there’s stuff like that that I want to write about, and I appreciate –
And THAT’S news.
That is news. That is news. For sure that’s news. I’m not saying it has to be one or the other. I’m just saying that I skew toward one side while most people skew to the other.
So here’s the thing: I know the rules. You have to be unbiased. Okay. But you have to be unbiased when you’re a beat reporter. You don’t have to be unbiased when you’re on the radio. People listen to Waddle and Silvy because they are gonna empathize with how you feel when the Bears lose. That’s how it works. When you’re a personality or you’re a columnist, people are coming to you for your opinions, not to give unbiased takes based on the sound bites and footage you’re getting.
Here’s the difference: Dave Bolland just went off and called the Sedin Brothers “the sisters” and was acting like a jerk, and then the coach for the Canucks came back and said that he had a face only a mother could love and his brain was a size of a pea, or whatever. I think they’re both completely unprofessional, but just because Dave Bolland is on the team I care about, I’m not going to give him a pass. I’m going to say he was unprofessional too. You have to be unbiased enough to say bad things about the people that you cover, but I don’t think it has to be at the point where you go out looking for ways to prove that you don’t care. Which some people do.
There’s so much content out there now. There’s tons of websites, that are mostly comedy-based, about sports, and then there’s tons of content that’s very serious. I think you need both. If I wanted to read about that Bears game because I didn’t watch it and I wanted to know that Marion Barber didn’t run out of bounds and all these things, I go to the Tribune or I go to the New York Times, SI.com. I don’t go to a website.
But if I want to read about Derek Jeter giving his sexual conquests a take-home bag of signed gifts, I go immediately to a funny place. I don’t need to hear someone proselytize about whether that was cool or not, or, you know, (stuffy, mock serious voice) “Does this affect Derek Jeter’s persona as a – ” Who gives a fuck? It’s a funny story. Write it funny. Don’t write it serious. If someone wants to write about how something funny really does affect someone, that’s fine, but I’m just not as interested.
Enjoy this interview? Click here for a longer version as Sarah discusses her background as a full-time athlete, an improv sketch comic, and her perspective on sports as a woman, and how all three make her the sportscaster she is.
Check back every Wednesday at Eye on Chi for more of Jack M Silverstein’s People with Passion interviews with Chicago journalists. Coming up next week: Chuck Swirsky, radio play-by-play announcer, Chicago Bulls.
PREVIOUSLY IN THE SERIES:
(NOTE: The dates below refer to the date of the interview. The order is the date they were run.)
December 6, 2011: Jon Greenberg, ESPN Chicago, columnist
October 21, 2011: William Lee, Chicago Tribune breaking news crime reporter
November 4, 2011: Elaine Coorens, Our Urban Times founder
November 4, 2011: Andrew Barber, Fake Shore Drive founder
October 21, 2011: Jane Hirt, Chicago Tribune, managing editor
September 19, 2011: Andrew Huff, Gapers Block founder
September 21, 2011: Chris Cascarano, Chicago News Cooperative, video producer
September 30, 2011: Christie Hefner, Playboy, former CEO
September 15, 2011: Alden Loury, Chicago Reporter, publisher
August 17, 2011: Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune, editorial board and columnist
September 13, 2011: Kimbriell Kelly, Chicago Reporter, editor
August 26, 2011: Chuck Sudo, Chicagoist, editor
August 17, 2011: Clayton Hauck, photographer
December 12, 2008: Alex Kotlowitz (re-edited August 15, 2011)
August 10, 2011: Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, columnist