On the mainstream newspaper sports pages of South Florida this week, the upcoming auditions for the Florida Panthers Ice Dancers didn't warrant a mention. On the Sports by Brooks main webpage, an entry devoted to the steamy subject was listed as a top-five attraction.
Another popular blog, thebiglead.com, featured a photo from the ESPY awards, catching young NBA stars Kevin Durant and Greg Oden appearing to undress tennis star Maria Sharapova with their eyes. Doubt you'll see that snapshot in Sports Illustrated anytime soon.
And deadspin.com posted this headline, in reaction to a story in Patriots Football Weekly: "There's a Bill Belichick Sex Tape? Merciful Jesus, Anoint My Eyes with Clorox." That headline isn't likely to appear in the Boston Globe.
Such is the difference between the staid old sports media and the edgier new sports media — the latter being led by non-affiliated blogs that sensationally sell sex, sports and celebrity. Those blogs are forcing many athletes, who would rather not appear in such a context, to watch their public behavior. And they are forcing old-media outlets to consider covering those athletes in a hipper way in order to reach a younger demographic.
"I was in the main media for many years, and got bored with it," said Brooks Melchior, who founded Sports By Brooks in 2001 and calls his site the progenitor of the format. "I enjoyed the off-the-beaten path stuff, and the merging of sports and celebrity. Now you see what's happened since then. It's exploding."
Melchior, 40, has a diverse journalistic background. He worked on the night editing desk at the Kansas City Star, was a hockey and baseball play-by-play broadcaster, co-hosted a radio show in Columbus, Ohio, and served as a radio station program director. He said that his history leads him to be a little more cautious than some of his contemporaries.
"If I was writing something libelous or defamatory, I would have been sued by now, and put out of business," said Melchior, who has received cease-and-desist orders but said the pursuit has never gone further.
He doesn't claim to serve as a substitute for mainstream outlets such as newspapers. Rather, Melchior calls his site a "clipping service. But instead of just clipping the article, we repackage it with a more provocative approach in most cases, and put it up there." Once the story is on the site, it acts as a major distribution point to recirculate back into the mainstream media, since writers from around the country begrudgingly admit to reading such sites.
Even journalism professors do.
"I read Deadspin and The Big Lead every day," said Sandy Padwe, an associate professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. "But both of them are unbelievably misogynistic. It's OK to scour the Internet and link to other things, some of which are obviously true. But then what is it with all the pictures of the women on there, half of them don't relate to anything going on in sports?"
When an entry does relate to sports in some way, it probably isn't flattering. Unless it's another photo of sports blog favorite Erin Andrews, an ESPN sideline reporter.
"A picture of (Jason) Giambi somewhere drinking a bottle of Wild Turkey," Padwe said. "OK, if that appears on the Internet someplace, and they find the link and they get to it, in their world that is news. It is not news that baseball players drink, though. It is not news that they may drink from a bottle."
It just doesn't look good.
"I don't think anybody's lives are private or personal anymore," said Marlins outfielder Luis Gonzalez, a 19-year veteran.
For that, though, Melchior doesn't think people should blame the blogs. He says he couldn't do his job without the mainstream media, at least not at this stage.
The site might pull the third note from a newspaper columnist's column, one the mainstream writer may have buried so he or she wouldn't burn his or her access. Then the site then makes it a lead item, with a punchy display.
Melchior has eight "writers" who contribute during a week, as well as a full-time editor. He also pens one personal column.
Melchior, who splits time between Los Angeles and Miami, compares the sports world to Hollywood. He differentiates the Britney Spears type of celebrity — who invites publicity — with the Adam Sandler type of celebrity, who seeks privacy for his family.
"You are seeing the same thing coming out of sports now," Melchior said. "My big examples are Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart. They want to be covered like every other athlete, where we're not following them home and talking about what they are doing at bars. Yet they want to be in celebrity circles, and do a reality show with Kim Kardashian. They want it both ways. You're fair game when you go to Les Deux (restaurant)."
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