I’ve got a complaint, and for once it has nothing to do with my newspaper. Instead, it concerns The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma City-based daily that has the largest circulation in the state.
For those not following the National Basketball Association, the first round of the playoffs just ended, and the Oklahoma City Thunder are still alive. But earlier in the series they were getting their asses handed to them by the Memphis Grizzlies.
Ever since Michael Jordan took over the league in the early 1990s, the NBA has morphed into an entity in which a team can win with basically one superstar and a bunch of B+ role-players. Having a second A-level athlete helps, but it’s not essential.
For the Thunder, that superstar is Kevin Durant. He’s probably going to win MVP later this week, but through the first five games of the Memphis series, he was inconsistent at best.
The Oklahoman recognized that, and after a Thunder loss published a headline calling Durant “Mr. Unreliable.”
A little unkind? Maybe. But justifiable based on his previous few games? Absolutely.
Problem is, Durant’s mom didn’t see it that way. After Mrs. Durant screamed at The Oklahoman via Twitter, sports editor Mike Sherman issued an apology.
Wow. Talk about cowardice.
There are good reasons to apologize for a headline. Getting a fact wrong, for instance, such as the score, the winner or the implications (clinching a division, etc.). Or saying something acutely offensive, such as when ESPN published the headline “Chink in the Armor” for an article on Asian American basketball player Jeremy Lin.
“Unreliable” isn’t racist. And from a statistical point of view, it wasn’t wrong. The Oklahoman caved in to a Twitter-yeller and took a bite out of the credibility of every journalist who covers sports.
I cover high school sports, and some of the parents I have to interact with are overbearing, over-reacting, overly defensive and rude. Most are quite pleasant, but every couple of months a really nasty one pops up and yells at me for not doing my job the way he or she wants me to do it.
I pray that if I ever have kids who play sports, I never develop the tunnel vision I’ve seen in this small contingent of parents. I find it dispiriting to learn that those same parents don’t go away once their athletes reach the collegiate or professional level.
There’s an argument to be made that a high school athlete who’ll never play at the next level shouldn’t be criticized too harshly. I’ll call out something egregiously bad (multiple errors in a game or one that cost the team a lead, for instance), but I always try to maintain some measure of humanity in my writing.
A high school kid doesn’t make any money, and most won’t get scholarships out of playing. But Kevin Durant made $17.8 million this season, plus endorsements, and that number is going to increase each of the next two seasons.
One would think that much money buys both the player and his family a backbone.
Anyway, here’s what I wrote last month.