Sports are the original reality TV

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


This is what came to my mind when Josephine Livingstone argued Thursday in the New Republic that women’s media is a scam. I won’t belabor the validity of Livingtone’s argument here because, for one, it was nothing that wasn’t said to me more than a decade ago when a copy editor saw me bring an issue of InStyle to the newsroom and told me, “You read that advertorial garbage?” What struck me as curious wasn’t whether or not women’s media is a scam but where and why Livingstone chose to make that critique.

You could make that exact same argument—and a much stronger version of it, at that—against sports reporting and sports media overall. You could call SBNation’s team sites, powered by underpaid, exploited labor, a scam. You could call ESPN’s made-up awards show, the ESPYs, a scam. You could call the SI feature that peddled Tom Brady’s unqualified quack guru a scam. You could call NFL Network, where I once worked, a scam. The Players Tribune is basically the People magazine of sports and yet it gets glowing coverage from places like the Poynter Institute, which called it “an athletic community.” You could call it a scam.

…It really is the same. The same way the movie business invented the Oscars to drum up publicity for themselves, every sports league hands out awards complete with a stage and a red carpet on television. But nobody faults sports reporters for paying too much attention to who gets MVP or makes it into the various halls of fame. Everyone frets over reality TV without realizing that live sports are the original reality TV, a manufactured drama involving real people portraying themselves that everyone watches because nobody knows what will happen next. Sports radio is littered with cross-promotion, when the show host suddenly pivots to tell you about this amazing vitamin supplement and/or pet food and/or workout program they just discovered. And it’s so good. You need to try HealthyLifeTabsOfJoyAndFun just this once and don’t forget the promo code. These are clearly paid for, and yet nobody seems nervous about the ethics of those product placements.

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