The changes that have been wrought in the games that we watch in the recent past are relatively nominal compared to what’s happened to the ways in which we receive those games.
Where once our consumption of sports was restricted to the weekends and only three broadcast networks, we have round-the-clock coverage on national and local channels devoted just to fun and games.
And that doesn’t include social media and tablets and phones that take the games out of your living room and into places we would never have dreamed of even 20 years ago.
Even the way we learned about what we’ve seen has changed dramatically.
Every big city had a flourishing sports department in their local newspaper to chronicle the deeds of their local teams and players from season to season.
Today’s sports page is a shell of itself. There are more than a few worthy heirs to the pens of Red Smith and Sam Lacy, but not much more, as newspapers and sports sections have retracted drastically.
The new platforms that were created to reflect new distribution realities are being hit hard of late as well.
To wit, ESPN, the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports, lopped off 100 jobs this spring. Those laid off include anchors and personalities, as well as experienced writers, reporters and information gatherers.
That move was followed recently by Fox Sports, the self-proclaimed challengers to ESPN. In order to better position its lineup of mostly opinion-based television coverage, Fox last month eliminated its entire team of web-based writers.
That move means former Baltimore Sun columnist Ken Rosenthal, one of the sharpest baseball writing minds on the planet, doesn’t have a place to write about baseball.
Since 1954, there has been one place in sports journalism that is a cut above the rest, a showcase for the best blend of narrative and visual coverage, Sports Illustrated magazine.
Three generations of American sports fans have rushed to their mailboxes or to the local newsstand each week to learn how and why their teams won or lost, which athlete stood above the rest as Sportsman of the Year, as well as what would possess a person to go ice fishing on a frozen lake in Manitoba.
Writers like Gary Smith, Jack McCallum, Peter King and Baltimore’s own Frank DeFord and photographers like Walter Iooss have made SI a home for the best words and pictures of the sports landscape.
That work is so essential, it almost excuses SI’s annual lapse into prurient, childish behavior, the swimsuit issue.
Where Sports Illustrated’s own landscape may have once seemed vast, it, like the rest of American sports coverage, is increasingly shrinking.
As Time Inc, SI’s parent company, prepares to launch a video app later this year, it also reportedly is considering cutting back on the number of print issues it publishes annually.
Sports Illustrated already has seen its volume decrease from 51 issues a year two years ago to 38 this year. If reports are accurate, that number may drop to as few as 24, effectively making the weekly magazine a bi-weekly.
In this era of blogs, charticles and opinion masquerading as fact, sports fans need more of Sports Illustrated’s words and pictures, all except the swimsuit issue.
And that’s how I see it for this week.